Quite well known among interested Bulsa is the battle of Sandema, which will be treated here in detail. There is, however, contradictory information about the site where the battle took place. Was it in Fiisa near the big tanggbain (earth-shrine) of Azagsuk? Or was it south of Sandema, near a place called Akumcham (of Atuga Pusik) not far from the present Senior High School, where, after the battle, the Bulsa hung the dead body of one of Babatu’s wives on a sheabutter tree (cham)?
In August 1973, the late chief Azantilow gave me information about the battle of Fiisa. For three months Bulsa villages had to suffer from Babatu’s attacks. After a defeat or before Babatu had reached their villages, Bulsa men fled from other villages (e.g. Wiaga, Fumbisi and Kunkwa) to Sandema to join the Sandema army. Thus all Bulsa were united and ready to fight Babatu. People from Navrongo had at first fled to Kologo, but when they recognized that these people could not help them, they took refuge in Sandema. In the battle of Fiisa, Babatu’s army was beaten.
I received similar information when I visited Fiisa, and some people showed me parts of weapons that had been used in the battle there (see photo). In the 1960s people who visited the site near the earth shrine of Azagsuk were even shown two rifles used by Babatu’s soldiers.
Part of a Zabarima Dane Gun, shown to visitors in Fiisa
A more common theory seems to be that the big battle took place south of Sandema. The late Apagyie from Wiaga-Tankunsa told my assistant, Danlardy Leander, that armed warriors from Wiaga fled to Sandema when Babatu was approaching. With the help of other Bulsa and the
White Man, Babatu was beaten at a place near Akumcham. The statement that white people were involved in this battle is certainly wrong.
George Atemboa’s account (Howell 1998: 24) lends credence to a battle having taken place south of Sandema and states that Babatu camped at Wiaga. On his way to Sandema people of Kori blocked his army at the hill of Adakurik, not far from the battlefield.
Perrault could even collect some detailed data about the battle that, according to his information, took place between Sandema market and the (Old) Primary School. The following is a quote from his unpublished typescript (1954: 94-95):
The Bulsa “had learned that the Dane guns [the muzzle loaders of the Zabarima] were dangerous but that Babatu’s soldiers were powerless while they were reloading. The Builsas were lying on the ground and waited until the first shot had been fired. Then they got up, rushed the soldiers of Babatu and killed them with bows and arrows, spears and axes. Within two hours the Builsas were victorious and Babatu was retreating in disorder to Doninga. He was pursued there and had to cross the Sissili….”
How can we reconcile the two theories about the historical site of the battle of Sandema? When we consider that Babatu made several campaigns into Bulsaland, it cannot be ruled out that two battles near Sandema took place. Olivier, the Commissioner of the Navrongo District, got his knowledge from Babatu’s horse boy who had accompanied Babatu in his campaigns into Bulsaland and Navrongo. In Olivier’s unpublished typescript (1933) we find an important clue about the idea of two battles:
Babatu then made raids into the Navrongo District to Chiana and Nakon where he was driven away. He went back to Seti and recruited more men and came back on several occasions and for many years, invading Nakon, Chiana, Paga, Navoro [Navrongo] and then into Builsa country where he was again beaten at Sandema…
Olivier speaks about two defeats of Babatu, one near Chiana [Chana] and Nakon and the other at Sandema. It is possible that during the first-mentioned campaign a battle near Azagsuk, the Fiisa earth-shrine, took place since this tanggbain is only 2.5 kilometres away from Chiana. Over time the horse boy’s report of the successful fights against Babatu near Azagsuk melded perhaps with reports of Nakong and Chana fending off the Zabarima.
Furthermore, in other historical sources we find evidence for two victorious battles of Sandema. Lieutenant-Colonel Morris, after his campaign against Sandema in 1902, held a “large reception of all the chiefs of Tiana [Chana]”. They informed him “that the people of Sinlieh [Sandema] were most hostile, and owing to their having defeated Barbatu on two occasions, had a vast idea of their own power and importance” (Morris 1902, Diary).
We still have to posit the year when the battle (or battles) of Sandema took place. In all of our sources, it is clear that Babatu started the campaign against the Bulsa and Navrongo from Sati/Seti which had been the capital and residence of Babatu and his army since about 1890 or some years before (endnote 8). It also seems to be undisputed that the fight in Sandema took place before the battle of Kanjaga, for which we have an exact date, namely March 14, 1897. Holden (1965: 75) dated Babatu’s campaigns against the central Bulsa to 1890 or 1891 because in Wiase, Kunkwa and Fumbisi he received information that it took place about 5 years before the whites came to fight the Zabarima. Some Bulsa informants, however, report that Babatu started the battle at Kanjaga a short time after that of Sandema, which then might have taken place some time after 1891. Perrault (1954: 94) mentions the year 1896.
This means that the battle took place between 1890 and March 1897.