Dagomba people

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Rocky Dawuni.jpg
Alhaji Aliu Mahama.jpg
Total population
931,000 (2012 est)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Kingdom of Dagbon, Northern Ghana
Dagbani, Mòoré, Hausa
Sunni Islam, with several Christian and Muslim minorities.
Related ethnic groups
Mossi, Mamprusi, Frafra, Gurunsi, other Gur peoples
People Dagomba
Language Dagbani
Country Dagbon

The Dagombas are ethnic group of the Kingdom of Dagbon (Northern Ghana) and they number about 931,000.[1] They inhabit the Northern Region of the Kingdom of Dagbon (Northern Ghana) in the sparse savanna region below the sahelian belt, known as the Sudan. The Dagomba constitute about 41 per cent of the population in the area (GSS 2002) and many Dagomba live in other parts of Ghana.[2] They speak the Dagbani language which belongs to the More-Dagbani sub-group of Gur languages. There are around 1 million speakers of the Dagbani. The Dagomba are historically related to the Mossi. The More/Mossi now have their homeland in present-day Burkina Faso. The homeland of the Dagomba is called Dagbon and covers about 20,000 km2 in area.

Na Gbewa is regarded as the founder of Dagbon. Dagomba are one of the ethnic groups with a sophisticated oral tradition woven around drums and other musical instruments. Thus most of its history, until quite recently, has been passed down via oral tradition with drummers as professional griots. According to oral tradition, the political history of Dagbon has its genesis in the lifestory of a legend called Tohazie (translated as "red hunter").

Dagomba culture is heavily influenced by Islam, brought to the region by Soninke (known as Wangara by Ghanaians) traders between the 12th to 15th centuries. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim (79%) with ancestor worship common among the rural population.[2] Since the time of Naa Zangina, Islam has been the state religion and Islam seems to be growing rapidly ever since.[3] The reformist activities of Afa Anjura in the middle of the twentieth century caused entire communities to embrace the Islamic religion en masse. In the last few decades however, there have been some attempts at Christian conversion but the success has been negligible. About 22% of the population say they are Christians.[4] Most of these converts in the area are foreigners resident in Dagbon.[5] Inheritance is patrilineal. Important festivals include the Damba, Bugum (fire festival) and the Islamic Eid festivals. The main settlement of Dagombas is Tamale, which also serves as the Northern Regional capital.

The Mossi and Dagomba states are among the great West African medieval empires. Beginning in the 12th century, they eventually ruled the lands of the entire northern Volta basin, which today includes all of northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. During their second northern expansion, the Mossi invasion reached eastern Maasina and Lake Débo c. l400, Benka in c. 1433 and Walata in 1477-83. (These empires were in present-day Mali). According to Dr Illiasu (1971) in his work The Origins of the Mossi-Dagomba states, the second period of the Mossi-Dagomba success came to an end with the restoration of Imperial Songhai power towards the close of the 15th century. Although the Mossi-Dagomba states have the same grandfather (Na Gbewa), the Dagomba are traditionally regarded as "senior" to the Mossi states of Ouagadougou, Yatonga and Fada N'Grumah.

Abridged history of Dagbon[edit]

Karaga chiefs meeting governor Louis Gustave Binger of French West Africa inside large traditional thatched structure (zong titali), in present day Northern Ghana, 1892

The origins of Dagbon can be traced to Tohadzie, the red hunter. Tohadzie was a very brave hunter who mastered archery (the art of hunting with the bow and arrow).

On arrival in the Mali Empire he settled in the village of Bafoulabe in the middle of a drought. The villagers’ only source of water was a river taken over by a wild bush cow. The bush cow, believed to be an evil spirit, killed anyone who ventured to the river to draw water. Tohadzie led the villagers to kill the wild beast, making the river accessible. This is also recorded in the Malian legend of Mali Sadio.

He then organised the people and made war on rival villages, who had constantly raided his newfound home, thus establishing himself as a successful warrior and leader. For his bravery and assistance to the people, Tohadzie was rewarded with a Malian princess called Pagawugba, for a wife. The Malian princess gave birth to a son named Kpognambo, who grew up and exhibited bravery and warrior acuity similar to his father's.

After the death of his parents Kpognambo travelled westwards from the Mali Empire to Biun, in Fada N'gourma, where after defeating the Tendana became chief of Biun. Kpognambo ruled the kingdom of Biun until his death. He established the chieftainship of Biun.

Kpognambo married two women; Sihisabiga (daughter of the Fetish Priest of Biun) and Suhuyini (daughter of the King of Fadan Gurma). Suhuyini gave birth to Gbewaah while Sihisabiga gave birth to Malgimsim, Nyelgili and Namzisheli.

View of Salaga, northern Ghana in 1892

After the death of Kpognambo there was constant war between his sons for the chieftainship of Biun. This, in the 13th century, led to the migration of Gbewaah with a large following to Pusiga. Pusiga is in the Upper East region of present day Ghana. Naa Gbewaah established the Kingdom of Greater (Ancient) Dagbon, which he ruled until his death. Other sons of Kpognambo; Nyeligili founded the chieftainship of Nangodi and Namzisheli founded the chieftainship of Tongo.

In Pusiga the chieftainship of the Kingdom of Greater Dagbon became known as NAM which was the preserve of the male children of Naa Gbewaah. After the death of Naa Gbewaah, there was once again power struggle among his sons for the nam. In the heat of the struggle, Zirli murdered his brother Kufogu and became chief of Biun, much to the displeasure of his siblings. This led to war between the brothers and finally the break-up of the Greater Dagbon Kingdom.

Sitobu, Tohagu and Mantambo all children of Naa Gbewaah moved southwards from Pusiga with their followers. Tohagu founded the Mamprusi Kingdom, Mantambo the Nanun Kingdom and Sitobu the modern Dagbon Kingdom. This is the reason why the peoples of Nanun, Mamprugu, and Dagbon consider each other brothers. They share the same ancestry in Naa Gbewaah. A daughter of Naa Gbewaah, Yentuagri, married a Grumah and they established the kingdom of the Mossi.

Naa Nyagse (1416–32)[edit]

After Sitobu founded the Dagbon Kingdom the kingship became known as Ya Naa, literally meaning King of strength (power). After the death of Sitobu he was succeeded by his son Naa Nyagse who spread the Kingdom of Dagbon in all four directions. Upon ascension to the skins of Yani, Naa Nyagse made war on the Dagbon Sablisi (Black Dagbamba) and founded Yani Dabari, as the new seat (capital) of the Kingdom. The present day Dagomba capital, Yendi, was a Konkomba settlement called Chare. On his way Naa Nyagse killed the Tendana of Disega and then of Piugu and appointed his son Zakpabo as chief of Piugu. He then proceeded to Diare, Depale, Sena, Dalon, Tibun, Lunbuna, Vogu, Gbulun, Kumbungu, and Zugu, all in today’s Western Dagbon. The Tendamba (plural of Tendana) were killed and he appointed his sons Sheno, Danaa, Lareyogu, Kpalaga, Tuntie, Suzable, Legu, Binbien, and Waa respectively as chiefs of the conquered villages.

Konkomba Chiefs, on visit of His Royal Highness Edward VIII The Prince of Wales to the Kingdom of Dagbon in 1925

The success of Naa Nyagse is attributed primarily to a well-structured military organization and a cavalry division that overwhelmed their opponents, the Konkombas and other smaller groups. The Dagbon Kingdom was surrounded by peoples of the African savannah, who lacked a sophisticated political or military organization and therefore fell easy prey to the “mounted warriors”. The cavalry were very instrumental in the spread of the Dagbon Kingdom. They could travel long distances across the flat open countryside of the north taking villages and establishing authority by appointing chiefdoms and chiefs in the conquered villages.

Naa Nyagse and subsequent kings of Dagbon, after conquering new villages, established themselves as rulers of the people. They appointed chiefs to preserve order and hardly influenced the way of life of the indigenes, especially the Konkomba people. The new rulers married from the conquered thus successfully assimilating the new villages into the Dagbon Empire with the exception of the Konkomba villages who proved intransigence to Dagomba rule.

At Zangbalun Naa Nyagse appointed his uncle, Burzambo, chief and at Didoge he appointed one of his followers, Bolega, as chief. Naa Nyagse continued on his conquest taking Kunkon, Zakole, and Nane. He installed his sons Tulibi, Bimbaliga, and Koledgenle as chiefs. At Karaga his uncle, brother of Sitobu became Karaga Naa while other uncles, Biyunkomba and Bogyelgu, were appointed to the chiefdoms of Mion and Sunson, respectively.

After the conquest in Western Dagbon, Naa Nyagse crossed the Oti River into Eastern Dagbon where he conquered Zabzugu, installing his son Yalem chief, and then proceeded to Nakpali and enskinned Yembageya. Next came Salenkogu, where his grandson, Nguhuriba, was appointed chief and Tagnemo, went to another grandson, Kabiun.

Naa Nyagse then returned to Yogu and killed the Tendana of Namogu. It was while at Yogu that Naa Nyagse built Yani Dabari, where he died in 1432.

  • Naa Zulandi (1432–42)
  • Naa Bierigudeera (1442–54)
  • Naa Darigudeera (1454–69)
  • Naa Zolgu (1469–86)
  • Naa Zongma (1486–06)
  • Naa Ningmitooni (1506–14)
  • Naa Dimani (1514–27)
  • Naa Yanzoe (1527–43)
  • Naa Darizegu (1543–54)
  • Naa Luro (1554–70)
  • Naa Titugri (1570–89)
  • Naa Zagli (1589–1608)
  • Naa Zokuli (1609–27)
  • Naa Gungobili (1627–48)

Naa Zangina (1648–77)[edit]

The ascension of Naa Zangina to Yani is a very important milestone in the history of Nam in Dagbon. Since the foundation of the kingdom of Greater Dagbon through the conquest of Naa Nyagse, the skin of Yani was preserved for Yanabihi. Since the Ya Naa traditionally had several wives, the number of aspirants and eligible candidates for the Nam grew with every Ya Naa. On the death of Naa Gungobli there were nine contestants for the skins of Yani. All the contestants were sons of Naa Titugri, except for Andani Sigli, who was the son of Naa Zagli. The contest was so fierce that the elders feared for a civil war. The elders not able to reach a consensus as to which of the contestants would become Ya Naa referred the selection to the Nayiri (the paramount chief of Mamprugu).

The Nayiri asked each of the contestants to prove his wisdom and show that he is best suited to ascend the skins of Yani by choosing a proverb. As it is in Dagbon, every Naa upon ascension to the skins chooses a proverb to guide his reign. After the choice of proverbs by the contestants and consideration of the Nayiri, Naa Zangina, the youngest of the sons of Naa Titugri and the wealthiest of the contestants, received the nod of the Nayiri. Prior to his ascension to the skins of Yani, Naa Zangina was a very successful and wealthy trader. Some contend that Naa Zangina bought his way to the skins of Yani. Second on Mamprugu Nayiri’s list was Andani Sigli. Nayiri decreed that he would be Naa after the death of Naa Zangina.

After the ascension of Naa Zangina, the constitution of Dagbon, which hitherto preserved the skins of Yani to all sons of a Ya Naa, was amended. The amendment limited eligibility to the skins of Yani to those Yanabihi occupying the "gate skins" of Karaga, Savelugu and Mion. This amendment was to eradicate the bitter, and sometimes bloody, contests among Yanabihi to the skins of Yani.

  • Naa Andani I - Sigli (1677–87)
  • Naa Binbiegu (1687–1700)
  • Naa Gariba (1700–20)
  • Naa Nasalan Ziblim (1720–35)
  • Naa Ziblim (1735–40)
  • Naa Ziblim Kulunku (1740–60)
  • Naa Andani II –Jangbariga (1760–78)
  • Naa Suman Zoli (1778–99)

The emergence of Yani Gates[edit]

The emergence of the Yani gates is a pivotal era in the history of Dagbon. It is the beginning and the birthplace of the current crisis and Yani struggles in Dagbon. From the era of Naa Gbewaa, the Nam remained the preserve of Yanabihi and it was common for aspirants to use brutal machinations to ascend the skins of Yani. Brother rose against brother in war to reach the ultimate destination of all Yanabihi. The last of the Yanabihi to ascend the skins of Yani by use of force and murder was Ya Naa Yakubu I.

Ya Naa Yakubu I (1799–1839)[edit]

During the reign of Ya Naa Suman Zoli (1778–99), Yelizoli Lana Lagfu became very powerful and feared among his peers. He was committed to assisting his uncle (his mother’s brother), then Mion Lana Yakubu to acquire Yani. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu and Naa Yakubu organized their forces and launched a surprise attack on Ya Naa Suman Zoli, defeating his army and killing the Ya Naa. Mion Lana Yakubu then ascended the skin of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Yakubu I and ruled until his death in 1839. Ya Naa Yakubu I was the father of Naa Abdulai (Abudu) and Naa Andani, the founders of Abudu Yili and Andani Yili respectively.

During the kingship of Ya Naa Yakubu I, his nephew Yelizoli Lana Lagfu grew in strength and in the process acquired for himself nine different chieftainships. The chieftainships usurped by Yelizori Lana Lagfu included Zabzugu, Gbungbaliga, Tagnamo, Nakpachia, Korli, Kunkon, Demon, and Chim. The son’s of Ya Naa Yakubu I led by Abdulai, Andani, and Mahami feared that Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was getting too powerful and would eventually capture Yani upon their father’s death. Even though Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was a Pagabia and under Dagbon tradition had no claim on Yani.

The opportunity for the princes to eliminate the threat posed by Yelizoli Lana Lagfu came when Ya Naa Yakubu I became mentally ill. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu, hearing about his uncle’s ailment moved to Yendi and put Ya Naa Yakubu I in shackles to prevent him from causing mischief in town. This action of Yelizoli Lana Lagfu made it easier for the princes to convince other yanabihi that Yelizoli Lana Lagfu wanted to usurp Yani. The princes organized an army of Yanabihi and made war on Yelizoli Lana Lagfu in a battle at Demon. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was killed in the ensuing battle.

The princes were not yet done with their machinations, since they were not occupants of Yani gate skins and could not ascend Yani upon the death of Ya Naa Yakubu I; Naa Abdulai (Abudu) was chief of Tampion, Naa Andani-chief of Nyon and Naa Mahami chief of Nakpali. The perfect opportunity for the princes came when the chief of Karaga, Naa Mahami, died. They conspired to acquire Karaga for one of them. Unfortunately, Ya Naa Yakubu I appointed then Sunson Naa Yahaya (his brother) to Karaga. The princes would not have any of that. First, Naa Mahami fought on the side of Yelizoli Lana Lagfu at the battle of Demon. Secondly, a soothsayer had warned them that if he was enskinned Karaga Lana, a Yani gate skin, he would succeed to Yani upon their father’s death. The third reason and probably the most important of all was to have one of them on a gate skin before the death of their father. The princes once again organized an army and ambushed the new Karaga Lana on his way to Karaga and killed him.

The action of the princes angered Ya Naa Yakubu I and he made war on them. The princes and their supporters once again became victorious in pivotal battles at Vitin and Banvim Dohini, near Tamale. They, however, spared their father’s life and he continued to rule until his death. The princes captured the skins of Savelugu and Mion and Naa Abdulai (Abudu) became Mion lana, Naa Andani became Yo Naa while one of their supporters Sakpe Naa Adama was promoted to the vacant skin of Karaga.

On the death of Ya Naa Yakubu I, his son, Mion Lana Abdulai (Abudu), became Gbon Lana and later enskined Ya Naa Abdulai I. His brother Korli Naa Mahami never lived to occupy a gate skin and never ascended the skins of Yani. Thus the third gate that would have been formed became extinct. Since his children could not rise above their father they were limited to skins at par with Korli.

Naa Abdulai I (1839–58)[edit]

Ya Naa Abdulai I ruled for 19 years (1839–58). Upon his death his brother Naa Andani succeeded him, under the skin name of Ya Naa Andani II.

Naa Andani II (1858–96)[edit]

Naa Andani II ruled for 38 years (1858–96). His ascension to the skins of Yani marks the beginning of the current rotation between the two royal houses, Abdulai (Abudu) Yili and Andani Yili. Ya Naa Abdulai I and Ya Naa Andani II were of different mothers. According to Dagbon custom and tradition no two princes of the same woman can ascend Yani. The slogan goes that “no woman can bring forth two lions”. Naa Abdulai’s mother was Gbanzalun Lamisi while Naa Andani’s mother was Galibang Budaali.

It was under the reign of Ya Naa Andani II that the Europeans begun excursions into Dagbon. The European came bearing flags, treaties and promise of protection. Dagbon under Naa Andani resisted the advancement of the Germans into the kingdom. On 4 December 1886 an army about 7,000-strong, armed with bows and arrows, clashed with the German army with their guns at Adiboo, near Yendi. The bravery of the Dagbon warriors is eulogised in a song of praise to Kambon Nakpema Ziblim.

Ya Naa Andani II, before his death, recommended that upon his death Karaga Naa Alasani, a son of Naa Abdulai (Abudu) I, would become Ya Naa and his (Ya Naa Andani II) eldest son Tugu Naa Yiri would become Karaga Naa, a Ya Naa in waiting. This was to establish the “unwritten” rotational system of ascension to Yani. But this was not to be.

Upon the death of Ya Naa Andani II, the struggle for Yani once again flared up. After the death of Ya Naa Andani II, Karaga Naa Alasani failed to go to Yendi to mourn with the children of Ya Naa Andani II. According to Dagbon custom and tradition, upon the death of a Ya Naa all divisional chiefs must go to Yendi and offer their burial kits to the bereaved family. The only exception to this is Gushie Naa. After presenting their burial kits, the chiefs may choose to stay in Yendi until after the funeral rites are performed and the new Ya Naa is outdoored or go back to their respective chiefdoms. For the occupants of the gate skins, the presentation of the burial kit is deemed an unofficial application for consideration for Yani.

The failure of Karaga Naa Alasani to mourn the death of Ya Naa Andani II angered his children. So when Karaga Naa Alasani went to Yendi during the final funeral rites of Ya Naa Andani II and presented his donation towards the funeral of Ya Naa Andani II, the family refused the donation and returned it to Karaga Naa Alasani. Karaga Naa Alasani left Yendi.

After the funeral of Ya Naa Andani II, contrary to his recommendation, Yoo Naa Darimani (a.k.a. Kukra Adjei) was enskinded Ya Naa. Ya Naa Darimani, was son of Ya Naa Yakubu I. In the sense of the word was not from Abudu Yili and in all likelihood an Andani Yili sympathizer. This was the first upset in the instituted rotational system between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili.

The reign of Ya Naa Darimani (Kukra Adjei) was short-lived. In fact he was on the skins of Yani for seven weeks. In the heat of the dispute surrounding the funeral of Ya Naa Andani II and the enskinment of Ya Naa Darimani, Korli Naa Bukari Narkaw went to Sansanne Mango, in Togoland, and invited the Germans to attacked Yendi.

The Germans had earlier failed to capture Dagbon in the famed Battle of Adiboo and held this grudge against Naa Andani II. The Germans led by Dr Rigler saw this invitation, and the state of disarray in the Dagbon State, as a golden opportunity to impose German domination on Dagbon. The Germans moved into Dagbon meeting the entourage from Western Dagbon at Sang on their way back home after the enskinment of Ya Naa Darimani. They attacked and killed Tugu Naa Yiri, who had been enskinned Yo Naa.

Ya Naa Darimani (Kukra Adjei) abdicated Yani and fled from Yendi. The Germans helped enskin Karaga Naa Alasani as the new Ya Naa.

The partition of Dagbon[edit]

Gold Coast Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, greets Dagbon Chiefs at a Coronation Durbar which was held at Tamale in 1953
Ya Naa Alasani (1899–1917)

Upon his ascension to Yani, Ya Naa Alasani enskinned his uncle Korli Naa Bukari Narkaw to the now vacant skin of Karaga. Ya Naa Alassani also appointed his brother Kalim to Mion, deskining Mion Lana Salifu, and his uncle Bukari to Savelugu. When Yo Naa Bukari died in the early 1900, Ya Naa Alassani appointed his brother Mahama to Savelugu. These appointments are important because at that point there was no one from Andani yili on a gate skin. Therefore Andani yili could not get to Yani as the rotation system demanded. The appointment of chiefs to the divisional chiefdoms is left at the sole discretion of the Ya Naa and his elders. Whoever he wills is appointed.

After the ascension of Ya Naa Alasani to the skins of Yani Dagbon was partitioned into Togoland Dagbon and British Dagbon. On 14 November 1899, the colonial powers of Britain and Germany signed a convention to establish boundaries to their colonial territories. The British Dagbon mainly consisted of Western Dagbon, stretching from around Mion (Sambu) to Tamale. Whereas Yendi, Mion (Sambu) and most of Eastern Dagbon made up Togoland Dagbon, under German administration. The partition of Dagbon created intense friction between Ya Naa Alasani on the one hand and Yani gate skins in Western Dagbon on the other. Especially, his uncle Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw.

After the partition of Dagbon the British administration instructed all Western Dagbon chiefs to sever all links and communication with Yani. In fact when Yo Naa Mahama (chief of Savelugu and brother of Ya Naa Alasani) was found to be communicating with Ya Naa Alasani he was removed as chief of Savelugu and thrown into British jail. Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw heeded the instruction of the British and severed all communication with Yendi. Karaga Naa Bukari was so cooperative with the British administration that he was described as one of the most loyal chiefs in Dagbon.

The partition of Dagbon saw various chiefs in Western Dagbon take advantage of the situation to advance and grow their chiefdoms. Upon the death of Mion Lana Kalim in 1911, Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw assumed the capacity of “British Dagbon Ya Naa” and enskinned son of Ya Naa Andani II as British Mion Lana. At the same time Ya Naa Alasani appointed his son Naa Abdulai as German Mion Lana. Thus there were two chiefs for Mion. The British Mion Lana made Kpabia the seat of Mion whiles the German Mion Lana remained in Sambu which had fallen under Germany jurisdiction.

It is narrated that just before the partition of Dagbon Gulkpe Naa (chief of Tamale) was traveling in Yendi. He could therefore not return to Tamale for the duration of the partition. Dakpema of Tamale thus made claim as the chief of Tamale. Under this claim Dakpema was able to convince the British to move the capital of the Northern Territories to Tamale from Gambaga.

After the removal of Yo Naa Mahama, the second son of Ya Naa Andani II, Naa Bukari, was enskinned chief of Savelugu. Other sons of Ya Naa Andani II had also taken the skins of Sagnarigu, Tampion, Zangbalun and Kpatinga. Thus, the Andani gate grew very powerful in Western Dagbon under the British. Ya Naa Alasani died on 17 January 1917 during the First World War and the partition of Dagbon. In 1917, however, Togoland Dagbon was under British control. Three years earlier, in 1914, the British invaded and took Yendi without much resistance from the Germans. There was, however, uncertainty regarding the outcome of the war. The British did not, therefore, allow the enskinment of a successor to Ya Naa Alasani. The Gbon Lana of Ya Naa Alasani, Mion Lana Abdulai, served in the role of Ya Naa.

Ascension of Ya Naa Bukari and Ya Naa Abdulai II[edit]

In 1920, after the defeat of Germany, the British administration allowed the reunification of Dagbon and the enskinment of a successor to Ya Naa Alasani. On 20 November 1920 the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories (CCNT), Captain C. A. Armitage, formally invited 35 Dagbon chiefs to Tamale to reunite Dagbon and request them to select a new Ya Naa.

In a speech to the gathering, the CCNT outlined the history of Dagbon under the British administration and asked them to set aside their differences and all misunderstandings of the past. He asked that personal considerations and vendettas be set aside and that a chief who is most suited to carry out the duties of Ya Naa in the best interest of the people of Dagbon be chosen.

The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Abdulai, son of Ya Naa Alasani, he had, de facto, served as Ya Naa after the death of Ya Naa Alasani; Yo Naa Bukari, son of Ya Naa Andani II, he was at this time advanced in age, blind and partially paralysed; Karaga Naa Ziblim, a great grandson of Ya Naa Yakubu, though occupant of a gate skin he was not eligible for selection; British “Mion Lana” Abdulai, also son of Ya Naa Andani II, he was appointed to British Mion by Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw. This appointment was disputed by many especially the chiefs and elders of Togoland (German) Dagbon.

On 22 November 1920 the CCNT gathered the chiefs and asked if they had come to a decision as to who would be successor to Ya Naa Alasani. The chiefs informed him that Yo Naa Bukari was chosen as new Ya Naa. Yo Naa Bukari was unable to relocate to Yendi from Savelugu to serve as Ya Naa because of his age and failing health. He abdicated, nominating Mion Lana Abdulai, Gbon Lana of Ya Naa Alasani, to be enskinned Ya Naa. Mion Lana Abdulai ascended the skins of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Abdulai II.

Ya Naa Abdulai II appointed British “Mion Lana” Abdulai to the vacant skin of Mion. All indications are that the gathering of Dagbon chiefs of 1920 and events that followed were orchestrated by the British CCNT, Captain Armitage. He secured the unanimous nomination of Ya Naa Bukari, his abdication and nomination of Ya Naa Abdulai II. Even the enskinment of Mion Lana Abdulai (former British Mion Lana) to the skins of Mion were the wishes of Captain Armitage.

The importance of the selection of both Naa Bukari and Naa Abdulai II is that it never followed the tradition and custom of Dagbon. They were not selected by the traditional selection committee through soothsaying and divination, but rather through a consultation of the divisional chiefs of Dagbon.

The British government of the Northern Territories set out to rebuild the reputation of the Ya Naa, especially with the chiefdoms of British Dagbon who had been severed from Yendi for a long time. The government acquired a truck for the use of the Ya Naa and organized the visit of Ya Naa Abdulai II to Kumasi in 1925 after the return of Nana Prempeh from exile in Seychelles. The British however, still influenced the nomination and enskinment of chiefs in Dagbon. They secured for the chiefs of the former British Dagbon advancement skins; for fear that Ya Naa Abdulai II will deny them the skins in retaliation for their defiance of Yani under the British. One such occasion was the enskinment of successor to Yo Naa Bukari who died in 1921. The British government of the Northern Territories influenced the selection of Bamvim Lana Abdulai for Savelugu.

Even though the British had decreed they would not influence the selection and enskinment of chiefs in Dagbon, they still reserved the right to approve every enskinment. They instituted a probationary system for chiefs of Dagbon and could deskin any chief who was found to perform unsatisfactorily by British standards.

Dagbon Conference of 1930[edit]

The Dagbon Conference of 1930 opened on 24 November. Though the primary reason for the conference, from the point of view of the colonial government, was the institution of indirect rule, the conference holds a very significant place in the history of Dagbon.

The conference issued a detailed statement of the history and boundaries of Dagbon. The document listed the various classes of chieftaincy and the order of precedence within each class. The conference also specified the elders of Yendi and the constitution of the Dagbon State Council. The procedures and qualifications relating to succession to Yani were outlined. The conference reaffirmed that only chiefs occupying the gate skins of Mion, Karaga, and Savelugu were eligible for Yani. Also grandsons were categorically excluded from ascending the skins of Yani.

Regarding the selection of the Ya Naa the conference agreed that the Kuga Na, Tugri Nam, Gushie Naa and Gomli constituted the Ya Naa selection committee. The conference confirmed that the all appointments to chieftaincy in Dagbon were to be made by the Ya Naa, and that the Ya Naa cannot be deprived of the Nam except by death.

The conference also laid down plans to establish a Dagbon Native Authority. The Dagbon Native Authority consisted of the Ya Naa and his council. Thirteen subordinate Native Authorities consisting of various divisional chiefs and their elders were also instituted. The Native Authorities had the duty to maintain order and also had the right to arrest, impose penalties and imprisonment.

The powers, so bestowed on the Ya Naa, made his office very lucrative to all Dagbon Princes. Apart from the political, administrative, and judicial powers the colonial government entrusted to the Ya Naa, he also was able to hold his own army. He drew a salary from revenue the kingdom generated from direct taxation and levies.

Ya Naa Abdulai II towards the end of his reign had failing health and he died in February 1938.

Ascension of Ya Naa Mahama II[edit]

After the death of Ya Naa Abdulai II, four chiefs announced their candidature for Yani. They were Ya Naa Abdulai’s regent - Gbon Lana Alhassan, Yo Naa Yakubu, Mion Lana Mahama, and Karaga Naa Ziblim. Both Yo Naa Yakubu and Mion Lana Mahama were sons of Ya Naa Andani II. Karaga Naa Ziblim was son of Karaga Naa Bukari who never got to Yani. According to the constitution of Dagbon, the candidature of Gbon Lana Alhassan and Karaga Naa Ziblim was symbolic in nature. Karaga Naa Ziblim’s father never got to Yani and since no chief could rise higher than his father he was eligible for chiefdoms at par with Karaga. Gbon Lana Alhassan on the other hand was not occupying a gate skin.

The Ya Naa selection committee, on 23 September 1938, announced that Mion Lana Mahama was selected Ya Naa under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama II. Ya Naa Mahama II enskinned Gbon Lana Alhassan to the vacant skin of Mion.

In 1947 Karaga Naa Ziblim died. Ya Naa Mahama II appointed his son, then Sagnarigu Naa Andani, to the vacant skin of Karaga amidst protest from the elders of Yendi and citizens of Karaga. In the turbulence of the moment Sunson Naa Adam, younger brother of Karaga Naa Ziblim, defied the Ya Naa and moved to Karaga to occupy the vacant skin before Naa Andani could get to Karaga. Banvim Lana Abdulai, who had been elevated to Sagnarigu had also moved to occupy the Sagnarigu skin, thus leaving Naa Andani without a skin. The District Commissioner intervened at this point and suspended the enskinment of Karaga.

On 6 February 1948 Ya Naa Mahama II died, aged about 80 years old.

After the death of Ya Naa Mahama II, at a Dagbon State Council meeting on 12 May 1948, chaired by Gbon Lana of Ya Naa Mahama II, a unanimous decision was reached to change the Ya Naa selection committee. The new selection committee constituted the divisional chiefs and elders of Yendi. The following were member of the committee;

Divisional chiefs
  • Gushie Naa
  • Yelzoli Lana
  • Nanton Naa
  • Gulkpe Naa
  • Sunson Naa
  • Tolon Naa
  • Kumbun Naa
  • Kuga Naa
  • Zohe Naa
  • Tugri Nam
  • Gagbindana

The amendment to the traditional selection committee added that when a unanimous decision could not be reached in the selection of a Ya Naa a secret ballot will be cast and the winner will be the candidate with majority vote.

After the funeral rites of Ya Naa Mahama II were performed four chiefs submitted their candidacy for Yani. They were Yo Naa Mahamuru and Ya Naa Mahama II Gbon Lana Andani of Andani Yili and Sunson Naa Adam and Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu Yili. Ya Naa Mahama II’s regent, Gbon Lana Andani, at this time was between the skins of Sagnarigu and Karaga. Sunson Naa Adam also had usurped the skin of Karaga and was in fact, a great grandson. These two candidates had in fact, not officially occupied the gate skin of Karaga. Mion Lana Mahama was younger brother of Ya Naa Abdulai II and was enskinned Mion Lana after the death of Ya Naa Abdulai son, Mion Lana Alhassan.

Mion Lana Mahama was selected over the other candidates and he ascended the skins of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama III. In fact the selection of Ya Naa Mahama III was carried out by the traditional selection committee and not the newly constituted selection committee.

Ya Naa Mahama III (1948–53)[edit]

After the funeral rites of Ya Naa Mahama II were performed, Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu Yili ascended the skins of Yani under the skin name of Ya Naa Mahama III. Ya Naa Mahama appointed the regent of Ya Naa Mahama II, Andani, to the vacant skins of Mion and confirmed Sunson Naa Adam to the skins of Karaga.

The reign of Ya Naa Mahama III was during the tail end of colonial rule and the rise of the Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP. During this period efforts were made to define and protect chieftaincy. Legislation was enacted to form State Councils and an instrument published to recognize Head Chiefs (paramountcies) in the Northern Territories. In Dagbon the Ya Naa was recognized as Head Chief and the Dagbon State Council, consisting of divisional chiefs was formed. The Dagbon State Council was responsible for enquiring and determining any matters of constitutional nature arising within the kingdom of Dagbon. The reign of Ya Naa Mahama III was reasonably calm, compared to the situation in Dagbon after his death. Ya Naa Mahama III died in 1953 after about a five-year reign.

Choosing a successor to Ya Naa Mahama III[edit]

The events following the death of Ya Naa Mahama III, performance of his final funeral rites, and enskinning his successor probably marks the beginning of modern day chieftaincy constitutional crisis in Dagbon. The events that followed the death of Ya Naa Mahama III reignited the bitter “Andani Yili – Abudu Yili” struggle that had hitherto plagued the Kingdom for the best part of the last half-century, albeit to a lesser degree.

In the final days of the reign of Ya Naa Mahama III and immediately following his death, there were rumours in the kingdom that Mion Lana Andani was responsible for the illness and demise of the Ya Naa. The family of Ya Naa Mahama III was therefore angered by the alleged sorcery of Mion Lana Andani and banned him from attending the funeral of the Ya Naa. This accusation caused a lot of trouble in the kingdom, as Mion Lana Andani - a member of the Andani gate - was favoured to be enskinned Ya Naa to maintain the rotation of the Nam between the two gates. Ya Naa Mahama III was a member of Abudu Yili. Failure of Mion Lana Andani to attend the funeral of the Ya Naa could in fact disqualify him from presenting his candidacy for Yani (as in the case of Ya Naa Alasani).

On his death bed, it is alleged that, Ya Naa Mahama III requested that his first son not be installed Gbon Lana because of his physical deformities. Ya Naa Mahama III proposed to by-pass his children and install Kpating Lana Ziblim, a son of Ya Naa Abdulai II and nephew of Ya Naa Mahama III, Gbon Lana. A petition from the eldest son of Ya Naa Mahama III, Abdulai, and his supporters to the government of the Gold Coast and protests from Andani Yili led to the intervention of government forces and Abdulai was installed Gbon Lana.

Next problem was establishing who had the right to select the successor to Ya Naa Mahama III. In Dagbon custom and tradition, the selection of the new Ya Naa fell on a committee of kingmakers made up of Gushie Naa, Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam, and Gomli.

The kingmakers consulted oracles and soothsayers to determine which of the eligible candidates’ (occupants of Yani gate skins) reign as Ya Naa would bring peace and prosperity to Dagbon. Earlier in 1948 during the installation of Ya Naa Mahama III, as we have already noted, a new Ya Naa selection committee was formed to replace the traditional committee of kingmakers. The reason for the new selection committee was to include other members from outside Yendi to determine which of the contestants was most suitable for Yani. The older selection committee consisted of elders of Yendi and other parts of the kingdom had no voice in choosing of the Ya Naa. More importantly, the new selection committee was conceived under the colonial governments strive to establish a democratic system of government in Dagbon, in the hope that it will make it easier for literate yanabihi to make it to Yani and other divisional chiefdoms. Thus making the governance of the kingdom easier from the colonial government’s point of view.

They noted that the system of ascension to the skins of Yani and to other divisional chiefdoms excluded the young and literate princes of Dagbon from reaching high positions. The new committee was also a step towards democratization of the process, as most of the chiefs appointed to the skins in Dagbon lacked the education and commitment to the system of government and taxation put in place by the colonial government. The high-ranking chiefs of Dagbon were very critical and suspicious of education and therefore did not enrol their children in schools. Most of the literate princes were therefore eligible to lower ranking chiefdoms without much impact on the chieftaincy politics in the kingdom.

The legitimacy of this new committee was being challenged, as most felt that the formation of the committee in 1948 was not discussed at the Dagbon State Council nor was the committee involved in the selection of Ya Naa Mahama III. At an emergency session, the Dagbon State Council unanimously voted to adopt the resolution of 1948 reconstituting the Ya Naa selection committee (kingmakers). This meeting was attended by Mion Lana Andani and other members of Andani Yili who later ratified the minutes of the meeting. After settling the issue with the legitimacy of the selection committee, came the application of Kpating Lana Ziblim for consideration for Yani. Even though Kpating Lana Ziblim was not occupying a gate skin, and thus not eligible for Yani, he made an application nonetheless, saying:

Although I am not occupying a high chieftainship as our constitution demands,
I further want to explain that
Naa Zangina I was Bolun Lana and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Sigli was Zolugu Naa and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Gungobli was Yamol-Karaga Naa and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Ziblim was Kpating Lana and he was made Ya Naa;
Therefore my present post will not debar me from being made Ya Naa”.[2]

At a meeting of the Dagbon State Council, Kpating Lana’s application was rejected by a vote of 18 to 6. The council decided that only the three occupants of Yani gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu and Mion would be considered for Yani.

On 12 December 1953, one day after the vote rejecting the application of Kpating Lana, Dagbon State Council unanimously agreed that the sitting Gbon Lana Abdulai had the right to apply for Yani. With this decision the Dagbon constitution was amended to include the reigning Gbon Lana for consideration as Yani, if he applies.

This makes the eligible number of candidates for Yani four, the reigning Gbon Lana and the occupants of Yani Gate Skins.

On 19 March 1954, the selection committee met in Yendi to select the successor to Ya Naa Mahama III. The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Andani, Yo Naa Mahamuru, Karaga Naa Adam and Gbon Lana Abdulai. Both Mion Lana Andani and Yo Naa Mahamuru were from Andani Yili. Karaga Naa Adam was only a great grandson and could not succeed to Yani. The Gbon Lana Abdulai at this time was not a holder of any chiefdom. After the voting was completed, Mion Lana Andani polled 2 votes and Gbon Lana Abdulai got the remaining 9 votes. Yo Naa Mahamuru and Karaga Naa Adam got no votes.

Ya Naa Abdulai III (1954–67)[edit]

Gbon Lana Abduali ascended Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Abdulai III. His ascension to the skins of Yani upset the rotation of the nam between Andani Yili and Abudu Yili.

On 20 March 1954, Ya Naa Abdulai III exited “katin duu” and in a colourful procession amidst drumming and dancing proceeded to Zohe. Zohe is a suburb of Yendi where by custom every new Ya Naa spends the first week of his reign.

While Abudu Yili was jubilating and merry-making, Andani Yili put into motion a series of machinations and protests to the ascension of Ya Naa Abdulai III. On 27 March 1954, Karaga Naa Adam, Yo Naa Mahamuru, and Mion Lana Andani agreed to go to Tamale to formally launch a protest with the Chief Regional Officer against the enskinment of Ya Naa Abdulai. The protest in Tamale did not bear fruit as the complainants could not answer the question of the Chief Regional Officer as to which of them would be best suited to be enskined Ya Naa if Ya Naa Abdulai III was deskined.

Andani Yili, not satisfied with the outcome of their protests commenced proceedings in the Dagbon State Council against Ya Naa Abdulai III. The charges were:

He had conspicuous physical deformities, which by custom disqualifies a person from occupying Yani. The said physical deformities were a defective eye and defective toes. He was not selected by the traditional four-man selection committee (kingmakers): Kuga Naa, Gushie Naa, Tugri Nam, and Gomli. He was not eligible for selection because he was not an occupant of a gate skin. His selection violated the established rotation between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili. He was not installed by the proper functionaries established to enskin a Ya Naa: Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam and Gomli. In fact Kuga Naa and Tugri Nam were the only members of the selection committee to cast their votes for Mion Lana Andani. They were therefore against the selection of Ya Naa Abdulai III and refused to install him Ya Naa.

On 19 March 1954, Kuga Naa and Tugri Nam together with other Andani Yili supporters were ready to enter Katin duu with Mion Lana Andani, the same time Ya Naa Abdulai III was in Katin duu. But for the presence of security forces in Yendi, Abudu Yili and Andani Yili were ready to do battle.

The Dagbon State Council convened on 20 September 1958, to hear the case against Ya Naa Abdulai III. The council tried the case and dismissed all charges against Ya Naa Abdulai III, stating that the Ya Naa was customarily and properly enskinned with the approval of the selection committee.

After the Dagbon State Council dismissed the case of Andani Yili against Ya Naa Abdulai III, various divisional and subdivisional chiefs of Dagbon who belonged to Andani Yili left their respective villages and camped in Sambu. The chiefs of Andani Yili led by then MP and CPP Minister of Health J. H. Allassani, appealed the dismissal of their case at the State Council under the House of Chiefs Act (1958) to the government of the CPP on 4 May 1959. The appeal resounded the charges made before the Dagbon State Council and added that the Dagbon State Council refused to hear their case.

To understand the urgency of Mion Lana Andani and Andani Yili, to get to Yani you have to take a trip back to the ascensions of Ya Naa Abudu I and Ya Naa Andani II to establish Abudu Yili and Andani Yili.

  • Abdulai I 1864–76 (Abudu Yili – 12 years)
  • Andani II 1876–99 (Andani Yili – 22 years)
  • Darimani 1899–99 (Andani Yili? – 7 weeks)
  • Alasani 1899–1917 (Abudu Yili - 18 years)
  • Bukari? 1920 (Andani Yili – abdicated)
  • Abdulai II 1917–38 (Abudu Yili – 21 years; includes years of regency)
  • Mahama II 1938–48 (Andani Yili – 10 years)
  • Mahama III 1948–53 (Abudu Yili – 5 years)
  • Abdulai III 1953–67 (Abudu Yili – 14 years)

As can be seen from the above list, from 1899 to the ascension of Ya Naa Abdulai III, a period of 54 years, Andani Yili had been on the skins of Yani for only 10 years. During the remainder of the period, Abudu Yili ruled Dagbon and had enskinned almost every Naa of the significant chiefdoms in the kingdom. The chiefs, naturally, favoured Abudu Yili, hence the ease with which the selection committee elected Ya Naa Abdulai III.

This fact apart, Andani Yili had two chiefs, Yo Naa Mahamuru and Mion Lana Andani, who had not yet reached Yani. Yo Naa Mahamuru was over 80 years old and was not expected to live long enough to get to Yani, whereas Mion Lana Andani was now over 50 years old. Ya Naa Abdulai III was in his twenties and there was therefore urgency in an Andani ascending the skins of Yani to keep the gate alive. This urgency included calls for the deskinning Ya Naa Abdulai III as he was thought to be younger and would outlive the two Andani chiefs on the gate skins of Savelugu and Mion.

The government of the CPP at this time needed support in the Northern Territories badly as the Northern Peaples Party (NPP) was winning most of the seats in the Dagbon Electoral Areas. The Ya Naa would not also lend his support to the CPP and his association with the de facto leader of the NPP in Dagbon – Tolon Naa Yakubu Tali, did not help matters.

The government of the CPP appointed a committee of enquiry under S. D. Opoku Afari, a barrister of law. The committee of inquiry listening to the case and witnesses from both Andani Yili and Abudu Yili made his recommendations to the Minister of Local Government of Kwame Nkrumah's CPP government, A. E. A Ofori Atta, who in turn took the report to cabinet.

The report found that: Ya Naa Abdulai III was indeed physically deformed. The rotation between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili was upset by the ascension of Ya Naa Abdulai III. Succession to Yani was limited to the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu and Mion. At the cabinet meeting, the findings of the appeals commissioner were overturned. The government submitted that Ya Naa Abdulai was customarily and constitutionally elected and enskinned. It is alleged that this measure was taken because of fear of suffering a setback in the Northern Territories if the government indeed deskinned the Ya Naa. The setback that was being considered here was that prior to the Opoku-Afari report most of the educated in Dagbon, notablyYakubu Tali-Tolon Naa and Salifu Yakubu – MP for Savelugu, had abandoned the NPP and joined the CPP, In fact Ya Naa Abdulai III and most of the chiefs in Dagbon converted to the CPP en bloc.

The government then invited Mion Lana Andani and Ya Naa Abdulai III to Accra. On 17 June 1960, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, asked the parties to bury their differences and work together for the betterment of Dagbon and Ghana as a whole.

Back to Sambu, Mion Lana Andani did not give up the fight to get to Yani. He continued to lobby government to take another look at the constitutionality of Ya Naa Abdulai III ascension to Yani. He sent a letter to Dr Kwame Nkrumah explaining that he had understood the political arguments behind the government’s decision not to deskin Ya Naa Abdulai. He then asked Nkrumah to understand that if he died without ascending to Yani all his children and in fact, the Andani gate would be excluded from Yani forever.

On 25 August 1960, the government made a declaration of customary law which became known as Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59). The declaration was as follows:

The ascension to the Yendi Skin shall be in rotation among the Abudu and Andani families Persons who are eligible to occupy the skins shall be the sons of deceased or previous Ya Naa’s occupying one of the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion Sons of deceased or former Ya Naa occupying skins other than the gate skins are not eligible for appointment to the Yendi Skins On the death of the Ya Naa Abdulai III the next Ya Naa shall be Mion Lana Andani of Andani Yili. In the event of Mion Lana Andani pre-deceasing Ya Naa Abdulai III, the next Mion Lana, who shall be from Andani Yili, should occupy the Skins of Yendi Since candidates from Abudu Yili have twice in succession occupied the Yendi Skins, candidates from Andani Yili should be given the opportunity to occupy the Skins twice in succession before the customary law of succession by rotation proceeds in the normal way In order to facilitate the application of the rule of alternation between the two ruling families of Abudu and Andani, there shall at any one time be at least one member from either family on one or two of the three gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion. Where two candidates from either family become eligible for appointment to the Yendi Skins, the senior (i.e. the one who first occupied the gate skin) shall be nominated for the Skins Since Mion Lana Andani should have ordinarily been the occupant of Yani, it should be laid down that in the event of his pre-deceasing Ya Naa Abdulai III, his sons should be regarded as sons of a former Ya Naa and qualified for Yani. The legislative instrument 59 was a victory of sort for Andani Yili. It displeased Abudu Yili in that it recognized the fact that Mion Lana Andani was the legitimate successor to Ya Naa Mahama III.

When the government of Dr Kwame Nkrumah (Convention People's Party) was ousted in a military coup d’état on 24 February 1966, Abudu Yili saw an opportunity to have L. I. 59 revoked. Abudu Yili put their political gurus to work. They lobbied the government of the National Libration Council (NLC) for the revocation of L. I. 59. On 25 May 1967, the Dagbon State Council presented a petition for the revocation of L.I. 59 to the NLC. The petition among other things argued that L.I. 59 violated the norm of Dagbon custom that no successor to any Naa should be known or determined during the reign of the incumbent, that there was no customary rotation between the two gates in Dagbon custom and constitution and that the Gbon Lana of a Ya Naa has an equal right to ascend the skins of Yani as the occupants of the three gate skins.

Ya Naa Abdulai III died on 14 September 1967, before any action on Dagbon State Council’s petition. Ya Naa Abdulai III Gbon Lana, Mahamadu, then 19 years of age and a student of the Government Secondary School in Tamale, continued the fight for revocation of L.I. 59.

On 21 October 1967, Dagbon State Council met to discuss the funeral of Ya Naa Abdulai III. Gbon Lana Mahamadu announced that he wished to postpone the final funeral rites of his father and that Karaga Naa Adam should be responsible for the funeral. Mion Lana Andani was and other members of the Dagbon State Council were against this request, stating that it is the Mion Lana who is responsible for the funeral of the Ya Naa. They also wanted a speedy performance of the final funeral rites of the Ya Naa and the enskinment of a new Ya Naa, Mion Lana Andani, in accordance with L.I. 59. Abudu Yili on the other hand was content with postponing the final funeral rites and the enskinment of the new Ya Naa to give them time to fight for the revocation of L.I. 59.

Meanwhile the government of the NLC had returned the petition of Dagbon State Council for consideration in the House of Chiefs. The House of Chiefs rejected the petition requesting that Mion Lana Andani be enskinned Ya Naa. Members of the House of Chiefs, including the Nayiri of Mamprugu and Yebunwura of Gonja, argued that L.I. 59 was the only formula to solve the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis. Dagbon State Council returned to the government with the charge that L.I. 59 was the work of J. H. Allassani and Nkrumah’s CPP and that the instrument seriously undermined the custom and tradition of Dagbon. Meanwhile a new breed of Dagbon politicians was entering the political scene and into the circus of the Yendi Chieftaincy dispute. Among them was B. A. Yakubu, a member of the N.L.C. and Deputy Commissioner of Police and Ibrahim Mahama a commissioner under the NLC government. B. A. Yakubu hailed from Gushiegu and was the son of the Gushie Naa. His brother was appointed to the skins of Gushiegu by Ya Naa Abdulai III and his father was before him appointed by Abudu Yili. B. A. Yakubu was regarded as an Abudu Yili sympathizer. Ibrahim Mahama on the other hand had become the spokesman of Andani Yili. He had earlier in 1966 graduated from the University of Ghana and was a leading member of the Northern Youth Association.

In the drama leading to the performance of the funeral of Ya Naa Abdulai III, the NLC government published legislative instrument 596 (L.I. 596) revoking L.I. 59 only to reverse its decision in NLC Decree 281 reinstating L.I. 59.

The NLC government advised the Chieftaincy Secretariat to carryout an investigation into the enactment of L.I. 59. The chairman of the Chieftaincy Secretariate, Justice J. B. Siriboe, led a three member committee to Yendi in September 1968 to begin their investigation. After their investigation, the Siriboe Committee recommended to the government to revoke L.I. 59. On 15 October 1968, the NLC government revoked Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59) in NLC Decree 296.

NLC Decree 296 also requested that a new Ya Naa be elected by Dagbon Custom and Constitution. This threw Dagbon into a state of disarray. Of the occupants of Yani gate skins only Mion Lana Andani was qualified to ascend the Skins of Yani. Karaga Naa Adam and Yo Naa (Savelugu Naa) Abdulai were both Yanse (grand sons) and thus not eligible for Yani. The struggle for Yani was now between Mion Lana Andani and Gbon Lana Mahamadu, who was eligible with the revocation of L.I. 59.

Mion Lana was supported by the traditional kingmakers of Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam, Gomli, and Kpati Naa, whereas Gbon Lana Mahamadu had the support of the modern selection committee. It was therefore no surprise that after the performance of the final funeral rites of Ya Naa Abdulai III on 7 November 1968 the two candidates were presented for enskinment. The traditional kingmakers selected Mion Lana Andani while the modern selection committee selected Gbon Lana Mahamadu. The meeting of the selection committee was not attended by Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam and Kumbun Naa who were supporters of Mion Lana Andani.

The District Administration of Yendi, receiving news that both Abudu Yili and Andani Yili were preparing to enskin their selections, prevented them from entering Katin duu for the enskinment. An armed guard was posted at Katin duu.

Meanwhile the following morning Radio Ghana news bulletin in Dagbanli announced that Mion Lana Andani had been enskinned Ya Naa while the Daily Graphic on its front page announced that Mion Lana Andani had been selected by the kingmakers. It was later alleged that Ibrahim Mahama, then Commissioner for Information, had used his office to get information of Mion Lana Andani’ selection broadcast.

Ya Naa Andani III (1968–69)[edit]

The District Administrative Officer, J. E. Nsaful, began an examination of the facts as presented by both sides. On 21 November 1968, after examination of the facts J. E. Nsaful, summoned the chiefs and informed them that the rightful successor to Ya Naa Abdulai III was Mion Lana Andani. He asked them to proceed with preparations to enskin him Ya Naa. That evening Mion Lana Andani was enskined Ya Naa Andani III. In fact the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III was not without protest. The Zohe Naa and Kpati Naa absented themselves from Katin Duu in protest.

On 22 November 1968, Ya Naa Andani III exited Katin Duu and in a colourful parade amid drumming and dancing proceeded to Zohe where he spent the first days of his reign as Ya Naa.

Once again, as was the case in 1954, while Andani Yili was merry-making Abudu Yili begun their machinations and protest against the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III. On 24 November 1968, they presented a petition to the NLC government against the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III. The petition declared that Ya Naa Andani III was not properly and customarily selected and enskinned Ya Naa. Both Kpati Naa and Gomli protested that they had not participated in the divination of soothsayers to select that Ya Naa. They also contended that several important rituals had not been performed on Ya Naa Andani III.

The NLC government appointed a three-member committee (Mate Kole Committee) on 14 December 1968 to hear the petition. The committee was chaired by Nene Azzu Mate Kole and had Nana Obiri Yeboah and Jatoe Kaleo as members. The Mate Kole Committee commenced sitting on 17 December 1968 in Tamale. The committee was to determine:

The custom and customary procedure for the nomination and/or selection of the new Ya Naa. Whether Ya Naa Andani III was properly nominated and enskined in accordance with the said Dagbon traditional custom. Whether or not the said installation was unduly influenced by the presence of armed soldiers and policemen and of the district administrative office of Yendi. While the Mate Kole Committee was still sitting, Ya Naa Andani III died on 14 March 1969, at the age of 70. He had been Ya Naa for a little less than four months. The Mate Kole Committee continued its investigation after the death of Ya Naa Andani III and concluded its report in August 1969.

In the interim, General J. A. Ankrah resigned as chairman of NLC and Ibrahim Mahama was removed as Commissioner for Information. Brigadier A. A. Afrifa, the new chairman of NLC, announced plans to return the country to civilian rule and lifted the ban on party politics. In Dagbon, party politics and membership to the parties were strongly chieftaincy aligned. Abudu Yili voted massively for the Progress Party (PP) of Dr K. A. Busia while Andani Yili voted for the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL) of K. A. Gbedemah. Ibrahim Mahama was the candidate for NAL in Tamale.

After the general elections NAL. polled about 49% of the votes and 4 of the 7 seats in Dagbon while the PP polled about 46% of the votes and the remaining 3 seats. Against their successes in the rest of the Northern Region and the country as a whole, this result was a defeat to the PP and Abudu Yili and a big victory for Andani yili.

On 3 September 1969 Dr K. A. Busia became Prime Minister of Ghana and on 4 September 1969, barely one day in office, the PP government disclosed the findings of the Mate Kole Committee in a white paper stating that the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III was against Dagbon custom and therefore null-and-void. It also accepted the findings that Gbon Lana Mahamadu was properly selected and directed that he be enskinned Ya Naa as soon as possible.

The principal findings of the Mate Kole Committee of enquiry were as follows:1

that those eligible for paramountcy are the occupants of the skins of Karaga, Savelugu or Mion if they were sons of a Ya Naa and the Gbon Lana of Yendi; these are the four persons from among whom a Ya Naa could be selected; that the body traditionally authorized to select a Ya Naa is that body agreed upon by the Dagbon State Council in 1948 and accepted by the Government; that the Mion Lana was not selected by the recognized body of Selection Committee, his alleged selection by soothsayers consisting of Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam, Amadu Gomle, and Mahama Kpatia is not the custom as at present recognized; that the Mion Lana’s alleged installation on 21 September 1968 was not performed by the Gomli, Malle, Kpahigu, Gagbindana, the Kpati Naa and the Gulkpe Naa. He did not undergo ceremonies at Zohe Naa’s house, Mba Buga’s house, or Mbadugu’s house; that the Gbolon or “Gbewa Ceremony” was not performed on him. His alleged enskinment cannot therefore be in accordance with Dagbon traditional custom and procedure. The Mate Kole Committee also found that District Administrative Officer of Yendi had interfered with the selection process by preventing Gbon Lana Mahamadu from entering Katin duu. That the District and Regional Authorities had exceeded their legal power by directing that Ya Naa Andani be installed Ya Naa. This ruling was of course not favourable to Andani Yili. On 7 September 1969 Andani Yili sent a letter of protest to the government stating that the act of enskinment of a Ya Naa and the accompanying rites performed on a qualified candidate are irrevocable. These rites were performed on Ya Naa Andani III and he lived out his life as a Ya Naa.

The period 4–8 September 1969 was grim for Yendi and Dagbon. The government after ruling in favour of Abudu Yili directed that Gbon Lana Mahamadu be enskinned Ya Naa. The government directive also indicated that Andani Yili vacate the Gbewaa Palace to enable the enskinment of Gbon Lana Mahamadu. Andani Yili at this time was protesting the deskinment of Ya Naa Andani III.

A curfew was imposed on Yendi but was constantly violated by the citizenry. In the midst of the chaos that prevailed there, the District Police Officer for Yendi was transferred and Police Superintendent Imoro Alhassan appointed in his place.

On 9 September 1969 the security forces in Yendi opened fire on members of Andani Yili who were still in the Gbewaa Palace. In all, about 23 men, women and children were massacred and about 40 more wounded. Some 700 people were arrested and a large quantity of guns confiscated. The cause of the shooting in Yendi are not clear and accounts of what happened are clamoured in rumour and often mutually exclusive. Suffice to say that even the official Government reports on the events leading to the Yendi massacre are conflicting. No commission of enquiry was ever set up to investigate the shootings at Yendi.

Ya Naa Mahama IV (1969–74)[edit]

Gbon Lana Mahamadu Abdulai was enskinned under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu). On 13 September 1969, Ya Naa Mahamadu exited Katin duu amidst heavy military and police presence. Upon ascension to the skins of Yani Ya Naa Mahamadu appointed B.A. Yakubu to the vacant skin of Gushiegu. His brother the Gushie Naa died after the ascension of Ya Naa Andani III. Ya Naa Mahamadu also appointed his uncle, Sang Lana, to the vacant skin of Mion.

On the national scene, Ya Naa Mahamadu gained some prominence. He became a member of the Council of State of Ghana in September 1969 and in May 1970 he was elected the President of the Northern Region House of Chiefs

On 13 February 1972, the Progress Party government of Dr Busia was overthrown in a coup d'état led by General I. K. Acheampong’s National Redemption Council. On 26 February 1972, Andani Yili sent a petition to the new military government to appoint a committee of inquiry into the Yendi Chieftaincy Dispute. This petition gave birth to the Ollenu Committee of Inquiry. The Ollenu committee of inquiry was headed by Justice Nii Amaa Ollennu with Sir Tsibu Darki IX, Nana Atakora Amaniampong II and Togbe Adja Tekpor VI as members.

The Ollennu committee of inquiry, among other things, was to:

ascertain the customary law (procedure) for nomination, selection, and enskinment of the Ya Naa; inquire about the circumstances leading to the abrogation of Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59); inquire into the deskinment of Ya Naa Andani III; inquire whether the nomination, selection, and enskinment of Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu) was according to Dagbon custom and constitution.

On 23 April 1974, the government of the NRC published the Ollennu Committee report together with a white paper. The Ollennu committee reversed the findings of the Mate Korle Committee. Specifically, the Ollennu Committee found that the nomination, selection, and enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III was in accordance with the custom and constitution of Dagbon and therefore his deskinment was unjustified. On the nomination, selection and enskinment of Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu) the committee was of the view that he was not customarily nominated, selected and enskinned. As a result the enskinment of Ya Naa Mahama IV was declared null-and-void.

The Ollennu committee also ruled that since no eligible member of Andani Yili occupied any of the gate skins of Yani, Ya Naa Andani III’s Gbon Lana Yakubu Andani be enskinned Ya Naa.

Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II (1974-2002)[edit]

On 31 May 1974, Gbon Lana Yakubu Andani (Kampakuya Naa) ascended the skins of Yani as Ya Naa Yakubu II. The ascension of Ya Naa Yakubu did not put an end to the aspirations of Abudu Yili to get back to Yani.

On 5 July 1978, the government of General Acheampong was ousted in a palace coup led by Lieutenant General F. W. K. Akuffo. Almost one year later, on 9 May 1979, Abudu Yili presented a petition to the government of the Supreme Military Council II. The government granted Abudu Yili the right to appeal the findings of the Ollennu Committee of Inquiry. On 4 June 1978, however, the government of Lieutenant General Akuffo was toppled in a military coup led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry J. Rawlings.

On 8 September 1979, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings visited Yendi and in a durbar held in his honour and attended by both Ya Naa Yakubu II and deskinned Ya Naa Mahama IV. Rawlings made Ya Naa Yakubu II and deskinned Ya Naa Mahama IV shake hands, reminding them that they were brothers, and asked them to bury their differences in the interests of peace and the development of Dagbon.

On 24 September 1979, the People’s National Party (PNP) government led by Dr Hilla Limann was inaugurated. In 1981, Abudu Yili won the right to appeal the findings of the Ollennu Committee and won the appeal in the Appeal Court of Ghana. Limann's PNP government was ousted in a coup on 31 December 1981, by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) led by Jerry Rawlings. The court case on the Yendi Skin Dispute, however, continued in the courts.

The appellate court found that:

The legitimate body for selecting a Ya Naa was the selection committee formed in 1948. The selection of Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu Abdulai) by the selection committee was valid and according to the constitution and tradition of Dagbon. The selection of Ya Naa Andani III was unconstitutional and thus his enskinment was null-and-void, thus Ya Naa Andani III never became Ya Naa. Ya Naa Yakubu II (Yakubu Andani) could not have been selected and enskinned since his father was never a legitimate Ya Naa. the findings of the Ollennu Committee of enquiry which recommended the deskinment of Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu Abdulai) be abrogated. Andani Yili then, appealed the decision of the Appellate Court in the Supreme Court of Ghana on 25 February 1985. On 17 December 1986 the Supreme Court of Ghana ruled, by a vote of six to one, in favour of Andani Yili setting aside the ruling of the Court of Appeal. The ruling of the Supreme Court of Ghana brought the twists and turns involving the Yendi skins to an end.

On 21 December 1986, Ya Naa Yakubu II returned to Tamale amid drumming and dancing and proceeded to Yendi and was met by an equally large jubilant group of supporters. The former Ya Naa Mahamadu also returned to Tamale and had to postpone his return to Yendi because of reports of sporadic violence between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili supporters. At the end of the disturbance, six people were killed and many more wounded. Former Ya Naa Mahamadu returned to Yendi unannounced on 3 January 1987. He lived in Yendi as the Bolin Lana until his death.

Ya Naa Yakubu II ruled Dagbon until 27 March 2002, when in clashes between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili he was murdered together with more than thirty people in the Gbewaa Palace in Yendi. Look out for more on Dagbon History. This page will continuously be updated to include most of the Yananima whose reign have not been included here.

In the earlier days the area of present day Burkina Faso and most parts of the northern region of Ghana was inhabited by acephalous tribes. These indigenous people had no structured kingdom or political system. The Tendana was the "owner of the land". He was the gateway to the ancestral or spiritual world and was responsible for offering sacrifices to the ancestors for prosperity and peace in the land.
The male children of a Ya Naa.
Gbon Lana
The eldest son of the Ya Naa (or any chief) who is of age.
royal stool used in enskinment of Ya Naa. The Ya Naa sits on the royal stool three times in the katin duu.

Death of Ya Naa[edit]

When a sitting Ya Naa dies, all divisional, and sub-divisional chiefs are officially informed of the death of the Ya Naa by the family. All chiefs must travel to Yendi and perform the some prescribed rites. These include firing of the musketry by the chiefs soldiers; visit to the Ya Naa’s grave; presentation of the burial kit to the bereaved family. The presentation of the burial kit by the Karaga Naa, Savelugu Lana, and Mion Lana – occupants of the gate skin to Yani, constitutes a preliminary application for the vacant Yani Skins. The chiefs then have the option to either go back to their respective chiefdom or stay in Yendi until the performance of the final funeral rites and the selection of a new Ya Naa. The exception to this tradition is that the Kumbun Naa and the Gushie Naa, who are not to enter Yendi until the Ya Naa selection committee have selected a successor to the Ya Naa.

Zon Titali
Main palace hall
Katin Duu
Room in the Ya Naa palace where the Ya Naa select adorns the regalia of the Ya Naa.
The Skins of Yendi or the kingship of Yendi

Selection of Ya Naa[edit]

The selection of the Ya Naa, until the early 1950s, was the responsibility of the traditional selection committee consisting of Kuga Naa, Gushie Naa, Gomli, and Tugri Nam. Kuga Naa is the official Baga of the Ya Naa. The post of the Kuga Naa was created during the reign of Naa Sitobu and his brother Sibie was the first Kuga Naa. The selection committee consults the spirits of the departed Yananima and soothsayer to establish the most eligible candidate for the nam. The most eligible candidate is one whose reign as Ya Naa will bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom. In 1948 the traditional selection committee was replaced by the modern selection committee consisting of divisional chief and elders (this new committee is a subject of dispute in the kingdom).

When the Kuga Naa and his committee have decided on the next Ya Naa they meet the Gushie Naa at the outskirts of Yendi. It is, by custom, a taboo for the Gushie Naa to enter Yendi after the death of the Ya Naa. The Kuga Naa informs the Gushie Naa who the choice of the selection committee is. Gushie Naa then enters Yendi with his entourage amidst drumming and dancing and rides to the Ya Naa palace where he pulls a piece of thatch from the roof of “Zon titali”. Gushie Naa hands the piece of thatch to Kuga Naa who later in the day sends it to the Ya Naa elect. This signifies official election of the Ya Naa.

Enskinment of Ya Naa[edit]

In the evening the Ya Naa select is led to katin duu where he is adorned with the royal insignia. The insignia includes a smock and hat belonging to Tohadzie, beads, calabash, a gourd, and a set of spears. He then sits on the royal skin, Gbolon, three times. In the early morning the Ya Naa is led to Zohe, in a colourful procession amidst drumming and dancing, to the house of the Zohe Naa where spends the first days of his reign. The Ya Naa also stays at the house of Mbadugu for a couple of days .


Northern territories chiefs and elders at the Volta River project travelling exhibition(1950)

The origins of the Dagombas are that of the Mossi who today inhabit and have their homeland in Burkina Faso.

Kingdom of Dagbon[edit]

Main article: Kingdom of Dagbon

The homeland of the Dagombas is called Dagbon and covers about 20,000 km2 in area. Much of the area was occupied by Konkombas before the formation of Dagbon Kingdom. Ethnic groups that have also inhabited Dagbon include the Mamprusi, Nanumba, Gonja, Mossi, Gurunsi (in particular the Frafra and Kusasi peoples), the Waala and Ligbi. The area constitutes seven administrative districts in present-day Ghana. These are the Tamale Municipality, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nantong, Yendi, Gushegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatali. The overlord of the Dagbon Traditional Kingdom is the Ya-Na, whose court and administrative capital is at Yendi. Dagbon as a kingdom has never been subjugated until it was incorporated as a territory of the Gold Coast government. The Dagbon Kingdom has traditional administrative responsibilities hitherto acephalous groups like the Konkomba, Bimoba, Chekosi, Basaari, Chamba, Wala, Gurusi and Zantasi. The seat of the Ya-Na (literally translated as King of Absolute Power) is a collection of cow skins. Thus the Dagbon or its political system is often called the Yendi Skin (not throne or crown or stool). Another characteristics of the Dagombas is that their houses are arranged in a certain order, where the chief or elderly man has his hut built in the center.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "World Map - People Group Name: Dagomba". 
  2. ^ a b c Steve Tonah, University of Ghana (2012). "The Politicisation of a Chieftaincy Conflict: The Case of Dagbon, Northern Ghana". Nordic Journal of African Studies 21(1): 1–20 (2012). Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  3. ^ A. K. Awedoba, Edward Salifu Mahama, Sylvanus M. A. Kuuire, Felix Longi (October 20, 2010). An Ethnographic Study of Northern Ghanaian Conflicts: Towards a Sustainable Peace. Sub-Saharan Publishers; revised edition. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Dagomba in Ghana". Retrieved March 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ C. Oppong (Mrs.). "THE CONTEXT OF SOCIALIZATION IN DAGBON". Retrieved 1 January 2014.