Gurunsi peoples

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Gurunsi people
Total population
(154,062[1] in Kingdom of Dagbon, Ghana[1]
750,000 in Burkina Faso
5% of Burkina Faso's population
Regions with significant populations
Primarily native to Kingdom of Dagbon northern Ghana, and southern Burkina Faso.
Diaspora present in USA, UK, France, Germany etc.
Various Gur languages, (including Frafra language, Dagbani, Moore), Hausa, Sissala, English, French
Predominantly Traditional and Sunni Islam; Christianity minority present around Navrongo

The Gurunsi or Grunshi are a set of ethnic groups inhabiting Kingdom of Dagbon northern Ghana, and southern Burkina Faso.

Pre-colonial history and origins[edit]

Oral traditions of the Gurunsi hold that they originated from the western Sudan near Lake Chad. While it is unknown when the migration occurred, it is believed that the Gurunsi were present in their current location by 1100 AD. Following the 15th century, when the Mossi states were established to the north, Mossi horsemen often raided Gurunsi areas for slaves, but the Gurunsi peoples were never fully subjugated, remaining independent.

According to doctor Salif Titamba Lankoande, in Noms de famille (Patronymes) au Burkina Faso, the name Gurunsi comes from the Djerma language of Niger words “Guru-si”, which means “iron does not penetrate”. It is said that during the Djerma invasions of Gurunsi lands in the late 19th century, a Djerma Jihadist leader by the name of Baba Ato Zato (better known by the Hausa corruption of his name: Babatu) recruited a battalion of indigenous men for his army, who after having consumed traditional medicines, were said to be invulnerable to iron.


The 1884 Conference of Berlin, which partitioned the continent of Africa into European colonies, saw the French, British and Germans each claiming part or all of Gurunsi territory. After establishing the protectorates of Yatenga (1895) and Ouagadougou (1896), the French annexed Gurunsi lands in 1897. Eventually the Germans withdrew to Togoland (modern Ghana & Togo), and an 1898 Anglo-French agreement officially established the boundary with the Gold Coast (now Ghana). This partition divided Gurunsi peoples among French and British administrative systems, facilitating the political and cultural divergence of sub-groups on each side of the boundary.


There are numerous ethnic sub-groups among the Gurunsi, such as: the Frafra, Kusasi, Nabt and Talensi in Ghana; the Ko, Lyele, Nuni, and Sissala in Burkina Faso; and the Bwa of Burkina Faso and Mali. The sub-groups Kassena and Nankani inhabit both Ghana and Burkina Faso. Although characterized by neither a common language nor common political institutions, the social, economic, and religious practices of these sub-groups are sufficiently similar for them to constitute a distinct cultural unit.