Kingdom of Dagbon

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Empire of Dagbon
Kingdom of Dagbon
Royaume de Dagbon
Northern Region of Ghana, the region of the Kingdom of Dagbon
Northern Region of Ghana, the region of the Kingdom of Dagbon
Region of the Kingdom of Dagbon (black rectangle)
Region of the Kingdom of Dagbon (black rectangle)
09°26.5′N 00°0.5′W / 9.4417°N 0.0083°W / 9.4417; -0.0083
Largest cityTamale
Official languagesDagbani (lingua franca, English
Ethnic groups
Dagbamba (Dagomba)
Ndan Yaa Naa Mahama Abukari II
• Founded
c. 1250
• Capital relocated to Yendi
c. 1700
• Total
97,702 km2 (37,723 sq mi)
• 2019 estimate
Time zoneUTC+0 (GMT0)
• Summer (DST)
UTC+0 (GMT0)
Today part ofGhana

The Kingdom of Dagbon is one of the oldest and most organised traditional kingdoms in Ghana founded by the Dagomba people (Dagbamba) in the 11th century. During its rise, it comprised, at various points, the Northern, Upper West, Upper East and North East regions of present-day Ghana.[2] Since Ghana's independence in 1957, the Kingdom just like all of Ghana's kingdoms and tribal states has assumed a traditional, customary role.

Oral histories of the Kingdom tell that it was founded by a warrior named Tohazie (c. 1250), who arrived in present-day northern Ghana in the 11th century with his cavalry men from east of Lake Chad, stopping in Zamfara, present-day northern Nigeria, and in the Mali Empire, before settling in northern Ghana. These histories tell of numerous engagements with neighbouring peoples throughout this early period until the early 18th century, when the capital of the kingdom was moved to the city of Yendi by a famous king Naa Luro. Around this time, Islam arrived to the kingdom, and a period of peace and increased trade with neighbouring kingdoms began.

In 1888, the Kingdom of Dagbon was partitioned between the German and British empires, and in 1899 this split became organised into the territories of German Togoland and the Gold Coast. Following World War I, eastern Dagbon became part of British Togoland. The Gold Coast achieved independence in 1957 as Ghana. The result of interference of British and German imperialism was a kingdom that was significantly robbed of its once invaluable traditional artifacts, beautiful way of life and a divided Kingdom whose wounds would not completely heal till the second decade of the 21st Century.

The Kingdom of Dagbon since around the 1920s has been characterised by repeated succession disputes and conflict mainly from British and German Imperial interference in Dagbon's succession. Several incidents have occurred, including in 2002 when the King of Dagbon Yakubu Andani II, of the Andani royal family, was murdered by the unknown people.[3] As of January 2014, a regent (installed in 2006) has acted as sovereign of the kingdom until a new ruler is chosen.[4] Today, the king of Dagbon's court remains at the city of Yendi. The kingdom is divided into territorial chiefdoms, categorised from divisional to village chieftaincies. The monarch of Dagbon is known as the Ya Naa (also spelt Ya Na, Ya-Na, Yaa Naa Yaan Naa).

On 18 January 2019, a new Yaa Naa, Abubakari Mahama [Naa Gariba II], was chosen in Yendi by the Dagbon state's kingmakers. This was after a peace initiative by the Committee of Eminent Chiefs, headed by Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. He was enskinned on 26 January 2019 in Yendi.[5] The end of the dispute made the celebration of the Damba festival possible again after 17-year break. The festival was celebrated in November 2019.[6]


The First Kingdom of Dagbon, from the mid 15th century to the late 17th century, is known to history almost entirely through oral tradition, especially drum chant. The Second Kingdom, from around 1700 to 1900, is better known, because, in addition to drum chant, there are other sources of information, some of them independent of events in Dagbon itself.[7]

Founding and First Kingdom (1400s–1600s)[edit]

The Kingdom of Dagbon, in the homeland of the Dagomba people, was founded in the 11th century. Accounts of the kingdom's origins, rulers and wars of conquest are preserved in drum histories. These histories narrate the story of Tohazhie, the "Red Hunter", who left Tunga,[where?] east of Lake Chad, with a small band of cavalry men into Zamfara, present-day Nigeria, before moving on to Mali. Tohazhie married the daughter of the king of Mali, Pag Wabiga, and fathered a son, Kpoginumbo(Ʒinani).[8]: 25 

After serving briefly in Mali, Kpogonumbo and his followers came into conflict with the rising Songhay Empire in western Africa, and reprisal attacks from the Songhay forced Kpogonumbo and his followers southward. Kpogonumbo then seized power and ruled over Biun in Gurma. His son, Naa Gbewaa (or Bawa), left Biun with some of his followers to settle at Pusiga in the northeastern corner of Ghana, where he ruled until he became blind. Naa Gbewaa's son, Zirili, succeeded him, but succession disputes between three of Zirili's younger brothers–Tohagu, Sitogu and Mantabo–led to the kingdom's demise. Naa Gbewaa remains in the histories of the kingdoms of Dagbon and the kingdoms of the Mamprugu and Nanumba, as their first king, founding their ruling dynasties through these sons.[8]: 25 

Naa Gbewaa's son Sitogu settled briefly at the town of Gambaga before moving south to Namburugu, near Karaga, where he founded the Dagbon state. The king became known as Ya Naa, meaning "king of strength". As Sitobu moved south, he encountered groups of indigenous peoples. such as the Konkomba, Nafeba, Basare and Chamba, who did not have centralised political structures, except for the office of the tengdana or tindana–the earth priest, literally translated as "owner of the land". The tengdana presided over ritual ceremonies and acted as a mediator between the people and the gods of the land.[8]: 25 

Sitobu's son, Naa Nyagsi (r. 1416–1432) succeeded him and embarked on a war of expansion, killing many of the tengdana and holding sway over the indigenous people. Naa Nyagsi established his capital at Yendi (Yendi Dabari), located in the area of Diyali, near Tamale, and developed a stable political organisation by installing his sons, brothers and uncles as rulers over the conquered people. The surviving tengdamba continued to function as earth priests, while some members of the Konkomba were assigned roles in the military.[8]: 25 

18th century and Second Kingdom (1700–1888)[edit]

In about 1700, the capital was relocated from Yendi Dabari to a new city (also known as Yendi) in the east because of incessant wars with the Gonja people. A major confrontation at Daboya dealt a lot of damage to the Dagomba people. Naa Tutugri retaliated by defeating the Gonja near Yen Dabari, but his successor, Naa Luro, though victorious over the Gonja in a later battle, could not stand the sustained warfare and relocated the capital to Yendi. The Gonja followed eastward, but in 1713, Naa Zangina finally halted the Gonja attacks when he decisively defeated them and killed their chief, Kumpatia, at Sang near Yendi.[8]: 25 

Naa Zangina not only is reputed to be the first Muslim ruler of the Dagbon, but is also credited with encouraging trade. With the relocation of the capital to Yendi and the return of peace, a Muslim community emerged at the Ya Naa's palace at Yendi. The Dyula, of Mande origin, led by Sabali-Yarla, and the Hausa Muslims, led by the Kamshe Naa, bolstered Islamic influence in the kingdom. Beginning with the Sabali-Yarna, and later the Kamshe Naa, these peoples became responsible for the Ya Naa's protective prayers. At the Ya Naa's palace, Muslim titles, a sign of the integration of Muslim elders into the political structure, included the Walgu Naa, who made sure that the Ya Naa had his portion to "Drink the Qur'an"; the Nayil Liman, the imam of the Ya Naa, and the Yidan Kambala, were also credited with the imamship.[8]: 25–26 

The extension of trade with the Dyula, and later with the Hausa, linked the Dagbon state with neighbouring kingdoms, like the Fezzan, Egypt, and the Bight of Benin. By 1788, Yendi was said to be bigger than Kumasi and Salaga.[8]: 26 

It was culturally closer to, and was the result of, other Sahelian kingdoms, especially to the Mossi Kingdoms, Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, and Hausa Bakwai, with which Dagbon were major trading partners for salt, kola nuts, and slaves.

Colonisation (1888–1957)[edit]

Dagbon resisted colonisation as it had a well organised and powerful army. In 1888, Dagbon became part of a neutral zone, stretching from Yeji to Yendi, that was established to forestall conflict between the Germans and the British. The area was later parceled between the two powers, and Yendi, where the Yaa Naa resided, came under German control, separating him from his people in the west.

First German expedition in 1896[edit]

From the point of view of German colonialists, the influential Yaan Naa Andani II had disturbed the trade route from the coast to Sansanné-Mangu, a German colonial station in the hinterland. Na Andani, however, had already told German colonial administrator Hans Gruner beforehand that he believed that “it is the white man who makes the roads unsafe”.[9]

In 1896, the Germans led by Valentin von Massow, Hans Gruner and Gaston Thierry clashed with the Dagomba at the Battle of Adibo, destroyed Yendi and made away with valuables. It was a massacre, as the 7,000-man, poorly equipped Dagomba army merely rushed with their bows and arrows at the 100-man well-armed German army.[10] In 1899 the British and the Germans split Dagbon between German Togoland and the Gold Coast.[10]

Second German expedition in 1900[edit]

After the death of Yaa Na Andani II in August 1899, disputes over succession to the Dagbon throne were ongoing: Andani's eldest son aspired to become Na of Savelugu and had asked the Dagomba elders to promote the current Savelugu Na to supreme Yaa Naa.  However, this suggestion was met with disagreement from Alasan, Na of Karaga, who claimed the throne for himself. German colonial governor August Köhler himself supported Alasan’s claim and, in late March 1900, called for a military expedition who was then led by the colonial administrator in Sansanné-Mangu, Friedrich Rigler.[11] The latter led his troops to Yendi on 5 April 1900 but found the town deserted.[12] Meanwhile, Na Andani's eldest son Idi had moved with his retinue to Sang in the Gold Coast colony and gathered up with those who had fled Yendi.[13] These Dagomba thought they were protected from the Germans, but Rigler still attacked them in British territory on 7 April.[14] The German troops killed at least 83 people in the battle, including Andani's son.[15] After coming back to Yendi, Rigler appointed Alasan as the new Yaa Naa of Dagbon.

British colonial rule[edit]

Following World War I, eastern Dagbon became part of the British-administered mandated territories established by the League of Nations and reunited with the west, allowing the Yaa Naa to resume control of his people.: 26  The British implemented indirect rule, in which Dagomba chiefs administered local government. This policy perpetuated Dagomba dominance over the Konkomba. The British largely neglected the economic development of Dagbon. To pay the head tax the British imposed, Dagomba had to migrate to the southern Gold Coast to work in mines and on cocoa plantations.[10]

The Kingdom of Dagbon enjoyed a distinct constitutional position before it became part of the British Togoland.[2][16]

Recent history[edit]

Today, the Yaa Naa's court remains at Yendi. The kingdom is divided into territorial chiefdoms, categorised from divisional to village chieftaincies. Certain chieftaincies, such as Karaga, Savalugu and Mion, are reserved for the sons of the former Yaa Naa, and their occupancy qualifies one to test for the Namship, or head chiefdom, at Yendi. Lesser chieftaincies are reserved for grandsons. Succession to the Nam has always rotated among the three royal houses, now reduced to two–the Andani and the Abudu.[17]

Over the past century, the Dagomba have faced repeated succession disputes and conflict. Following the death of Yaa-Na Mahama II in 1954, a succession dispute erupted into violence. The federal government sent troops to Yendi and intervened to decide the succession. Ethnic tension has also plagued northern Ghana. Violence flared between the Dagomba and their Konkomba subjects over land use and ownership in 1914, 1917, the 1940s and the 1980s. During the 1990s ethnic tension once again racked the region. Twelve people were killed in Tamale in 1994 when police fired at a group of Dagomba who had attacked some Konkomba.[10]

In March 2002, Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II, from the Andani house, was murdered together with forty-two of his elders in a war by supporters of the Abudu house.[3][18][19] After eight years, on 10 April 2010, around thirty to forty people were arrested for the murder in Yendi and parts of Accra in preparation for prosecution.[17][20] As of January 2014 a successor has not been installed, and a regent (installed in 2006) has acted as sovereign of the kingdom until a new ruler is chosen.[4]

On 16 November 2018, a Mediation Committee that was led by Otumfuo Osei Tutu II finalized its plan to resolve the conflict in Dagbon. It was agreed that the Abudu Royal family perform the funeral rites of the late Yaa Naa Mahamadu Abdulai from 14 to 28 of December 2018. Next was to be the funeral of the late Yaa Naa Yakubu Andani II, from 4–19 January 2019. Both obsequies took place at the old Gbewaa Palace in Yendi.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ghana Population 2019".
  2. ^ a b "Ghana, A living History". 1960.
  3. ^ a b Afua Hirsch (July 5, 2012). "Ghana's rival Dagbon royals risk pulling the country apart". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b GhanaWeb (May 7, 2006). "Kufuor pays tribute to late Ya-Na". Ghana News Agency. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Historic! Yendi goes agog as new Yaa Naa is outdoored today". Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  6. ^ 122108447901948 (2019-11-18). "Dagbon marks Damba Festival after 17-year break". Graphic Online. Retrieved 2019-11-18.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ MacGaffey, Wyatt (2013-01-01). "Drum Chant and the Political Uses of Tradition". Chiefs, Priests, and Praise-singers: History, Politics, and Land Ownership in Northern Ghana. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 9780813933863.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Danver, Steven L. (2015-03-10). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 9781317464006.
  9. ^ Letter from Hans Gruner to August Köhler, 4 Nov. 1896, German Federal Archives, BArch R 1001/4391, p. 76.
  10. ^ a b c d Appiah, Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis (2010-01-01). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 336. ISBN 9780195337709.
  11. ^ Letter from Köhler to Foreign Office, 31 Mar. 1900, German Federal Archives, R 150/90, 159-160.
  12. ^ Letter from Rigler to Köhler, 13. Apr. 1900, German Federal Archives, BArch R 1001/3762, p. 70.
  13. ^ Tamakloe, Emmanuel F (1931). A brief history of the Dagbamba people. Accra: Gov. Print. Off. OCLC 630490339.
  14. ^ Trierenberg, Georg (2018). Togo die Aufrichtung der deutschen Schutzherrschaft und die Erschließung des Landes (in German). OCLC 1030535458.
  15. ^ Sebald, Peter (2013). Die deutsche Kolonie Togo 1884-1914: Auswirkungen einer Fremdherrschaft (in German). ISBN 978-3-86153-693-2. OCLC 854555895.
  16. ^ "The Legislation Providing for the Grant of Independence to Ghana". Journal of African Law. 1 (2): 99–112. 1957. doi:10.1017/S0021855300000176. ISSN 0021-8553. JSTOR 745294.
  17. ^ a b Danver, Steven L. (2015-03-10). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. p. 26. ISBN 9781317464006.
  18. ^ "BBC NEWS | Africa | Ghana king's burial ends long feud". 13 April 2006. Retrieved 2017-03-26.
  19. ^ Awedoba, A. K. (2010-01-01). An Ethnographic Study of Northern Ghanaian Conflicts: Towards a Sustainable Peace : Key Aspects of Past, Present and Impending Conflicts in Northern Ghana and the Mechanisms for Their Address. African Books Collective. p. 205. ISBN 9789988647384.
  20. ^ "Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II was killed in a war - Abudus - BusinessGhana News | General". Retrieved 2017-03-26.
  21. ^ "Savelugu Naa; Abubakari Mahama chosen as new Yaa-Naa". Citi Newsroom. 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-01-26.