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Invasion of the Peoples of the North

Invasion

The way in which these people organised their lives
was greatly changed by bands of invaders who decended
upon them towards the close of the thirteenth
century. The first of these were the ancestors of the
Mamprusi and the Dagomba. According to their
tradition, carefully preserved by state drummers and
recited annually druing the Damba festival, these
peoples came from a place east of Lake Chad. Led by
Tohazie, ‘the Red Hunter’, they migrated westwards
into Zamfara, which is part of present-day northern
Nigeria, and south-westwards towards their present
home. On their way, they assisted a ‘king of Melle’
in his wars of conquest and conducted several raids in
the region of the Niger Bend (around Timbuktu and
Walata).

Finally, they settled at Pusiga, a village in the northeastern
part of Ghana. Their leader at this time was
Gbewa. Under him, they waged wars of expansion
against the local tribes around Pusiga and easily
defeated them. Their victories resulted from three
main causes. First, the local tribes were incapable of
putting up effective resistance because they had no
central authority and no common leadership. Second,
their weapons, only bows and arrows, were far inferior
to those of the invaders, who had spears, iron swords
and cudgels, as well. Thirdly, the invaders had many
horsemen in their army. This cavalry struck terror into
the hearts of the tribes because they had never seen
horses before.

As a result of their superior weapons and their ability
to fight in an organised way, their conquest soon
extended as far as Fada N’Gurma in the north,
Gambaga in the south, and Sansanne Mango in the
east. Gbewa brought all the tribes within these districts
under his single rule. Unlike the Tindana, Gbewa’s
office was a secular one and his authority derived from
physical punishments he could order instead of from religious
respect.

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As Gbewa’s eldest child, Yamtori, was a girl and so
could not succeed him, Zirile, his eldest son, succeeded
him when he died after a long reign. After Zirile’s
death, a dispute broke out between the contestants
for succession. Customarily Zirele’s successor was
Tohogu, his oldest surviving brother; Tohuogu’s succession
was however disputed by his younger brothers
led by Sitobu and Mantambu. In the civil war which
broke out, Tohogu was defeated. He fled, with Sitobu
at his heels, first southwards to Gambaga and then eastwards
to a small village called Mamprugu. Sitobu and
his brother pursued him as far as Gambaga and, not
finding him there, turned southwards. After a few
years’ stay at Mamprugu, Tohogu returned to
Gambaga and subsequently founded the kingdom of
Mamprugu. His su bjects took the name of Mamprusi
while he, as their paramount chief, was called the
Nayiri.

To the south of Mamprugu, two other kingdoms
were founded by Sitobu and Mantambu. These were
Dagomba and Nanumba respectively. Many years
later, the ruling house of Dagomba established its
political power over the Wala district and thus began
the Wala Kingdom.

Yamtori was never a founder or a ruler of any kingdom.
But her son, Widraogo, through marriage founded
a kingdom at Tenkodogo, and her great-grandsons,
Oubri, Rawa and Diaba, founded the Mossi states of
Wagadugu, YAtenga and Fada N’Gurma respectively.
All these places are now in the Republic of Upper Volta.

It is clear from the above brief history of these kingdoms
that the Mamprusi, the Dagomba, and the Mossi
are related to each other. That is why they are called
the Mole-Dagbani peoples. All of them regard Mamprugu
as the ‘parent’ of their kingdoms and Gambaga
as their spiritual home. For these reasons the Nayiri
took precedence over the paramount chiefs of the other
kingdoms. Some of them sent him gifts annually as a
token of their respect while others referred complicated
matters to him for his opinion and judgement.

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Towards the close of the sixteenth century, the Gonja
also arrived in northern Ghana from Mande. Like the
Mamprusi and Dagomba before them, they defeated
the tribes, mainly Guan, that they met and carved out a
kingdom for themselves to the west of the White Volta.
Their leader was Ndewura Jakpa. After consolidating
their rule in their new kingdom, the Gonja embarked
upon wars of expansion. These brought them into
clases with the Dagomba. So successful was their
initial offensive that the Gonja drove the Dagomba
across the White Volta, entered their territory and
compelled them to abandon their capital near Diari
and founded a new one at Yendi, the present capital.
The Dagomba later repulsed them but since neither
kingdom was strong enought to conquer and absorb
the other, both remained independent of each other.