Traditional law and procedure in the Royal Court: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh



In this Lecture we consider briefly the nature of traditional law among the Gá-Dangme and the role of the king in maintaining a system of law and order.[1] In view of the customary nature of a large corpus of traditional law, some attention is paid to the dispute settlement process before heads of families and other traditional functionaries. Overall, a picture emerges of a well-organised legal structure in which both law-giving and sanctions play a vital role. We, however, leave entirely to one side the vast amount of customary case-law developed by the Ghanaian courts since colonisation in 1874. We believe that in this way the nature of Gá-Dangme customary law can be distilled from the actual practices of the people unpolluted by the various concepts which have crept into the official customary law of Ghana.

It is widely acknowledged that the principles laid down by Sarbah, particularly in his Fanti Customary Laws[2], have shaped the nature of Ghanaian customary law. At the same time it cannot be gainsaid that the principles of official customary law formulated by the courts, partly through reliance on Sarbah’s work, derive largely from cases involving a disproportionate number of Gá-Dangme. Uncritical reliance on the decisions reached in such cases would therefore have the effect of importing Sarbah’s notions into Gá-Dangme traditional law.

To appreciate the role of the monarch in the final formulation of law, it is important that we start our discussion by first considering the nature of customary law in traditional Gá-Dangme society and to consider the quarter as a community. In common with most other peoples, the existence of well-recognised rules of conducting affairs has been a feature of Gá-Dangme society. Many of these rules which had existed from time immemorial came to be recognised as the rules of traditional or customary law. They applied to all members of the group as well as to newcomers and others involved in business and other transactions with members of the group. Sarbah noted:

“Every new member of the family or village community at his birth, or admission by purchase…finds existing general usages which regulate his rights and obligations, and to which, under pressure of circumstances or the popular sanction, as already stated, he must submit.  As the original community gets larger, as aforesaid, many of the rules formerly observed within a small circle of persons gradually acquire a wider operation, moulding and controlling the habits of the people within its sphere.”[3]


The traditional law or blema kusum of the Gá-Dangme may have in the distant past developed in the manner described by Sarbah; however, it is overlain by the commands of Ayi Kushi which are in turn supplemented by the legislation mla of other monarchs. The commands of Ayi Kushi are nevertheless so generalised into the traditional law administered by the chief and agyinafoi (elders) that is only by careful study that one discovers that the notion of dzaleh or fairness, so pervasive in Gá-Dangme concept of law in fact constitutes a summary of Ayi Kushi’s laws.

Furthermore, a general distinction was made between binding rules and non-binding rules; corresponding roughly with rules intended to have legal effect and other rules having a merely moral consequence. Rules of morality (dzenba) provide a context in which household disputes are resolved, exerting all sorts of non-legal pressures on the disputants. On the other hand, public disputes are mainly settled through traditional law based largely on precedent.

Most of the binding rules arose from past disputes involving members of the quarter and were fairly well-defined. Common sense and notions of fairness were critical in the initial formulation of the rules of traditional law, but as they came to be applied as precedent by persons acting in a judicial capacity, they took on a legal character all of their own. The major rules of traditional Gá-Dangme law cover the areas of nationality, land, chattels, marriage, testamentary disposition, defamation and modes of enforcing payment of debts.

4.1 The law of persons

Since in ancient Gá-Dangme law applied principally to persons belonging to the Gá-Dangme nation particular rules were formulated to define who was a Gá-Dangme. A Gá-Dangme person was generally recognised as one who being born of Gá-Dangme parents, belonged to a particular weku or extended family. Ordinarily, it was easy from Gá-Dangme nomenclature to establish the address, antecedents and lineage of the individual. The Gá-Dangme name was coded in such a way that people familiar with the society could tell immediately the quarter and lineage from which an individual hailed as well as his rank in the immediate family.

Thus, an individual named Kotey is easily recognizable as a first born male hailing either from the Jorshi lineage of Asere in Gá Mashi or from Klan-naa (Hyena-side) in Labadi. Such an individual was clearly subject to Gá-dangme traditional law. Persons of part Gá-Dangme origin were also subject to traditional law, provided the subject-matter of the dispute has any connection with Gá-Dangme territory.

Foreigners were subject to Gá-Dangme traditional law where the dispute involved land or a serious crime. A civil dispute between foreign parties could be tried in a traditional provided the parties so agree. In the case of foreigners who had either been actually assimilated into Gá-Dangme society or were deemed to have become assimilated, jurisdiction lay with the traditional authorities, especially where the individual had severed all ties with his place of origin and his or her parents had lived and died on Gá-Dangme soil.

As we have observed, the individual is linked to the Gá-Dangme socio-political system through the weku; generally speaking, this consists of all persons descended in the direct male line through a common or hypothetical ancestor or ancestress. Individuals are accountable to the family elders, normally comprising respected members of the oldest living generation. In particular, the Weku Yitso or head of family exercises enormous moral pressure on other members of the family to conform to social rules and convention and to retain for the family and untarnished image. Erring members, if they cannot be brought to heel by their own parents and siblings, are frequently called before the head of family and counselled. In many ways the home of the head of family together with the ancestral home become the locus of the minimal lineage; family members often congregate on either home to discuss major family business, including festivals, rites de passage and to settle disputes.

The weku expands through the birth of new members; but occasionally an individual may decide to adopt a child unrelated to the family. As an adopted person becomes a full member of the extended family the adoption must be well-publicised to all members of the family. The consent of the elders and the head of family are necessary to make a traditional adoption valid. This is because the adoption may have consequences for succession to the property of the adoptive parents, with necessary disinheritance of other members of the family.

Partly because of the implications of adoption for succession, fostering is much more widely practiced among the Gá-Dangme; it involves the placing of a young relative or stranger in the home of the individual fosterer. The child resides in the new home and is brought up as a member of the family but has no rights of succession, and upon attaining the age of majority may rejoin his or her natural family.

On the other hand, an individual may in extreme circumstances severe ties with his or her own weku; the practice, known as tako mlifoo, is rare and is frowned upon. It is usually preceded by acrimony and ugly disagreements over family issues. Once an individual severes ties with his or her extended family in this way, he or she harbours no expectation of succession to the property of other members of the family; but he or she may insist upon the partitioning of any property to which he or she is entitled. Subsequently, the individual avoids the social gatherings of his or her ex-family, including weddings, funerals and suchlike.

When there is peace and harmony within the extended family, it functions as a social support system for the members. It provides a residence, a common pool of funds to underwrite funerals and other expenses, holds a common feast on festive occasions and in the head of family, supports and represents the individual during marriage, provides a venerable personage to act on behalf of the individual in grave social matters.

 The adebo-shia, usually located in the ancestral quarter, provides a common residence for members of the weku although few choose to reside there. However, many feel a deep sentimental attachment to the adebo-shia and converge there on festive occasions when they catch up on the latest news in the old quarter and renew acquaintances with childhood friends. Thus, many members of the family happily contribute to carpentry and other repair works to the old family houses and are perenially concerned about the poorer kin who tend to occupy the family houses.

During funerals the family houses acquire special importance; the body is conveyed to the family house where it is laid in state overnight to be viewed friends and relatives who fill the family house with mourning and lamentation. The family house itself may be specially refurbished for the occasion, and all branches of the family congregate to the funeral both to observe funeral rites and to make a contribution towards expenses.

Family members may also contribute towards other expenses incurred by the extended family. Such expenses may range from the cost of festal food to lawyer’s fees. The expenses are carefully worked out and adult members of the family called upon to participate in the payment of the debt. The unemployed, the sick and the disabled may be exempted, but all other members are expected to contribute; contributions are sometimes even made for persons abroad.

The Weku Yitso or head of family embodies the virtues and qualities that the family seeks to portray to the outside world. Although many rules may in practice exist as to how the head of family is appointed, he or she is normally selected from the oldest generation by the popular acclamation of his or her peers and other important members of the family. Many heads of families are wealthy individuals with considerable influence in community affairs which they generally put to the advantage of the extended family. Thus individuals seeking apprenticeship, education, finance to start up business or general advice normally consult the head of family. In carrying out his or her duties the head of family is particularly concerned about the conduct of the family. Indeed, some believe that ensuring proper moral conduct of family members and conformity of the actions of members of the family to group-approved standards are the primary duties of the head of family.

The head of family steps in the shoes of a line of previous family patriarchs and leaders, and in overseeing family business seeks to uphold the standards and values followed by his or her predecessors. Making certain that family members live in harmony with each other is an important part of the duties of the head; he regularly consults with leading and influential members of sub-branches of the weku.

The head of family may sit in a quasi-judicial capacity over family disputes, but on the whole their duty is to conciliate in family disputes, and in the end to reconcile the parties. When the head of family hears a dispute he or she carefully calls all relevant witnesses and obtains their evidence; examines each party’s argument and evidence; and puts pertinent questions to clarify aspects of the case. When the head of family gives his verdict it is generally enforced, but an aggrieved party may take the case further to the quarter authorities.

The head of family also litigates the family title to land either directly or through a representative. When the head acts in this capacity he or she ususally levies a contribution on the members of the family. Since the head of family is normally the one who sues and can be sued on behalf of the family, he or she tends to keep possession of legal instruments and other important documents of the family, including wills, title-deeds and birth certificates.

4.1.2 Marriage

In ancient times marriage was formalised with the approval and participation of the head of family. It normally linked the extended family to other extended families both within and without the quarter; it was therefore vital both for social cohesion and for bringing new members to the extended family through the process of kpodziemó or outdooring. Modern developments have reduced much of the head of family’s authority in matters of marriage; the parents of the prospective spouse have immediate authority over the marriage arrangements. The head of family may merely be informed of arrangements towards marriage in which other influential members of the family may play a far more important role. Among the Gá-Dangme, marriage is a union of a man and a woman to live as husband and wife within the rules of traditional law, including the potentially polygamous character of the marriage transaction.

To be valid traditional law marriage required the following:

  1. a) Status of the parties;
  2. b) The marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity and affinity
  3. c) Consent of the parties
  4. d) Consent of the parents or persons in loco parentis (kplemó);
  5. e) Gifts or bridewealth (gblanii); and

To contract a valid marriage the parties should be of the appropriate age and status. Girls are usually considered ready for marriage once they complete their education or apprenticeship. In the olden days many girls married as soon as they attained the age of puberty, but the practice is now generally frowned upon. Men may marry once they complete their apprenticeship or have learnt a trade and are capable of independently generating their own income. However, many men choose to acquire some basic property before contracting a marriage.

A person is not permitted to marry a cognate or the cognate of a cognate’s spouse; thus the traditional rules of consanguinity and affinity were fairly restrictive. Family elders usually go to great lengths to investigate the background of the intending parties to ensure that the rules of exogamy are not breached. Shia-gbla (household marriage) or cross-cousin marriage, however, constitues an exception to the above. The effect of a shia-gbla is to perpetuate close relations between branches of the extended family and to keep property within the minimal lineage.

As individuals remain firmly within the structure of the extended family, the extended family often exercises enormous control over the young unmarried person. The parents of a young man frequently influence his choice of wife, sometimes even recommending a particular girl whose character and family are well-known to them. Should either or both parents be dead, or should they be incapable of properly acting on behalf of their son an influential uncle or prominent figure in the figure may take it upon himself to contract a marriage for the young man. Such an individual frequently continues to exercise some influence over the young couple, often advising them on matrimonial problems and counselling them on how to raise their children.

The agreement of the parties to marry is usually a straightforward matter, providing they are both of age and can support themselves financially. In that case, if a man wishes to take a girl as wife he initially requires her consent. If such consent is forthcoming, the man then approaches the girl’s family usually through a person or persons acting on his behalf. The family’s consent may be withheld for a number of reasons: they may feel themselves socially superior to the man and his family; that the man is incapable of supporting their daughter; or simply object to some factor in the man’s background. The man’s initial approach to the family of the girl is known as the shibimo; it the Ga-Dangme equivalent of the English banns. The shibimo advertises to relatives and the world that a woman has been promised to a particular man. The girl is discreetly advised to be less familiar with adults of the opposite sex. A payment known as weku daa or “family drink” is an importnant part of the shibimo.

Once the shibimo has been carried out, the man amy take a number of other steps to conclude the marriage. He first gets his family to present two sets of gifts to the woman’s family: the agbo-shimo (literally, “request to enter”) and ebaa-tsee (literally, “fig-leaf”) gifts. The agbo-shimo shifts simply puts the girl’s family on notice of the man’s intention of marrying her; and ebaa-tsee further puts potential suitors on notice of the fact that the girl has been promised to someone else. The girl advertises the ebaa-tsee to others by habitually appearing in public in adult attire and adorning herself jewels given by the man. The ebaa-tsee also involves the giving of shamóbo or symbolic presentation of cash to the parents to replace cloths soiled by the bride as a baby.

Once the above stages have been completed a date may be fixed for the ga-woo or engagement. The ga-woo represents a firm encroachment of English ideas on Ga-Dangme notions of marriage, the Bible, hymn book and gold ring being the principal gifts. The Bible indicates the man’s intention to convert the traditional marriage into a Christian marriage should his future circumstances allow. In the meantime, however, it remains a potentially polygamous traditional marriage; and the may man enter into further marital relationships with other women. In practice, the wife’s consent may be necessary for further marriages, although the traditional law does not strictly require it.

The ga-woo proper is an all-women’s affair; one set of women carry over gifts from the family house or residence of the man to the family house of the girl where they are met and entertained by another set of women. If the girl is a member of the Krobo sub-group of the Dangme, a small stool is included in the gifts. This symbolises the stabilising role of the wife in ensuring that the matrimonial home becomes the seat of the new family and a point to which the children may always return in later life.

Some prefer, after a preliminary approach to the girl’s family, to perform lavish ga-woo ceremonies incorporating each of the above steps. On the appointed occasion for the preliminary apporach two representatives act on behalf of the extended families. Most representatives are chosen for their wit, eloquence, traditional knowledge and stature. After an initial welcome the man’s representative apprises the girl’s family, who feign ignorance throughout, of the purpose of their visit. The man’s representative might start withthe words: “Our son was on his way to town when he saw a pretty flower [the girl] by your house; he was so impressed with its beauty that with your kind permission he would like to pick it.” The girl’s representatives usually might reply that they know of no such flower in the house. In their response the man’s family mention the girl by name and formally request her hand in marriage. Drinks would then be presented and dates arranged for other parts of the marriage ceremony.

Once the ga-woo has been successfully carried out in this way the women return home rejoicing and carrying sundry tokens of the happy occasion. Thereafter the couple may freely co-habit and consumate the marriage without undergoing a wedding or kpeemo. In the present age most-weddings are celebrated in church. In the past the traditional Gá-Dangme wedding was celebrated at the residence of the wulomo. The parties dressed in white, the national colour of the Gá-Dangme and were accompanied to the wulomo’s shrine by relatives and friends. The high priest administered the shibimo shiwo vows to them, blessed them and sprinkled water on them ritually. The shibimo vow consisted of a series of undertakings by the couple to strive continually for the success of the new relationship; to bring up their children righteously; to devote themselves daily to the intellectual and moral development of the children; and to jointly work hard and ceaselessly to make the children the proud possessors of a worthy heritage.

Barbot recorded an infant betrothal at Accra between a man of about 40 years and a girl aged seven or eight. On the day chosen for the wedding ceremony friends and relatives gathered at the home of the bride with much music and merriment. The bride was decorated with pieces of goldwork placed in her hair, and on her arms, neck and feet. A declaration was made to a priest; but the marriage was not consummated on account of the bride’s age.[4] Barbot noted that the marriage was not consummated until the girl was old enough and had been accompanied to the marital home by a procession of her peers.[5]

On the whole, two forms of traditional marriage are recognised among the Gá-Dangme: the boi-enyo “two-cloth” and boi-ekpaa “six-cloth” marriage. The “two-cloth” marriage invloves the procedure already described above. A man may wish to show his exceptional affection for his prospective bride and the esteem in which he holds her by contracting a “six-cloth” marriage.[6] This usually involves the payment of expensive bride-wealth, and has effects on succession. According to Sarbah, upon intestacy the real and movable property of a party to a “six-cloth” marriage are inherited jointly by the children and members extended family; moreover such property cannot be disposed without the consent of the children.[7] In the past the “six-cloth” marriage involved an actual gift of six Dutch wax prints; this is no longer necessary. Today a “six-cloth” marriage can be contracted simply by indicating the parties’ wish that the marriage is to have the legal consequence of a traditional “six-cloth” marriage, and by reflecting this in the bridewealth.

The above is generally the procedure for contracting marriage to a maiden, but there are exceptional situations. The first is the marriage of an elderly couple; frequently such persons have no desire to attract the publicity of a public event to themselves. There is therefore usually only a discreet exchange of gifts between the extended families.

However, where a woman co-habits with a man merely as a mistress or jolley she may not expect any special treatment by the man’s extended family. This has not stopped several women from openly parading themselves as the mistresses of particularly wealthy men, and probably hoping thereby to come into some property at a future date. If the mistress is sufficiently wily she may get the man to lavish expensive gifts and ornaments on her; gifts made to such women, being tokens of love, are not recoverable upon the termination of the relationship. A variation of the jolley theme is where a man takes a sweet-heart or lorbi and discreetly maintains her during the subsistence of his own marriage. The rights of the lorbi are the same as those of the jolley; however, gifts inter vivos to a jolley or lorbi is valid.

Another exception occurs where a girl is discovered to be with child prior to marriage. In that case the family makes careful enquiry of the girl. Once it has been established that a particular individual is responsible for the pregnancy, his family is approached. If they consult their son and thereafter accept responsibility, agbo-shimo and ebaa-tsee gifts amy be presented, entitling the man’s family to claim the child.

The Gá-Dangme do not demand expensive gifts as bridewealth. Two basic forms of marriage are contracted depending on the size of the gift: two-cloth marriage and six-cloth marriage. A two-cloth marriage results from a marriage transaction conducted in the normal way. A six-cloth marriage is a different affair; the man usually announces that he intends the marriage to be a six-cloth marriage and therefore offers thrice the bridewealth demanded in an ordinary marriage. The wife of a six-cloth marriage acquires special status; should the husband contract any further marriages she is considered the senior and privileged wife. The children of a six-cloth marriage tend to have special prerogatives in the enjoyment of the father’s property during his life-time.

To be valid, a traditional marriage should not breach any of the rules of consanguinity recognised by the people. Because of existing rules of exogamy, individuals may not marry a wide class of persons, including cousins, the siblings of step-sisters and brothers, uterine brothers and sisters and their children.

The traditional drink or nma-daa (corn-drink) together with imported schnapps or gin play an essential part in the marriage transaction; without it no traditional marriage can be said to have been properly conducted. Bottles of schnapps and gin accompany the emissaries who first apprise the girl’s family of the marriage proposal. Various items may be represented by sums of money and handed over to the girl’s family. in addition the man may present a special gift such as a sewing machine to his prospective wife. Nma-daa is used as a celebratory drink, drank particularly  at the conclusion of each stage of the marriage transaction.

Once a marriage has been successfully concluded, the girl either goes to reside with the man or co-habits with him on appointed days. The later is normally the case where the man has other wives. The children of the marriage, although members of the extended family of the man, also play a role in the mother’s extended family. During their youth the children may reside with either parent, if both parents do not share a common residence. However, where the father owns property they may reside there, particularly during adolescence and while learning a trade.

During the subsistence of the marriage the husband remains the head of the household, and is under obligation to bring the children up accroding to the moral precepts of the Gá-Dangme. He must protect the family from physical danger; inculcate the values of the community in the children, particularly boys; instruct them and ensure their intellectual development; and secure their futures financially.

On the birth of each child he or she is formally afflicated to the father’s extended family through the kpodziemó or outdooring ceremony. On that occasion members of the child’s maternal and paternal families assemble in the courtyard of the parent’s house or the ancestral home. The purpose of the gathering is to formally introduce the child to the lineage and to the community. He or she is given a name derived from the father’s line. The Gá-Dangme maintain an alternate generation system of nomenclature; as a rule children are given the names of the grandfather and those of the granfather’s brothers and sisters. Also, a child may be given a day name or the name of an illustrious ancestor.

Other aspects of the kpodziemó ceremony are to bless the child and to offer prayers for his success in life and longevity. A man or woman of exemplary character is usually selected to perform the blessing ceremony for the child; children are often said to take after the personality and qualities of the individual who performs the ceremony.

 4.1.3 Divorce

As might be expected many marriages end in dissolution; as a result clear rules have over time been formulated to regulate divorce. We need not delve into the reasons why matrimonial bliss might suddenly turn to bitterness and acrimony. We need only state that occasional disagreement is natural to the marital condition. When, however, a couple’s problems persist and all attempts at solution fail, a divorce might be considered. In the meantime, however, all manner of individuals would have attempted to conciliate the parties. Where the parties are unable to reconcile their differences either of them amy approach a third party, usually a trusted relative or friend who would seek to the advice the couple on an informal basis. If matters do not improve, the parties’ parents might be approached; the grievances of each party is then considered and proposals for improvement put forward.

If the relationship continues to deteriorate a few other advisors might be considered; but ultimately the conclusion might be reached that the parties are incapable of continuing as marriage partners.

The above is generally the case where no clear-cut ground of divorce can be cited by either party. In a number of cases, however, one party might be aggrieved the specific conduct of the other and cites that as the ground of divorce. Grounds of divorce under this head include:

  1. a) Adultery;
  2. b) Desertion;
  3. c) Cruelty;
  4. d) The husband’s inability to maintain his wife and children; or the wife’s inability to maintain a proper home;
  5. e) Disobedience to the husband or to respected members of his family, and;[8]
  6. f) Inability to carry out marital obligations.

husband’s adultery with an unmarried woman is usually no ground for divorce at the instance of the wife; this is because under traditional law a man may marry any number of women. However, a wife’s adultery is a ground for divorce. If the husband chooses to condone adulterous behaviour he may nevertheless demand adultery fee (ayifale)[9] and/or dunsa[10] from the paramour. The wife’s behaviour is reported to her family; and she may be required to slaughter a sheep in pacification of the husband. In the past, the sheep-skin was permanently placed at the foot of the marital bed to remind the wayward wife of the obligation to keep to the straight and narrow. Any issue of an adulterous union may be legitimately claimed by the husband, particularly upon payment of ayifale.

Desertion or abandonment of one’s wife and children is a ground for divorce under traditional law. It was the husband’s duty to feed and clothe his wife and children. When he ceases to undertake these responsibilities; and particularly when he stops visiting the wife and children, he is deemed to have deserted the wife who then becomes entitled to start divorce proceedings. Where the couple lived under the same roof desertion could commence with the expulsion of the wife whereupon she would return to her own family house with or without her children.

Cruelty takes many forms, ranging from denial of conjugal rights to wife-beating and husband-battering. Occasional acts and omissions perceived by one party to be cruel may be tolerated; however, where cruelty becomes a regular feature of the marriage the affected party may seek divorce.

A husband’s inability to maintain his wife and children or a wife’s inability to carry out domestic responsilities constitute another ground of divorce. Upon marriage, a husband is deemed to have assumed responsibility for providing for his wife and children. Where a man’s family is in the eyes of the world left destitute and in permanent need of the necessaries of life, the man is considered to have woefully failed to meet his responsibilities. In the same vein a wife is assumed to have acquired the skills and knowledge to fully  the duties of housewifery and child-care; inability to demonstrate such skill and knowledge may entitle the husband to divorce.

Obedience to in-laws and influential members of the husband’s family are considered a sign of a wife’s good conduct. A wife who uses vituperative language and shows no respect for in-laws and respected family members is considered liable to influence the husband negatively; and soon gets into trouble with the husband’s extended family. It is further feared that such a wife might turn her children against the extended family; the extended family therefore readily supports a husband’s bid to divorce a wife on grounds of disobedience to family members. Husband’s who fail to take decisive action against such wife’s are regarded as hen-pecked, and frequently reminded of the aphorism: gbla taa eshweó weku or “a marriage may be dissolved but the extended family remains.”

A party to a marriage may be rendered incapable of carrying out his or her marital duties due to a variety of reasons. Impotence and sterility renders a spouse physically incapable of carrying out the expectations of a marriage and are grounds of divorce in traditional law. In the past other factors, such as witchcraft, especially when it was alleged to result in the continuous death of children, were considered as rendering a party psychologically incapable of carrying out the expectations of marriage.

Where a marriage is dissolved through no fault of the wife a man may not recover any of any gifts or expenses made or incurred when the marriage was contracted; on the other hand, a wife initiates a divorce, particularly in order to marry a lover she is liable to return the husband’s gifts and other expenses incurred in contracting the marriage. Once these have been returned to the husband’s family the marriage is formally considered to have ended, and either party may enter into a new contract of marriage to another person.

Although the King is not directly concerned with marriage and divorce, appeals from heads of families and quarter chiefs ultimately lies to the king’s tribunal. For that reason the royal tribunal has opportunity, from time to time, to re-state the traditional rules of marriage and divorce.

Traditional Marriage among the Krobo

 The contract of marriage among the Krobo has a larger social dimension expressed in the aphorism Weku né kpam’saa edzaa kaa yo tsa weku (one has relatives all over the place because the women are the connecting link). Marriage is therefore as much an agreement between the respective extended families as between the parties.

Traditionally females may not be given in marriage to uncircumcised person; nor could a girl whose puberty rites had not been performed be given away in marriage by the parents. In addition to fairly extensive rules of exogamy, men were prohibited from marrying two girls of the same household or minimal lineage.[11] Although parental consent was in the past decisive in the choice of a marriage partner, there is currently little evidence of parental influence on the choice of partner; occurring only in vestigial form in the case of infant betrothal. Such promises were frequently made before the birth of the child. The boy’s father approached her parents with an offer “to tie the loin string of the infant”. If the father of the infant-bride consented, he uttered the word wéé ibiyo and took a quantity of gifts from the boy’s father. The deal was sealed with a libation invoking the Supreme being or Mau and the household gods.[12] Subsequently the boy’s family would occasionally send foodstuffs and other gifts for the girl, and sometimes assist his future father-in-law in carrying out his tasks.[13] In the present age, however, childhood betrothal has become very rare.

Traditional marriage proper commenced with the agbosim (knocking the door) and he-si-dzem (introduction) ceremony. These formally introduces the prospective husband to his future-in-laws. His drinks may be politely accepted but an answer is seldom given on the same day. Hesi-dzem normally occurs after a girl is found to be with child; it is the formal introduction of a young man who has already started a love affair and his request for the formalisation of the relationship. Once either formality has been concluded, the yo-sibim ceremony may commence. In essence it the formal thanking of the bride’s parents for consenting to give their daughter away in marriage. Huber has suggested that in the old Yilo Krobo customary law the nyá-tshum’-haam’ (thanksgiving) “constituted the legality of the marriage and conferred paternity rights over any issue to the husband.”[14] Further, in Manya Krobo the custom of fiaa or “breaking of the grass” is considered an essential marriage ritual. It appears, however, that in theory only a full dowry marriage or yo-kpeem conferred legal status. Whatever the case in the past, under current traditional law a marriage is deemed legal in so far as the parties have performed any of the above ceremonies and is or has actually lived with the other party as man and wife.

Huber documented cases in some villages where young marriageable people had formed societies to aid each other in preparing for the payments which accompany marriage.[15] The yo-kpeem ceremony reaches its height with the formal handing over of the bride. Her father places her three times on the lap of an elder and the two exchange the words: ihá mo (“I give onto you”) and ihee (“I accept”) after one another. Alternatively the girl may simply be handed over to a representative of the groom. During the major marriage ceremonies the bride’s father often requests the groom not to drive the daughter away in case of her misconduct, but to bring her back to the parental home.

Divorce among the Krobo

 When a man decides to dissolve his marriage he usually approaches his father in law or some person in loco parentis. He takes with him a bottle of schnapps and some witnesses, and informs the father-in-law of his decision. The father or his representatives may request some compensatory cash on behalf of the daughter. Once the cash is paid, the father-in-law or his representative pours libation, invoking the ancestral spirits to join with the living in witnessing the dissolution of the marriage; he concludes with the following form of words: “My son-in-law says he does not want to keep my daughter as his wife. He returns her to me. So I welcome her as a child.”

Where a wife instigates a divorce a different procedure is required. The two parties meet at the the residence of the wife’s family to go over the case. Initially thwe arbitrators attempt a settlement or resolution of differences. If this proves impossible the husband presents a bill of expenses incurred in regard to the wife. If the wife’s family are in agreement they hand over the cash; infrequently the money is discreetly paid by a new suitor who actually instigated the divorce. If the wife’s father died after the wedding his name was specially invoked in any prayers to mark the divorce.[16] Under tradtional law where a woman unceremoniously deserts her husband, any issue with other men belong to the husband.

4.2 Property

The universal division of property into immovable property or realty and movable property or chattels is recognised in the traditional law of the Gá-Dangme. Immovable property is subdivided into land and house;[17] and a broad distinction is recognised between mere chattels and valuable chattels like chattels gold ornaments, kente cloth, tools of trade, and industrial plant.

Further, it should be appreciated that there is a distinction in traditional law between ancestral property and self-acquired property; the distinction applies to both realty and chattels. Thus a gold-ring maybe part of an ancestral heirloom which is retained by the family and used on ceremonial occasions. Property in things acquired by ancestors and bequeathed or devised to the family in common remains vested in the extended family and cannot be validly sold on by individual members of the family to third parties. On the other hand, self-aquisitions may be freely sold by the acquirer.

The concepts of ownership, possession, custody and control as well as waste and improvement to land and other property were well known in traditional notions of property. On the whole, ownership aros out of original acquisition or legitimate transfer by way of gift inter vivos, purchase, etc. Where by expending labour or through the exercise of superior mental powers or business skills an individual reduced a piece of previously unowned land into their possession, generated a product or developed an artistic motif, traditional law rules were developed to allow them to retain ownership of such land, product or motif.

Thus if Tettey, a stool-subject, regularly farmed on a piece of land, building a dwelling house on part of the land, and regularly defended his farm and home against intruders and trespassers, the traditional law recognised that he had acquired title to such land. Such title was both alienable and heritable. However, to support and confirm Tettey’s title against all comers he was required to formally approach the village leaders for a confirmation of his title. As a stool-subject he paid a token amount of money and presented an assortment of drinks to mark and publicise the occasion. The leaders ensured that Tettey’s land was carefully demarcated from the holdings of others; therefore, his neighbours might be called to witness the ceremony and to raise any objections they might have. Subsequently Tettey could call upon both his neighbours and the village leaders in disputes over his title to the land. Alternatively, Tettey could initially approach the leaders for an express grant before commencing to work the land.

If on the other hand, Tettey felled timber and made a canoe (ahima or lele) or oar out of the log by his own independent effort or by the assistance of paid individuals, the canoe or oar remained his. He acquired absolute title to it as he was responsible for its creation; he owed it of no one else. An individual could acquire a large number of things either directly in this way or by purchase, using money obtained through the sale of products created by himself. Therefore, the traditional production process was based entirely on the generation of things by individuals who acquired the original title. Things produced in this way could be sold on to several persons, but title could be established only through a chain of legitimate acquisitions from persons who had acquired the item in a direct line from persons the original creator and his buyers had dealt with.

This clear-cut picture is somewhat muddied by the communal character of the majority of tradtional production. Many things were produced by family or social groups instead of individuals. In that case, the product of the collective effort was shared out at the end of production process with each individual owning what was legitimately allocated to them. If the product was not divisible or was purposely created to be retained by the group, then members of the creating family or group acquired a collective title. If the product had an income-yielding capacity, like a canoe or house, then the concepts of improvement and waste with their consequential effects on quality, influenced the final value.

Although the product may be retained by someone else yet the original producer or acquirer might still own it if there had been no legitimate process of transfer of ownership. In that case, the acquirer was recognised by the traditional law as having ownership, but not custody and possession. If on the other hand, the product was temporarily in the hands of the acquirer’s apprentice then the acquirer was held to have both ownership and custody, but not possession. If, however, the product was transferred by way of sale, or consensually by way of gift the acquirer lost both ownership and custody as well as possession.

Intellectual property rights in artistic motifs and the like are best illustrated today in the work of coffin makers in Nungua to the East of Accra.[18] Taking a central motif, say a cocoa-pod or canoe, from the life of the deceased traditional coffin makers designed a casket to reflect the life and vocation of the departed. The rights to such designs, as well as to the designs of gold-smiths, state umbrella-makers and similar artists, were vested in the originator.

 4.2.3 Chattels

Chattels or nibii were recognised as belonging to a separate class of property. However, the Gá-Dangme concept of chattels also recognised a distinction between crops, goods, stock-in-trade and general merchandise and other easily perishable or fungible items. Emblements or growing crops produced by the labour of the cultivator and harvested annually are considered as goods and therefore fall under the traditional law relating to chattels.

Generally speaking, only chattels of value are regarded by the Gá-Dangme as really constituting property: vehicles, capital equipment, gold and silver ornaments, furniture, cattle, household utensils, tools of trade, etc. Thus a wealthy individual or niatse may possess in addition to land and houses, mummy-trucks, cars, canoes, corn-mills, silverware, gold-chains, gold-earrings, gold bracelets, gold-rings, gold-pendants, crockery, household furniture, cattle, sheep, poultry, expensive clothing as well as other sundry items of property. In the present age such an individual may also own a company and have industrial plant, office equipment, a current account, deposit account, bills of lading, shares, bonds, debentures and stocks and may also have taken out a life assurance policy.

Although females may also own all the items of property listed above, there are certain things which are considered to be distinctively female property. Items associated with the kitchen and housewifery such as cooking utensils and sewing machines are presumed to belong to a wife. Also, expensive cloths, including damasks, velvets and Dutch wax prints, are generally associated with women. Traditionally, most female property was obtained with profits from market-trading. Trading therefore became a typical vocation of Gá-Dangme women; some travelled to the weekly inland markets to purchase bulk products for resale in the great urban markets such as Makola, London and Salaga markets; others made a more profitable business of achieving commercial success in the urban markets dealing in local goods and imported European produce.

Various market traders became fabulously wealthy, and in addition to erecting Italianate buildings around the city, became the mainstay of their extended  families. In the bed-chamber of the successful female trader’s house would normally be a wardrobe or sideboard stocked with expensive clothes, jewels and other valuables; the sideboard, with its displays of lavender and other perfumes literally became the domestic symbol of a woman’s economic status. Less successful women tended to keep their personal property in trunks and boxes tucked away in the corner of the bed-chamber.

As in the case of land, personal movable acquisitions are distinguished from ancestral property. Personal acquisitions were accumulated through the personal effort or enterprise of the individual; they were entirely to be disposed by the acquirer as they choose. They may be sold, part-exchanged, pledged or given away without any interference by the extended family. Ancestral personal property, although they may be kept by an individual family member, remain the extended family’s. Movable ancestral property includes shika futru (gold dust), gold ornaments, and paraphenelia of office.

Problems often arise where an individual having custody of inherited family property mixed them with their own property and disposed of them at will. Even worse, ancestral property in the possession or custody of individuals may wrongly be regarded by their children as the personal property of the parents leading to ugly disagreements upon the demise of the possessor. In some families there is a tradition of periodically calling for an account of ancestral properties in the possession of individuals; this avoids unnecessary litigation and reinforces extended family solidarity.

As indicated, an individual may own domesticated animals; birds are also owned on an extensive scale: ducks, guinea-fowl, turkey, chicken, pigeons, etc. Although birds and animals may freely mix, and even stay for a lengthy periods, with other herds and flock ownership remains vested in the owner. Different rules appear to apply to wild animals; such creatures may be freely hunted over the open plains and forests.

The hunter owns the body of animals killed on unoccupied and uncultivated ground. Where a wild is caught in this way and kept in captivity for a considerable period, but escapes the original capturer retains his right to ownership provided the identity of the animal can be established. The right to kill burrowing animals, such as hares and rabbits vests in the owner of the land on which they are found. The owner is entitled to a half share of all animals killed or captured by his permission; he is equally entitled to a half share of fruits plucked from self-sown perrenial trees on his plot. The hindlegs of wild animals killed in the uncultivated fields and forests belong to the chief or headman of the area.

Owners of private creeks as well as traditional priests exercise similar rights to catches of fish. Rights to catches from creeks are best developed in the Ada area; there individuals are permitted to fish in private creeks for small quantities of fish on the understanding that the owner is entitled to a fifth of the total catch. The Nai Wulomo exercises a right to a quantity of all commercial fish landed on the beaches of Accra; fish given to the Nai Wulomo in this way is known as bele naa loo and the right to it is known as bele naa loo kómo. Finally, the Korle Wulomo has the prerogative of casting the first few nets when the fishing season commences in the Korle lagoon. It was suggested that the Sakumo Wulomo exercises a similar right over the Sakumo lagoon. The rights of the high priests extend to salt and other commercial produce. These rights of the high priests are vestiges of their former powers as leaders of the Gá-Dangme and owners of the land. However, individuals may freely trap fiddler crabs and land crabs, pick crustaceans and use cast-nets without the necessity of giving portions to the high priests.

During the herring and sardine season in August (Obué) owners of fishing canoes may occasionally let them to a crew of fishermen who give them a third of the catch. Each crew member brings his own oars (tabló) and stock of food; the crew may collectively own the fishing gear. Where they also borrow the fishing net and gear of the owner of the canoe, the owner becomes entitled to two-thirds of the total catch comprising mainly sardines (kankanma) and herring (mann). The above arrangement known as nimaa is similar to the English concept of bailment or renting of movable property. It extends to capital equipment and income yielding devices such as hunting rifles, seine nets (tsani), cornmills, sewing machines and mummy-trucks. In each case, the bailee is granted use of the property for a specified period, and is obliged to share his profits with the bailor.

Emblements and fungibles were usually measured by the basket or kenten, being being baskets of various sizes for measuring out fixed quantities; in the case of maize or corn, an olonka or measuring tin was used. The concept of kenten was frequently employed notionally. Thus certain profits-á-prendre inuring to the owner of land was often worked out in terms of an actual or notional basket. Therefore mushrooms, herbs, vegetables forming part of such profits may be measured in terms of notional baskets.

4.2.4 Realty

Land or shikpon is considered the most important form of property, being largely permanent and indestructible. As the shikpon of the Gá-Dangme was collectively acquired through original settlement and uninterrupted ownership, the ultimate title to all Gá-Dangme land is vested severally in the Three Kings upon the approval of whose predecessors in office the various quarters were allocated their portions of land. It is emphasised that the quarters did not acquire any land by separate effort from that of the mantso; traditional rules that tend to give the impression that some quarters own their territory separately from the overall mantso are based on notions of possession rather than original acquisition.

The notion of land in traditional Gá-Dangme law includes the earth itself, its features and all that grows, covers or is attached to it, such as plants, herbs, wells, pits, creeks, lakes, rivers and houses. Given the variety of landscapes in Gá-Dangme territory, there is often a striking contrast between different kinds of land. Thus the forest areas to the north (koo) and the intermediate plains (nná) are in stark contrast both to which other and to land along the sea coast or nsho-gonno).

Typical Ga-Dangme territory is covered by stunted vegetation and grassland scattered with mango, baobab, palm and cashew trees, and in the rural and semi-rural areas with occasional farm patches. Anthills, streams, rivers, and other physical features formed natural boundaries. In certain areas place-names are based on physical geographic features of the locality: Korle Gonno (Korle’s hill), Dzorwulu (Big Valley), Faase (Beyond the river), Tesano (On the rocks), Teshi (Beneath the rocks), etc. Traditionally, land was sold in parcels or kpaa measured in abasam or arm-lengths.

Following the decline of Ayawaso Gá settlements were concentrated along the sea coast, particularly near the European forts; the Dangme maintained settlements in several large inland towns as well as along the riverine areas of the Volta. The sale and development of Gá-Dangme lands have tended to follow particular trends and directions away from the earliest settlements.

Title to land could be acquired in any of the following ways:

  1. a) Original settlement;
  2. b) Accession;
  3. c) Conquest;
  4. d) Prescriptive acquisition; and
  5. e) Purchase from the original acquirers. Original settlement

As we have observed, Gá-Dangme land was acquired by original settlement; this meant that unoccupied areas of the original acquisition could only be occupied by the various stools through the actual or implied consent of the monarch. Occupation of such land took two main forms: ancestral settlement and the founding of rural abodes by hunters, farmers and religious communities.

The ancestral settlements, as we have already noticed, occurred on the basis of actual residence on particular patches of land and identification with the quarter which owned the land. Full involvement in the activities of the quarter entailed allegiance to the stool, contribution to war effort and the development of relation, principally through marriage, with the main lineages.

The acquisition of rural and semi-rural land took a different form. The village or aklowa was the focus of settlement; they were usually founded by hunters and farmers. A hunting village normally started as a hunter’s lodge; a place where the hunter regularly set camp and gradually established as a half-way house between his hunting grounds and his family home in the ancestral quarter. He may cultivate particular medicinal herbs and vines, and plant trees to dress his wounds and sustain himself after long forays. If a hunter’s lodge was located on good ground with access to a stream and near enough to the main inland routes it usually developed into a village, attracting other individuals who gradually established a village community wth the founder as the chief.

However, physical propinquity to any of the above did not matter if the founder of the village or one of the leading residents developed a reputation as a great healer or a religious sage. In that case, people travelled from far and wide to seek treatment; the terminally-ill and those with recurring symptons as well as their relatives might never return. In addition, possessed persons might be brought from the traditional quarters for training as spirit mediums or woyei.

In other cases, the influential men of a quarter may purposely decide to establish a village on a particular spot to serve the food-growing needs of the quarter in times of famine. Such villages often also served as garrison outposts, keeping the quarter informed on the movement of enemy warriors. Yet other villages were founded by fishermen along the coast who used them as drop-in sites to mend their nets and tackle, replenish their stock and prepare for the next voyage.

Each village community attracted strangers who came to settle, to seek sanctuary and to the escape the tensions of the old quarter. As the population multiplied and agriculture took a firm root perennial trees appeared to patricular patches of land; these may be self-sown or the result of the labours of a particular individual or family. In addition, individuals would regularly cultivate particular patches of land or keep animals and poultry on it, they therefore continually kept an eye on the land to keep out intruders and other undesirable characters. Land, albeit never expressly granted to an individual or family, could be held in this way for several generations, becoming family or ancestral land. Once a family had firmly brought a piece of rural or semi-rural land under its control in this way, traditional notions allowed it to successfully litigate its interest in the land against third parties and to defend the suits of trespassers.

Lands acquired by families in this manner may be designated as initial acquisitions; they were acquired in the distant past; and their roots of title are generally shrouded in the mists of antiquity. Occasionally, however, litigators were able in the Ghanaian courts to trace their family antecedents into the period of the original founding of a village, and established initial acquisition. After the period of initial acquisitions clear rules had to be formulated to regulate transfer and other dealings in land. Further, rules were developed to regulate the killing of particular animals on the land as well as to spell out the community’s interest in treasure troves subsequently found on the land. Accession

Accession normally occurs where alluvium is deposited on a river bank, gradually solidifies and becomes part of the land. Although the ultimate title to land would be vested in the stool to whose land the new land is attached, individuals whose lands abut on the new deposit may exercise rights of ownership, the old land being the principal object to which the new land or accessory is added. Accession of this type regularly occurred on the banks of the Volta near Ada; smaller types of accession occur on the Sakumo, Songor, and Korle lagoons as well as at the estuary of the Densu river. Conquest

Another method of acquiring title to land was by conquest. Traditionally, this occurred largely in respect to land on the Northern frontiers which had to be constantly defended against intruders, and occasionally to be re-taken from foreign intruders. Assimilation

Acquisition by assmilation occurs where a people settle in a particular place and assimilate other people already in occupation of the land. This appears to have been the case in Gá-Dangme acquisition of lands along the littoral already occupied by the Les and Kpeshi.

Finally, Ollennu has suggested that the paramount title may also be acquired derivation, namely any form of alienation, including sale, gift or testamentary disposition. It appears that the original title could also be acquired by way of gift, especially for military service. This was certainly the case in regard to certain Accra lands given to Manche Ankrah upon the successful conclusion of the Awudome wars.[19]

4.2.5 Interests in land

As has already been stated this account leaves the existing offcial customary law of Ghana entirely to one side in order to attempt a discovery of the true traditional law of the Gá-Dangme. In describing interests in land therefore we attempt to uncover, by reference to historical examples where necessary, a scheme of land tenure which best accords with the traditional practices of the Gá-Dangme. The first traditional concept to grasp is the notion of afaban (the erection of boundary or reduction into ownership). It suggests the establishment of undisputed ownership rights over a piece of property. In theory the largest afaban in traditional legal thought was the territorial limits of the Gaman or Gá nation itself; this was known as the man-afaban. Items of property, corporeal nad incorporeal, within the territorial limits of the Gá state belonged to the Gá Manche. Exceptions were made only for pieces of property which were considered to be of religious significance; it was for the religious hierarchy to decide ownership to such properties.

Distinct political and social units within the territorial limits of the Gá state could with the tacit or actual agreement of the Gá Manche establish their own afaban over specific portions of Gáman lands. Such afaban, by definition encompassed lands which came to be attached to the quarter or political unit in question, and were known by the name of the political unit owning them. Thus we have Asere shikpon, Sempe shikpon, etc. This did not extinguish the the rights of the Gá Manche, as the lands still remained within the Gáman afaban. The Gá Manche, through his subordinate chiefs, merely allowed his subjects the rights of occupation of Gá lands.

For instance, it was the Gá Manche Okaikoi who ceded land at Osu beach to the Danish representative Jost Kramer for the erection of the Christiansborg Castle.[20] Yet the Osu were subsequently permitted to demarcate lands clearly belonging to the Gá Manche to their subjects for residential purposes. Again, it was the Gá Manche who gave land at North Kaneshie to Mantse Ankrah after the successful conclusion of the Awudome wars.[21] The acquisiton of land rights by settlers at Jamestown and the giving of land by King Tackie Kome to Brazilian settlers at Adabraka are other examples proving the Gá Manche’s rights to all Gáman lands. Furthermore, the Gáman afaban had been extended northwards through the conquest of the Akwamu.[22]

Aside from quarter shikpon there were also weku shikpon, owned more or less in the same way as quarter shikpon. …. With increased European activity on the Gold Coast land became commoditised and individuals started to acquire their own interests in land, frequently evidenced by European modes of conveyancing.

Pledges (ahoba) and adode were other forms of interests held in land.


Owing largely to their extensive farming activities the Krobo developed a sophisticated scheme of land ownership, particularly in relation to farmland; they considered farmland to be the most valuable form of property aside from the ancestral household. Several types of farmland were recognised: pum or uncleared forest; plocke or land which was once cultivated but had been allowed to revert to bush to recover its fertility; whem or newly-cleared land planted with cash crops interspersed with food crops; and nmonya or land with mature cash crops. Nmonya is usually considered to be an old man’s farm, and the occupier is frequently helped during the harvest by younger realtives from adjoining farms.[23] The farmland was considered an integral part of the Krobo polity, each farm acquisition being an extension of the realm of the Krobob monarchs.

4.2.5. Transfer of interests in land

The holder of an interest in land may validly transfer such interest in any of the following ways.

If the owner holds the absolute title to the property and he or she is of age and sound mind then the transfer may be consensual and effected by private treaty. The parties to the transfer may enter into such agreement as they deem fit provided the terms do not affect the interest of any other party, and it is not detrimental to the interests of the traditional state.

If the holder holds only a qualified interest in the subject-matter of the transfer, only that interest may be transferred.

An individual has no power to transfer ancestral or family property; this can only be done by properly accredited persons acting on behalf of the family or group concerned.

It is always necessary, in a strictly traditional transfer, to publicise the transaction.

In order to avoid expensive litigation and the future loss of the transferee’s rights, it is always essential that the following be observed as part of a transfer.

  1. a) There must be witnesses to the transfer;
  2. b) There transfer must involve a clear change of ownership, with clear and appropriate words being used to express this fully;
  3. c) The subject matter of the transfer should be put into the custody or possession of the transferee; if neither or either of this is not possible, the heirs, successors and family of the transferor must be informed that a transfer of the property had been effected;
  4. d) If the transfer is effected by a stool the transferee must provide drinks to mark the occasion; and
  5. e) The transferee must completely perform his part of the bargain to make the transfer complete. If, for instance, he or she fails to pay the final instalment of the purchase price the transfer would not be regarded as complete, and the transferor would be at liberty to enter into a separate transaction to sell the same property.

Where ancestral or collective property had been partitioned, the holders of title to the individual parts may transfer such title to purchasers.

The actual land transfer ceremony performed on the plot to be transferred is known as shikpon yibaafo or zigba yibapom (Dangme). The parties meet on the land in the presence of witnesses from either side, particularly neighbours of the vendor. The parties kneel on their right knees and each passes a coin wrapped in dry palm leaf under their left knees. A drink is poured and the leaf is cut in two pieces by the parties, and the coins thrown to the ground; a sheep may then be slaughtered to complete the process. After that the land is deemed to have passed to the purchaser.

4.3 Succession

 Just as detailed rules were formulated to regulate the acquisition and ownership of property as well as their transfer among the living so too rules were developed to regulate the post-mortem distribution of property. What follows, particularly in the section relating to the traditional law of intestate succession, is an attempt to describe the prevailing unofficial customary law of the Gá-Dangme rather than a detailed exposition of the case-law developed on the subject by the Ghanaian courts; for as has been demonstrated by a number of writers, the official position in regard to the customary law of succession amongst certain Gá-Dangme peoples often diverges significantly from reality. As individuals lived their lives largely within the context of the extended family, the notions underlying succession to property temded to favour the extended family. On the whole, property was presumed to devolve on the extended family unless clear rules had been developed to the contrary.

4.3.1 Testate succession

The Gá-Dangme recognised the rights of individuals to transmit their property to persons of their choice. This recognition arose from the recognition that apart from the natural love and affection for particular members of the testator’s family and circle of friends, the testator might want to make gifts to past benefactors, protéges, caretakers, carers, etc. Although this right of the testator was held to be generally subject to the wishes of the extended family, yet they were in practice usually allowed. Although an individual might declare his last wish and testament to members of his or her family at any moment, declarations regarding the testamentary disposition of property came to be normally made in grave moments of illness, crises, and prior to warfare.

For instance, before a tabilor or soldier departed to the war front he left directions regarding his property and family should he fail to return. Terminally ill people would also gather members of the family around the death-bed and issue directions as to the disposition of their worldly possessions. In either case, care was taken to ensure that key members of the family, including those who should have special expectations of inheritaing the testator as well as family elders were present. The declaration or message issued on the occasion is known as sheh[24]; it involves words of advice to beneficiaries and the family generally as well as the actual distribution of particular pieces of property.

The state of mind or lucidity of the testator as well as surrounding circumstances are matters of paramount importance in establishing whether the declaration indeed amounts to a last will and testament. Where the testator was known to have been a drunkard (gaaley) or to have habitually suffered momentary loss of memory or was under the absolute control of the beneficiaries, there might be grounds for regarding the declaration as invalid. But weak intellect was no reason for setting a traditional will aside.

To be valid the following rules have to be observed during the making of a sheh:

  1. a) Properties involved should the self-acquisitions of the declarant;
  2. b) It should be clear that the declaration is the last will and testament of the declarant;
  3. c) Items of property must be specifically identified;
  4. d) Beneficiaries or their representatives should be present at the gathering;
  5. e) The spouse and adult children of the children or their representatives should witness the declaration; and
  6. f) The declaration should be witnessed by at least three credible witnesses, involving as far as possible members of the declarant’s paternal and maternal families;

As a result of the influence of Sarbah and the uncritical adoption of his views by the Ghanaian courts, the traditional Gá-Dangme nuncupative will is occasionally described as shamanshoo, a corruption of the Fanti Samansiw. However, as we have shown elsewhere, the possibility exists that the observation on which Sarbah relies for his assertion that the making of samansiw started among the Fanti might in fact made in Accra.[25]

Ancestral property (including gboshi-nin) may not be the subject-matter of a sheh but self acquired chattels, land and gifts (nike-nin) may be freely devised or bequeathed to favoured individuals.

4.3.2 Intestate succession

 If, as in the majority of cases, an individual died intestate their movable property were distributed among relatives in a well-defined manner; but landed property was inherited by the extended family as a corporation. In distributing the property of an intestate it is essential to ensure that ancestral properties are not mixed with personal property. For this reason, it was necessary for leading members of the family to be present at the distribution. Traditionally, the class of inheritors was determined by patrilineal principles; in recent times this has been complicated by a tendency for feamles to inherit females, and for males to inherit males.

Bentsi-Enchill summarizes the the patrilieal position in regard to intestate succession in the follwoing way. “A childless man’s immediate family is the group comprising his brothers and sisters and his parents.”[26] He continues “When he begets children and his brothers and sisters beget their children and his sisters are married off, it is easy to see how his immediate family comes increasingly to be considered to be the group comprising the children.[27] Thus under the patrilineal system of inheritance it is the children who are considered the true inheritors of the father. However, the deceased’s brothers, and less frequently sisters, may also be considered. If the deceased is survived by neither children nor brothers and sisters, succession devolves onto ever widening circles of relatives traced patrilineally through the grandfather, great-grandfather and so on.

In theory, it was the extended family which inherited the properties of the intestate; but in practice, the property devolved according to rules of seniority and consanguineous proximity to the deceased. Under this scheme, the property of a deceased male was traditionally inherited in the following order.

  1. a) Father;
  2. b) Brothers by seniority;
  3. c) Sons by seniority;
  4. d) Uncles;
  5. d) Cousins;
  6. e) Other members of the extended family.

The above scheme is today modified among many lineages by the insistence that sons inherit their father, with daughters and wives having a life-interest and, and the deceased’s brothers and other relatives sharing in the residue.  It is instructive to note that where a single or few beneficiaries inherit property they are under a duty to care for any children of minority of the deceased; and although not necessarily involving adult children in the management of landed property and capital assets, to seek as far as possible obtain their consent, especially in regard to the disbursement of funds for the benefit of minors and other members of the family.

In determining seniority the normal rule was to draw a distinction between nii-mei (grandfathers), tse-mei (fathers and uncles) (tupenfoi) peers and (serbii) junior sibling. For instance, if Ayitey died intestate he was inherited by his father, to whom the grandparents normaaly pass their rights; but if the father predeceased him then his own brothers would constitute the inheriting group. Within this group, he would be succeeded by his most senior brother of the full blood. If the brother died before the property could be distributed, he was succeeded by the next brother and so forth until the brother’s group is exhausted. The next inheriting group would then be Ayitey’s sons in order of seniority. If he had no brothers and sons the uncles inherited, then cousins, then other members of the family.

The above arrangement is qualified in many instances. If the deceased had any female properties such as trinkets and wax prints they were inherited by his sisters and daughters. Also, in certain cases if the deceased was predeceased by his father and brothers of the full blood and had no sons, half-brothers may be considered before the uncles can take.

In the case of a female, she was inherited by her siblings of both sexes if the father passed over the succession. If a deceased intestate did not have a family he or she was inherited by the family with which they identified themselves. If no such family could be traced, the village or quarter to which he or she belonged took any land belonging to the intestate as bono vacantia; chattels were distributed to dependants, organisers of the funeral and neighbours in that order provided they are member of the tribe.

The realites of urban existence have imposed several modifications on the foregoing model. There is, for instance, a growing tendency to manipulate lineage and self-acquired property differently. Shares in income derived from lineage property increasingly revert to a common pool rather than be allocated to successors of the deceased. Being important occasions for social display and the re-affirmation of family solidarity, funeral costs can be astronomical. In the final analysis, contributions to funeral expenses tend to override the rights of individuals in the allocation of movable property, or even landed property, of an intestate. Under this scheme children tend to inherit the self-acquired property of the parents with the property being shared equally according to the number of children; the oldest children acting as administrators, and the extended family’s role becoming largly ceremonial. In the case of landed property there appears to be an underlying father-son, mother-daughter devolution of self-acquisitions.

The above was the general order in relation to succession to chattels and land. As regards succession to office different rules seemed to apply. Many offices, including mantse, mankralo,akwashongtse, shipi, asafoiatse, etc. were by direct selection from a class of eligible persons belonging to a particular lineage. As succession to these offices were usually rotated among a number of houses, the rule developed that a son may not succeed his father as mantse, mankralo, akwashongtse, shipi or asafoiatse. However, an individual may succeed their parent as weku yitso or okyeame. In case of okyeame it appears that the office is not attached to particular families; but depends on personal qualities. Thus an eloquent and wise son may succeed to the office upon the death of his father.

4.4 Gift

 Gifts inter vivos are common among the Gá-Dangme. It is not unusual for a parent or grandparent to make a gift to, say, an exemplary daughter out of love and affection. However, not all gifts are held to be strictly regulated by the tradional law; only things of high value are considered as falling under the traditional law. The commonest traditional law gifts gifts are land, houses, and jewellery.[28] The following were essential for a valid gift.

  1. a) Property in the proposed gift must be vested in the donor;
  2. b) The gift, especially where it forms part of a larger unit, should be clearly identified and/or demarcated;
  3. c) The donor should make clear that he or she is actually vesting ownership of the item or land in the donee;
  4. d) The transaction should be witnessed by credible individuals; and
  5. e) The donee must clearly accept the gift, the case of land by the exercise of rights of ownership;

A gift is invalid if it is subsequently proven that it was effected through fraud, duress, deceit, or while the donee was too ill, drunk, incapacitated or otherwise impaired from understanding the nature of the transaction. Furthermore, the donor may attach reasonable conditions to the gift during his or her lifetime; in such cases property passes only after the condition has been discharged.

4.5 Loan

 It was not unusual for individuals and families, in times of need, to resort to loans. The loan may involve an article or money. An individual may contract a loan to finance a major project or to expand an enterprise. Merchants and traders frequently pre-finance their activities with loans advanced by members of family, benevolent societies or money-lenders. Loans are re-payable at rates of interest determined by the parties; but in fact most borrowers obtain loans on terms determined by the lender. On the whole, loans are obtained at a modest rate of interest usually payable upon payment of the principal. In general it was not necessary to provide collateral, although an individual of repute or substance may be asked to guarantee the loan.

Should the borrower default, the lender or his agent calls on the borrower to honour the agreeement; if such demands prove fruitless the lender may call on the guarantor to ensure payment; or in the final analysis seek recovery at the King’s court. A persistent debtor was usually declared a nyomotse or undeclared bankrupt, a condition from which the individual can only free his or herself and resume trading by finding a guarantor and slowly re-establishing creditworthiness.

Loans are to be distinguished from debts contracted in the course of trading. Trading debts attract no interest, except on the agreement of the parties. As debts are frequently contracted through unrecorded business transactions creditors often seek to publicise the debt and obtain an admission in the presence of witnesses; in the meantime they might consider withholding supplies of good or services.

The extended family is sometimes obliged to borrow money either for the purchase of land or to underwrite a funeral. In either case the loan is repayable by the adult members of the family jointly and severally. The debt is divided among the family branches which may in turn sub-divide it among the various units. Once the debt has been divided in this way it becomes the obligation of each individual to pay his or her part of the debt to avoid dishonour to the family. So onerous is the duty to share in the payment of family debts that individuals are known to pay on behalf of siblings abroad.

When an article is borrowed the borrower is under obligation to return it in a reasonable state. Therefore borrowers are under a duty to exercise diligence and care in regard to the article; if it is lost the borrower should make a suitable replacement. If the article is severely damaged it should be restored as far as possible to its former state; but minor damages are considered to be part of the depreciation and wear and tear normally expected of an article, and can never found an action.

4.6 Pledge or hypothecation

Pledging was another way of raising money in traditional society. A raise money an individual may deliver a prized possession to another as security for the money borrowed on condition that the item pledged would be returned upon the payment of the debt. This was the traditional pledge of ahoba which was widely practised as a way of raising money in pre-banking days. Many wealthy individuals made a part-time career of advancing money against the security of land or highly valued chattels. Title-deeds to land and houses, gold ornaments, fishing canoes, tools of trade were the most frequently pledged items.

To constitue a pledge the transaction, especially where it involves land, should be witnessed by a number of third parties including those who would otherwise inherit the pledgor. When writing was introduced to the Gold Coast it became common to reduce pledge transactions into writing; this ensured that it could be enforced without much dispute as to the exact terms of the transaction.

The pledgee is entitled to the use and hire of the property while thepledge remains unredeemed. A pledge may be redeemed at any time, provided reasonable notice was served.[29] Thus, a farmer who pledged his farmland cannot insist on redemption just before the crop was ripe for harvest.

4.7 Slander

Defamation of character is one of the most frequent causes of action under traditional law. Accusations of witchcraft, adultery, and moral turpitude are considered as lowering the general esteem in which people are held or even imputing evil to them. Actions for slander are in effect actions to cleanse the blemish on the accused’s character caused by the malicious statements. To constitute slander the statement in question should have been stated publicly and maliciously. Wives may not use particular words of insult in public to suggest that the husband is worthless.

An action for slander can be avoided if the slanderer publicly recants his or her words and apologises. In certain quarters a slanderer may, upon recanting, be asked to undertake steps ritually to pacify the accused and cleanse the blemish.


4.8 Procedure in the King’s court

It is clear from the foregoing that Gá-Dangme society was regulated by a complex body of legal rules. Such rules had of course to be overseen by the traditional political authorities. Matters of marriage and succession were largely left in the hands of the various households and heads of family. The quarter chief, and ultimately, the King exercised appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the family heads and the lower political authorities. The King’s appellate jurisdiction served to clarify and crystallise Gá-Dangme customary law, ensuring uniformity between the rules administered by the various towns and quarters. In other cases, especially serious matters, the King’s court exercised original jurisdiction.

To invoke the jurisdiction of the King’s court, a litigator or aggrieved person attended the King’s court and established that they either had a matter serious enough to be put before the court or stated that the matter was on appeal from a lower court. The defendant or respondent was summoned by the despatch of the standard of office of one of the King’s officials. During the trial much emphasis was put on direct evidence (okadi) and witnesses (odasefoi). The facts were carefully re-constructed; if the matter was considered a household conflict (shia-sane) in which the head of family had erred, then in the past, the King’s councillors discreetly advised him on how the matter should have been handled. On the other hand all man-sane or public matters fell into the jurisdiction of the King’s court. However, wulomei were allowed to adjudicate on aspects of man-sane, particularly where one or both of the parties had sworn in the name of a particular god.

Legislation was normally issued through public announcement preceded by the utterance of the words odododiodoo (literally, the crow of a cock);[30] the form of words following the utterance of these words indicate that what is about to be published constitutes state legislation disregard for which would attract appropriate sanction. This was normally the case when legislation was promugated by a quarter or village chief. When the Gá Manche or a major chief issues legislation the usual channels of communication were either a forum of chiefs or by special emissary to lesser chiefs. The legislation was then published to the townfolk in the manner already described.

Although individuals may generally represent themselves in proceedings at the King’s court, they may be accompanied by henchmen or sapatei who often act as advocates, clarifying aspects of the case; and generally advising the litigator as to what steps to take. However, the sapatei have not yet developed into a professional class, representing applicants to the king’s court. A sapate may range from a head of family to an unrelated person skilled in traditional law and custom.

Once a verdict has been reached it is for the successful party to enforce the judgment. A fine, compensation order or even a reprimand are not unusual; but there is an emphasis on reconciliation of the parties and their respective families. Even a fine may be reduced if the losing party offers an apology and undertakes to be of good behaviour in the future. It is for the successful party to ensure the payment of comensation. The usual mode is to visit the judgement-debtor’s usual place of abode and to put such pressure on him or her as to ensure payment of the debt. The creditor often makes persistent public demands for payment at the debtor’s residence; he may also choose to make similar demands at the creditor’s trading stall or other business centre.

Creditors have been known to occasionally employ the services of a wong-tse (spirit medium) to compell debtors to pay up. If payment is not forthcoming the judgment-creditor may resort to the King’s court once more for an order compelling the losing party to pay up. In the past judgment-debtors ended up in the the King’s prison or kpa-bun (sin-hole). Toi-gboloi or those are held in contempt of the king’s court also ended up in the kpa-bun.

The head of family’s court reflects the King’s court in miniature. When a complaint is lodged, the head of family or a trusted representative undertakes an initial investigation, carefully fathering information from family and neighbourhood sources. In exercise of his discretonary powers within the family the head may, if he or she feels the culprit is patently in the wrong, quietly advise him or her to settle or make an apology. If on the other hand, it is felt that evidence needs to be taken, the head may empanel a committee of arbitrators with himself as chair. A date is appointed for the hearing, witnesses are called and the testimonies examined. At the conclusion of the hearing a verdict is delivered and the losing party asked to carry out the ruling of the committee.

    [1]N.A. Ollennu’s Principles of Customary Land Law in Ghana, London 1962; The Law of Testate and Intestate Succession in Ghana, London 1966; and N.A. Ollennu and G.R. Woodman’s Ollennu’s Principles of Customary Land Law in Ghana, Birmingham 1985 contain useful but incomplete accounts of the customary law of the Gá.

    [2]London 1897.

    [3]Ibid. p. 22.

    [4]Barbot 1732, pp. 502-503.

    [5]Ibid. p. 503.

    [6]See generally E.T.A. Abbey, Boi-Ekpaa Yoo, Accra 1968. Useful information can also be obtained from from D. Nii Aponsah, “Gá-Mashi Succession: Ascertaining the True Personal Law”, Review of Ghana Law, Vol. 6 (1974), pp. 116-121; and by the same author, “Law and Social Reality: The Effect of Marriage and Paternity on Membership of Family Among the Gá Mashi People”, Review of Ghana Law, Vol. 16 (1978), pp. 32-46.

    [7]Sarbah 1968, pp. 109-110.

    [8]Cf. A. Ffoulkes, “Fanti Marriage Customs”, Journal of the African Society, Vol. 7 (1908-1909), pp. 31-48 at 46.

    [9]Cf. J.B. Danquah, Cases in Akan Law and Customs, London 1928, pp. 123-128.

    [10]Field 1940, p. 41.

    [11]Huber 1993, pp. 96-97.

    [12]Ibid. p. 99.

    [13]Ibid. p. 100.

    [14]Ibid. p. 103.

    [15]Ibid. pp. 105-106.

    [16]Ibid. p. 116.

    [17]There appears to be a further distinction between a substantial house of concrete and mortar and shed-like structures or kpéténkpé. Flimsy structures are not generally held to indicate ownership of land; on the other hand, they may be erected by trespassers as a step toward disputing the owners title.

    [18]See generally T. Secretan, Going into Darkness: Fantastic Coffins from  Africa, London 1995.

    [19]See K. Bentsi-Enchill, Ghana Land Law, London 1964, p. 81, esp. Note 67 referring to the case of Captan v. Ankrah (1951) 13 W.A.C.A. 35 in which title to the Awudome lands of Accra North was litigated by the descendants of Manche Ankrah.

    [20]See Appendix ….


    [22]Reindorf 1895, p. 275.

    [23]Manoukian, Akan and Gá-Dangme-Speaking Peoples, …. 19…, p. 106.

    [24]On this see in detail, N.A. Josiah-Aryeh, Family, Property and the State in Ghana: Chaning Customary Law in an Urban Setting, Unpublished University of London PhD thesis 1994, esp pp. 532-534.


    [26]Bentsi-Enchill 1963, p. 157.


    [28]It was at the end of the nineteenth century that “rude native gold work is done at Accra, which chiefly finds its outlet in the manufacture of the zodiac ring, which is worn by almost every one. Studs, brooches, watch chains and bracelets are also done fron copied patterns.” See Macdonald 1898, p. 206.

    [29]Cf. Sarbah 1968, p. 84.

    [30]The red cockerel is for this reason regarded as the symbol of the Gá-Dangme Okyeame who normally despatches the town-criers; the cockerel symbolises the word or supreme will of the polity.


Traditional constitution of the Gadangme: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh



Order constitutes the heart of any disciplined structure; an army of iron-hearted men can never achieve victory without orderly regimentation. A prosperous society can only be built on a sound constitutional structure

3.1 The general constitutional framework

This Lecture begins our examination of the traditional legal structure of the Gá-Dangme by considering the nature of the traditional constitutional framework. Underlying the rigid social structure of the Gá-Dangme is a well-defined traditional constitutional framework. At the apex of Gá-Dangme constitution is the triumvirate of Gá, Krobo and Ada kings – sovereigns of the three major parts or (man-wudzi) of modern Gá-Dangme. Known as the Three Kings or Mantsemei ete, the core territory or mantiase of each king is divided into recognisable quarters, invariably ruled by royal princes. Quarter organisation is based on the number seven, representing the number of actual or hypothetical groups in which the Gá-Dangme arrived on the coastal plains.

The number seven has therefore been institutionalised and conventionalised into the traditional constitution. True, there are several towns whose quarters are less than seven; but this represents a dysfunction of the political system rather than an aberration. In former times, the number seven had always been restored when due to amalgamation or the accident of migration the Gá towns and quarters had been reduced in number. Thus, people from Osudoku and from Labadi were invited to constitute the Gá towns of Osu and Teshi; in this way, the principle of man-kodzi kpawo (seven-branched town) was restored.

In turn the territory of the Gá-Dangme as whole is divided into man-dzi or urbanised areas and kosé, the country. The major traditional towns of each King are further subdivided into quarters. Each town is headed by a manche-wulu or nene   ? (major chief); the quarters of the major towns are headed by quarter chiefs or divisional chiefs.

At the base of the political structure are the aklowai (villages) and the akutsei (sections) of the major towns. Individuals are attached to a particular sub-group through an aklowa or akutso. Within each aklowa or akutso are the great family houses or adebo shia from which the major Ga-Dangme lineages originate.

Each part, town, division, akutso and aklowa of the Gá-Dangme polity is represented by a stool which the head occupies. It appears that the initial Gá-Dangme practice of symbolising kingship through ayawa or brass stools was well-established before the founding of, say, the Asante kingdom in 1701. Reindorf records the ownership of stools among the Gá and the Guan as early as ….. However, as is well illustrated by the carving of the Ngleshi stool by Otu Brafo it appears that Akan religious concepts, attributing fetish and mythical powers, have been added to the functions of the stool; this, however, applies only to the stools of Otublohum and Ngleshi.

 3.1.1 The traditional chief

The Gá-Dangme chief, as we have seen, is lineally descended from the prophets and priest-kings of the past. He combines in his role the functions of a law-giver, judge, administrator, prime-minister, war-leader, supreme defender, and ritual functionary. As war-leader, the chief acts as commander of the combined troops of the quarters under his stool; he, in consultation with the relevant wulomo, declares war and sues for peace. The actual assembling of troops and the provision of logistics fall within the remit of the various family heads, shipi, asafoatsemei, and tatsemei. But once assembled, troop movement and prosecution of a war were controlled by the chief through his chief generals.

The chief functions as political leader, ceremonial head, and traditional judge. As political leader, the chief occupies the town stool which symbolises the collective spirit of his people and is on ceremonial occasions obliged to perform appropriate rites for the people. However, as we have noted, the role of the chief has become more and more secularised in recent times. In the days of yore, he led his people in war and organised voluntary labour. Today, he still retains a notional role as war-leader but his political function is practically restricted to liaising with the main quarter and lineage heads; and ensuring the observance of the traditional calendar.

As ceremonial leader, the chief co-ordinates the activities of the religious hierarchy, sanctioning the observance of the major festivals and traditional injunctions. During the major festive occasion he appears in official regalia and takes part in ritual dancing. Aside from public ceremonies, the performs private ceremonies within the palace for the well-being of the town.

The role of the Gá Manche is like no other within the Gá state. As direct descendant of the first Gá leaders, the Gá Manche is the supreme political leader of the Gá-speaking peoples. As head of the Gá state or Gáman all other traditional political leaders owe allegiance to him. It has already been observed that the third Gá leader, Owura Mampong Okai rode in a wheeled carriage. This became the principal mode of transport for many of the early Gá laders at Ayawaso. The wheeled carriage, drawn by stallions and decorated with gold became the compelling emblem of the Gá nation. It was used on ceremonial occasions when the Gá Manche also occupied a Great Stool. With the movement of the capital to Little Accra the wheeled carriage was no longer necessary for the conveyance of the monarch as his palace was now just beyond the walls of the forts.

Aside from the mantse who also went into war as the Man-Yitso or leader of the Van, each Gá-Dangme town also had a Boka-Tatse (leader of the Right-Wing) and an Anai-Tatse (leader of the Left-Wing). In some towns these officials also acted as chiefs and were known as Boka-Mantse and Anai-Mantse. In towns with significant Twi elements an Adonten-hene (leader of the Van) came to be recognised; Gá-Dangme authorities, however, insist that this is wrong, as only the mantse or the akwashongtse can be leader of the van. It is maintained by such authorities that the proper title for officials currently styled adonten-hene is boka-mantse. Whatever his rank a chief was distinguished by an ivory (afili) wrist band which he always wore in public; the nobility wore large beaded wrist bands called adiagba.

In addition to the traditional Gá-Dangme stools, many distinguished heroes of the Battle of Katamanso were by royal prerogative permitted to found their own stools and/or ruling houses. Thus Mantse Ankrah founded a stool for Dadeban-naa, Otublohum; Tetteh Tsuru founded the Atukpai stool; Kpakpo Barema founded the Kpakpo Barema sub-ruling house of Sempe; and Nyam Abodiamo and Adade Akwa founded the Gbese principal houses bearing their names.[1] The occupants of such stools, are strictly-speaking war stools and the occupants are permitted to bear the titles of boka-tatse or anai-tatse, depending on the position occupied by the founder in the Katamanso War.

3.1.2 The Gyase

In many ways, the chief is propped in place by the Gyase or king-makers; the Gyase is a body of men constituting an electoral college, frequently selected from the major quarters to ensure the nomination and appointment of the most suitable candidate from the appropriate lineage as chief. Traditional politics is therefore often dominated by the Gyase; a radical Gyase tends to become the king-maker and the king-destroyer. The Gyase-tse or head of the Gyase occupies a powerful role, determining the composition of the Gyase and the longevity of the chief. The Gyase is drawn only from specific lineages; the rules of heredity that this entails can keep the majority of subjects unrepresented. An over-powerful Gyase therefore tends to lead to political instability.

The powers of the Gyase can, if unchecked, diminish the liberties of the manbii or townfolk. Unfettered control of a chief by the Gyase is therefore a recipe for traditional dictatorship, mitigated only by the powers of central government. Loss of land rights and lack of accountability are the commonest manifestations of unfettered traditional government.

It appears that in ancient times the powers of the Gyase were held in check by the office of Shikitele. This survives in a vestigial form only at Labadi. In origin the Shikitele was an elected representative of the manbii with powers to overrride, or at least veto, the Gyase as well as to articulate the concerns of townfolks to the chief. The revival of this admirable institution should have a beneficial effect on Gá-Dangme traditional government.

3.1.3 Other key officials

As the proclamation of messages was an original duty of the Gá-Dangme priest-kings, the office of Okyeame was a latter-day addition to Gá-Dangme government. After the secularisation of kingship, there developed the office of Kélor or sayer, the equivalent of the present Okyeame. Given the mystery with which kings surrounded themselves, the Kélor became an important court official through whom all royal messages were publicly transmitted. Although the Kélor can sometimes restrict access to the king and enjoys pride of place on ceremonial occasions, he has little constititional powers besides,

The principal asafoiatse is another important offical. The duties of the Asafoiatse are more particularly set out below. It suffices here to state only that the Asafoiatse has currently acquired special importance as one of two important officials whose presence and participation are necessary to lend validity to certain ceremonial functions; the other official being the Okyeame or Kelór.

3.2 Evolution of the constitution

Over a hundred years ago Reindorf noted;

“The [unwritten] Constitution has run out its three stages: the prophet stage, in which the foretelling priest held the reins; the priest-stage, in which the high priest of the national fetish had the reins; and the king-stage. The best method, therefore, left to the educated community is, to reorganize the whole structure of government on Christian principles, before we shall be acknowledged as a nation.”[2]

Admittedly, Reindorf did not attempt to embark on a systematic study of the Gá-Dangme Constitution; if he had, he would have discovered a living structure which stood only in need of definition and refinement. Common origin, a common migratory journey, and the administrative structures of the kingdoms of La Nimo and Ayawaso as well as subsequent history have led to the evolution of a common Gá-Dangme Constitution on the basis of a traditional confederacy. The need to defend themselves and their contiguous territories against common enemies as well as the need to survive, to multiply and to prosper, provided a powerful spur for the development of constitutional relations which have only to be properly set out to be as valid for the Gá-Dangme as it was in ancient times.

In ancient times, power was naturally located in the larger political entities of Accra, Krobo and Ada, and to a lesser extent in the larger settlements of Nungua, Ladadi, Osu, Teshi, Tema, Kpone, Prampram, Ningo, Odumase, Somanya, Agormanya, Dodowa, Shai, Obutu, Awutu, etc. The Three Kings of Accra, Krobo and Ada were compelled to defend the smaller settlements and therefore to exercise rights of jurisdiction over them. As between The Three Kings, there was a relationship of equality tempered only by the power conferred on the King of Accra, largely by historic accident, to act on behalf of all the Gá-Dangme. Although the concept of the stool in traditional politics has been depicted as a distinctively Akan idea it appears that the Gá-Dangme kings occupied brass (ayawa) thrones long before the concept spread among the Akan peoples.

Early Gá-Dangme political organisation was based on the concept of the mantso, representing the “town-tree” as a metaphor for the Gá-Dangme polity. According to the concept of mantso the Gá-Dangme peoples constitute the fruits or citizens of the town tree. each citizen is in turn connected to other citizens through a branch which may be Gá, Dangme, Krobo, etc. All the branches are in turn linked to one great trunk, standing externally in the chosen territory of the Gá-Dangme peoples, with roots extending deep into the past. under this concept every citizen is directly linked to the base of the tree and his or her social and moral condition concerns the town-tree directly as it might lead to the destruction of the whole.

An explanation of the Gá usage of the term man is necessary here to clarify the discussion. Etymologically the word is derived from ma, namely, to erect or establish. Man is the contraction of the word ma mli(n), i.e. “within what has been established or founded.” The manche, usually but not always descended from the founder of the town was generally acknowledged as the leader of the town. Thus even during the period of strict theocracy the wulomo also remained a king or manche, although the two functions were fused and the religious function appeared to have pre-dominated. The original Twi form of man is kro, as in Oseikrom or odikro (He who reigns in the town). Thus the Akan adoption of the word man, as in Adansiman, reinforces the view that certain Akan forms of statecraft were in fact borrowed from early Gá-Dangme ideas of social and political organisation. This is buttressed by the fact that the vowel “a” is stressed in Gá-Dangme whereas the Twi-speaking peoples tend to pronounce their “a” with a softer “e”.

A corollary of the notion of mantso is the idea of single blood or sap running throughout the mantso and invigorating the citizens with a sense of hard work and duty. The town-tree image conveys figuratively an image of the Gá-Dangme as a single people united by common blood that courses through their veins and infuses them with a single and undying national spirit. In the courtyard of all Gá-Dangme priests and on other sacral ground stands a giant fig-tree, symbolising the unity of the Gá-Dangme peoples. A common Gá-Dangme ethic developed on the basis of common unity emphasises (and partly recited at kpodziemo or “outdooring” ceremonies) honesty, hardwork and respect. Indeed the Gá are named after the fierce and hard-working soldier ant (Gaga or nkrang) known for the qualities of unyielding determination, loyalty and cooperation.

Concerning the degree of the king of Accra’s authority over other chiefs and kings within South-Eastern Ghana Agbodeka wrote:

“…the King of Accra whose orders, since the eighteenth century, were obeyed as far north as Akwapem and Krobo. During this process of change the Gá country extended its influence to the Volta in the east, to Winneba in the west and to the Akwapem hills in the north. Gá-Adangbe towns too came within the Gá confederation as a result. They were Poni, Gbugbla or Prampram, Ningo, Ada, Shai, Krobo, Osudoku and          Asutuare.”[3]

Clearly, the King of Accra occupies a higher eschelon than the present official categorisations of traditional functionaries in Ghana provide for; this position, together with the positions of the Kings of Ada and Krobo, is well-entrenched is as, we have showm, well-entrenched in the traditional constitutional order.

3.3 Hierarchies of traditional authority

Currently the term mantse tends to be used, without differentiation, to describe all occupants of village, town, quarter and tribal stools; this is apt to lead to considerable confusion in determining political hierarchy and obfuscates the structure of traditional authority. The appropriate term for headmen or leaders of villages, hamlets and new towns is wetse; the term was, for instance, used to describe the first leader of the Jamestown polity. In theory, a wetse is leader of a lineage or we; the founder of a village or new town often begins by founding a new lineage around which new families cohere to create a new mantso. The founder may be an outstanding individual, a great warrior, adventurer, prosperous trader; or he may be a prince keen to establish his own dominion outside the established principalities.

A wetse may also be created by an established monarch who has it in his gifts to reward particularly illustrious subjects by the creation of new titles. Another of the king’s gifts is the title of tatse; this is awarded not only to outstanding warriors, but also to individuals who had defended the interests of the polity in other endeavours. A great wetse or tatse and his followers could in ancient times successfully create a new town and exercise control over lands appurtenant to his realm.

Under the wetse or tatse, will be members of his own immediate family and lineage; various family groups drawn to the new town; and visitors who may come for business. Over all this people, the wetse and his leading courtiers exercise political authority. The leading courtiers are normally drawn from the households of the most loyal servants of the wetse. If this system continues undisturbed for a considerable period of time, normally a number of generations, the original settlers become the indegenes of the town; they impose their customs on newcomers as the law of the land. Newcomers in turn would normally feel obliged, by force of human habit, to follow the behaviour of the original settlers.

The rights of the founders of the town, if unquestioned, became supreme law; their rights to the land was often visually reinforced by various tombs of their ancestors attached to the land; and their exclusive knowledge of rituals to secure the prosperity of the town. In time, the descendants of the wetse or tatse become kings, their right to such office having become universally acknowledged. As the king and his noblemen became keen to protect their prerogatives and hereditary rights, the power of appointing kings became located in a gyase essentially made up of noblemen. As we have seen, the Gá-Dangme evolved the peculiar office of shikitele to check the powers of the gyase, but the office seems to have fallen into desuetude across the various towns.

Towns, often alatas, founded by a wetse or tatse, were different in administration and source of authority from towns founded by descendants of the original Gá-Dangme. An alata often started as a republic where public matters were resolved under giant fig-trees reminiscent of the dispute settlemnt procedures of the great wulomei. On the other hand, it was widely recognised that through extensive inter-marriage the original Gá-Dangme blood had become so mingled among the various Gá-Dangme groups that virtually any Gá-Dangme, by settling on unoccupied land within the control of any of the Three Kings, could found a town or quarter of his own. This principle operated  successfully in the founding of Osu by people from Osudoku and in the founding of the quarters of Anorhor (Osu) and Krobo and Kle-musu in Teshi; the founders of Teshi Krobo and Klemusu having immigrated from Krobo and Ningo respectively.

Other examples of alatas are the townships founded across Accra by the descendants of Hausas and other Muslim elements. Some of the ancestors of the Hausas and Yorubas were brought by Sir John Glover to fight the Ashanti and Awuna wars.[4] Unlike the true alata townships of the past which were invariably assimilated into the traditional scheme to maintain the seven-quarter arrangement, the Hausa and Yoruba townships do not appear at first glance, to have been assimilated into the Gá-Dangme polity. However, the case of Republic v. Gá Traditional Council; Ex Parte Damanley[5] suggests that such communities have been incorporated into the Gá political structure. According to Quartey-Papafio, Alhaji Braimah was made head of the whole Muslim community in Accra in 1909; however, full incorporation should, for instance, have made the descendants of Alhaji Braimah and the other Muslim leaders at least asafoiatsemei of the Gbese quarter on whose lands their townships are located.[6] The apparent lack of assimilation of new communities in the urban areas into the Gá-Dangme traditional constitutional structure arises out of the overall failure to formulate a proper administrative mechanism for the area.

Furthermore, the new alatas (including zongos) could be more perfectly incorporated into the Gá-Dangme constitutional structure by the direct assimilation of their ruling houses into the quarter system. This seems to  have been achieved in the incorporation of the Tabongs or Brazilians, who settled in Accra in 1836, into the Otublohum quarter. As the quarters in several Gá-Dangme towns, for instance Osu and Nungua, number less than the constitutionally required seven, new quarters could be created in such towns to account for newly-assmilated Gá-Dangme. In all such instances, it is obligatory that at least the ruling house of the assimilated group adopts Gá-Dangme names.

3.5 General

Overall, the traditional Constitution of the Gá-Dangme may be briefly described as follows. At the apex are the Three Kings of Gá, Krobo and Ada who rule the Gá-Dangme jointly and pursue the interests of the peoples tirelessly. The Three Kings must be distinguished from other mantsemei; they are actually mei-a-tsemei or me(i)atse; namely, rulers over peoples rather than mere rulers over towns or territory. The Gá word mei (people: as in Fante-mei or Brofo-mei) is to be distinguished from man (town). Mei therefore signifies the larger group, whereas bii (children or units) signifies the sub-group as in Teshi-bii or Asere-bii. The term manche is sometimes used here to refer to the Three kings, and to distinguish the meitse from the town chief for whom the term mantse is reserved.

Clearly, then as leaders of Gá-mei and Dangme-mei, the Three Kings occupy a different rank of office from the leaders of Gá-Dangme towns. In the past the institution of the Three Kings function through the meitsemei akpee which met before every Homowo festival to review the traditional calendar, take stock of progress of their peoples over the previous year, and plan for the coming year. Although the above system operates in a variety of forms in the present age, there is a need to formalise it.

From the functions performed by each of the three sovereigns at the meitsemei akpee in the past, the following roles can be extracted. As there are two major Krobo kings, of Manya and Yilo respectively, the Krobo office rotated between them on a yearly basis. The Gá Manche, as a direct descendant of the original leaders of the Gá-Dangme acted as head, spokesperson and representative of the triumvirate; the Krobo king acted as Premier or Chief Minister; and the king of Ada was the judge and overall military commander of the Gá-Dangme. The king of Ada was also the President of the Afi adafi or yearly assembly of Gá-Dangme traditional leaders.


Below the meitsemei on the constitutional heirarchy were the mantsemei; these were divided into senior mantsemei and other mantsemei. Each mantse often, though not always, has a mankralo under him who assists in the administration of private and public affairs and deputises in the absence of the mantse. Senior mantsemei are generally the political leaders of traditional Gá-Dangme towns like Osu, Teshi, Tema, Kpone, Prampram, Ningo, Dodowa, Somanya, Odumase, Agormanya, Amedica, etc. These chiefs often have several classes of chiefs under them, and rule large numbers of people. Thus a town chief like the Nungua Manche has under him, in order of importance, quarter chiefs, chiefs of smaller towns, village chiefs, and headmen. As the Gá-Damgne have a clearly-defined social and political structure, each of this chiefs fit neatly into a constitutional structure.

In general the quarters, preceded the town in order of formation, but principally through political leadership in times of war the town chief has gained constitutional authority over the quarter chiefs. The authority of the traditional town chief is therefore higher than that of the quarter chief who frequently occupies an older stool than that of the town chief. As a result, the various smaller towns, villages and headmen, while usually belonging to one or other of the traditional quarters also acknowledge the constitutional authoirty of the Nungua mantse, particularly in matters of jurisdiction and land.

The traditional quarters of Gá Mashi deserve special mention. As we have seen, the Gá Manche is directly descended from the original prophets who led the Gá-Dangme in their areas of origin and through the migratory journeys into their present location in Ghana. Throughout the history of the Gá in particular, various lineages have been closely identified as the descendants of the original sub-leaders of the party of migrants. These lineages gradually developed into core political groups closely associated with the Gá sovereign. In time, princes of the Gá royal household who lost out in the succession to become Gá manche were commissioned to rule the various Gá Mashi quarters; and encouraged even to intermarry with the founders of of the various alatas.

The Gá-Mashi quarters therefore occupy a special position in the traditional constitution; they are in effect princedoms or principalities which enjoy a special relationship with the Ga Manche. Moreover, as in the case of the traditional towns, the Ga Mashi princedoms also have under them large numbers of people as well as smaller towns, villages and headmen; and are therefore constituionally at par with the large towns.

3.5 The traditional military hierarchy

The fore-going constitutional arrangement has implications for politico-military power. Law-making and political power are concentrated in the hands of the king/chief and his councillors or elders; military power is, in the first instance, vested in the principal military captains or shipi of the various quarters who form an authority known as the Akwashong.[7] In certain quarters there has emerged a distinction between the quarter shipi and the shipi who normally represents the quarter at the state Akwashong; the latter is known as the quarter akwashongtse, e.g. Gbese Akwashongtse, and the former is merely referred to as the quarter shipi.

In times of war the power of the Akwashong was such that major political decisions could not be taken without consulting the Akwashong; the Akwashongtse or head of the Akwashong therefore exercised enormous political power. However, ultimate military authority is vested in the king; only the king and his councillors could sanction war.[8] The right to appoint a quarter Akwashongtse is vested in the king who exercises it in consultation with the state Akwashongtse. This practised seems to have developed largely after the Katamanso war; direct appointment of the quarter akwashongtsemei appears to have given the Gá-Dangme a measure of efficiency into the Gá army. The quarter Akwashongtse was usually selected for his leadership qualities as well as loyalty to the Gá state; the direct appointment of akwashongtsemei appeared also to have strengthened the hand of the Gá Manche in the affairs of the quarters.

In times of peace the Akwashong usually functions as a court of arbitration and serious criminal offences. When exercising its judicial functions the Akwashong sits at Mojawe (literally “house of blood”). It usually conciliates opposing sides in political and other disputes involving the various Gá-Dangme towns and quarters; it also tries serious criminal offences including treason and murder.

The enlistment or recruitment of troops was a matter for the companies. Each company or ta-ku (asafo) was headed by a asafoiatse who in turn relied on heads of families and the akutso or neighbourhood network for troops (tabiloi) and logistics. On the battlefield, nothing but utter fearlessness and courage were expected of each Gá-Dangme soldier or tabilor Warriors on the war-front are especially said to be possessed by the war spirit, Dade-krama; and to exhibit supreme qualites of hekáh (fighting spirit) and hewah (courage). The individual soldier usually carries a simple musket and in the earliest wars, donned a turtle-shell for armour. He also carried a supply of food and some water; his bullets were carried in a deer-skin pouch, and he held a spear for close combat.

Before the troops advance the war has to be “boiled” by the king and chiefs who consult the major war gods of Sakumo, Lakpa and Kotokro. Reindorf described the process thus:

“A large pot is set on fire; the names or souls of the principal and powerful men of the enemy are called out and caught by means of enchantment. For every name, a piece of stone or any other thing is taken to represent it, and then put into the pot. When all are thus named, represented and caught, some leaves and other things are added to them in the pot to get boiled. When boiling, if the pot happens to burst, then the enemy is more powerful. The practice is repeated, till they are satisfied that the enemy is got weakened. After this every body feels encouraged and spirited to fight and conquer.”[9]

It is impossible to tell how far the emergence of the Sakumo deity was an attempt by the Gá-Dangme to shroud in mystery what appeared to have been a rational attempt to psychologically boost the morale of the people before taking to the warfield. As warrior-defender of the Gá-Dangme people Sakumo is by all accounts a god of war the pronouncements of whose priest had an important bearing on Ga war strategy.

Various oracles were also consulted by the principal military leaders and chiefs; while the troops resorted to their own means of supernatural protection. The names of great kings were invoked; the process was repeated in every household where the ancestors and the recently departed were called upon to protect the living and give them superhuman courage. Once these had been done the army felt fortified to enter into battle. The result of the feverish preparation for war and the various religious rituals was to invoke divine protection and to spark in every heart a fighting spirit which drove the men to fight on fearlessly. According to some authorities the priests were bound to accompany the men into battle. During the campaign each priest acted as foretelling priest, advisor and doctor.[10]

3.6 Sources of revenue

The Gá-Dangme kings, chiefs and religious leaders derived revenue from a variety of sources to maintain their power. Under the earlier rule of the foretelling priests, payment for the use of land and the access routes to the towns were the chief sources of revenue. Ferry tolls, collections for the use of sacral sites, markets and public performance grounds or mandzranó constituted other sources. Vestiges of the old system of revenue collection can be seen in the payment today to the Nai Wulomo and other wulomei for the use of markets and the high seas (bele-naa-nin). The right to revenue collection from markets is publicly demonstrated when the wulomei symbolically empower the youth during the annual ayekoo ceremony to exercise a right to portions of all wares and market goods. The right of the wulomei is exercisable over all markets within the realm of the Gá-Dangme and over a selection of public places, including certain car and lorry parks.

The above constitutional structure applies generally to each of the Gá-Dangme groups, including the Gá, Krobo and Ada. It is also followed with minor adaptation within the various towns and quarters; and therefore unites the Gá-Dangme peoples within a cohesive and unifying framework. Above all, it provides a strong sense of purpose and brotherhood which has always set the Gá-Dangme peoples aside as a uniquely organised and collectively motivated

people. It remains to be seen how the traditional constitution and its operators respond to the changing political and socio-economic climate of modern Ghana.

Death duties and court fees constitute another source of revenue for traditional authorities.[11] In former times all unnatural deaths were reported to the authorities who had them investigated by the priests. If they found an individual was found guilty of causing the death of another by supernatural means he or she was heavily fined. Court fees still constitute a source of revenue for chiefs and traditional adjudicators although the revenue derived from such sources are insufficient to maintain the chief and his councillors.

3.7 Principles underlying the constitution

The traditional constitutional order was confirmed and endorsed by all the Ga-Dangme during the period immediately prior to the great Battle of Katamanso. It was indeed, religiously sanctioned in a number of meetings at Amuginaa and Sakumotsoshishi at the end of which King Tackie Kome I was chosen as Ga Manche to lead the Ga-Dangme into war. The culminating event took place in 1826 at the Sakumo shrine where to the hearing of the assembled political and military leaders of all the groups, towns and quarters of the Ga-Dangme, a divine voice ordained that Tackie Kome should lead the Ga-Dangme into war.[12] This necessitated the founding of the Tackie Kome We of the Ga royal household. Significantly, it also united the household of the war deity, Sakumo, with the  descendants of Ayi Kushi who already constituted the Teiko Tsuru We; the Ga-Dangme have never lost a war since the appointment of Tackie Kome.

The constitutional effects of the appointment of King Tackie Kome were wide-ranging; it is symbolised in the Ga royal emblem of manko ta manko nó (a kingdom upon a kingdom) and denotes the supremacy of the Abola principality and Tungmawe in particular over other subdivisions. It brought a new order and discipline in Ga-Dangme political affairs. Three ideas underpinned the new constitutional order: buleh (respect), toindzoleh (peace and tranquility) and hedzoleh (liberty). Under the principle of buleh emphasis was laid on law and order which were traditionally seen as arising naturally from the respect of traditional institutions and the observance of the order of seniority in familial, political and religious relationships.

Toindzoleh entailed the preservation of the realm for orderly economic development; this involved the development of institutions for the peaceful resolution of disputes and the maintenance of a strong standing army to ward off potential invaders. It also entailed frequent diplomatic activity to calm political conflicts.

As a result of buleh and toindzoleh the Ga-Dangme enjoyed unprecedented personal freedom; this ensured the keeping of Accra as a freeport and that the part of the coast occupied by the Ga-Dangme became an island of tranquility in the midst of raids and raging tribal wars elsewhere.

Traditionally, there is no greater setting for the display of the constitutional structure of the Gá-Dangme as the annual festivals of Homowo, Nmayen and Asafotufiam. On such occasions the king and his great chiefs sit in state to receive lesser chiefs who converge on the ancestral settlements. Each chief and headman presents a piece of symbolic log or lai as a token of his allegiance; he also brings an entourage of leading councillors, warriors and commonfolk to support the superior chief during the town parade and the sprinkling of traditional food.

The entire occasion is marked with great pomp and pageantry with sustained firing of musketry and with music and merriment as well as the beating of great royal drums or obonu. Within the various quarters and households, the process of renewal of bonds and allegiance through the presentation of lai is repeated across all manner of relationships, even between sons-in-law and their fathers-in-law. Within the palaces, the chiefs renew their own vows to seek the well-being of their subjects to the leading councillors and influential townsfolk; and settle outstanding political differences amicably.

In the past, the Gá Manche organised an annual Panmonaa (literally “Place of Deliberation”) as part of the Homowo festivities during which leaders met the townfolk, considered the state of the town, and planned activities for the coming year. There was also an annual too (collection) from every Gá which was used in improving the town and providing social amenities.

In the days of yore, strangers to the town who wished to be assimilated into the group formally presented themselves to the political or religious authorities during the festal season and, if found to be sufficiently loyal and of good repute, were assigned to specific quarters whose set of names he or she adopted for his children. Residents, both subject and stranger, who with proven records of service to the group and with a sufficiently large following could apply to be made wetse, entitling them formally to set up their own we or traditional household. In this way individuals advanced their own chances of joining the group of town councillors.

3.8 Enstoolment of a chief

Each quarter, town, principality or village often has a number of royal households; in appointing the King or a chief the royal households play a critical role. Firstly, the Gyase and kingmakers decide, by a process of rotation, the appropriate royal household to nominate a candidate. The heads of royal household concerned then consider a list of candidates on the basis of a set of criteria, including lineage, intelligence, judgment, courage, and various leadership qualities. Inevitably this frequently involves fine distinctions between the various candidates. Increasingly, therefore, factors like level of education, conduct, achievement to date and overall social standing constitute a secondary set of criteria for determining eligibility for leadership. In practice, most kingmakers tend to have a rule of thumb, vaguely described as the “presence of the spirit of leadership” in determining which candidate accedes to high office. In case of a tie it is sometimes said that the rightful candidate is revealed to the kingmakers in the course of prayer; this, it is said, often resolves difficulties between competing factions.

All things being equal, candidates above the age of thirty are preferred; the most cited reason being that enough would be known about such an individual’s conduct, social standing and actual or potential achievements to enable the kingmakers to make a good choice. On the other hand, it is argued that choosing a younger candidate could be pure lottery as his conduct, political skills and general intelligence and faculties could still be at the ripening stage; although he might be of the purest morals and gravest deportment, particularly prior to attaining the age of majority, there is no knowing how the pressures of office might affect a young person. It ought to be borne in mind that the traditional system does not enjoy the advantage of the European practice of primogeniture where the first-born of the appropriate parents generally tends to inherit the throne. In the Gá-Dangme system the king/chief could be drawn from a wide selection of candidates. Therefore, there is little opportunity to concentrate on a particular individual from birth and make certain that he is tutored and afforded the opportunity of developing into a king/chief.

It appears that King Okaikoi and his predecessors and immediate successors instituted a formal system of training for princes which attracted not only the sons of the Gá-Dangme chiefs, but also princes from Akwamu and elsewhere.  A Gá-Dangme royal academy would go a long way towards strengthening traditional institutions and enable traditional functionaries to acquire knowledge in local administration way beyond what prevails at present. Such an academy, it is suggested, …

3.9 Destoolment

Increasingly, destoolments and other dysfunctions within the centres of traditional government have become the bane of traditional politics.[13] Traditionally, grounds for the destoolment of a chief involved failure to carry out rituals and to defend the interests of the people sufficiently; there also existed a limited area where a chief might be destooled on grounds of his moral failings. Thus, failure to perform a particular custom, cowardice in war, failure to litigate the stool’s title to land, excessive drunkeness, cruelty and flouting of the rights of citizens constituted grounds for destoolment.

Given the number of royal houses and sub-royal houses and families recognised under the system of rotating succession to chiefly office, lineage has become a major factor in destoolment cases. Although a particular candidate or stool occupant might be of the appropriate house yet questions might be raised about precedence over candidates.

With governmental involvement and the growth of power politics around major stools, rival houses and groups tend to level destoolment charges at the slightest notice of anything untoward. This, regretably, has led to instability in traditional centres of authority. In the case of Gá Mashi the European powers that hoisted their flags in Jamestown and Ussher town did their best to keep the two halves of the locality divided; and strong local parites emerged to vie for chiefly power. As Attoh-Ahuma noted perceptibly:

“There was a multiplicity of leaders – each one for himself, and no one for the Country. Accra has rarely suffered from without: her worst enemies have always been her own sons…the selfishness and personal aggrandisement of foolish men would not permit those best-qualifed and well-equipped to lead the way. An army of Generals without fighting men never won victory in any field of battle yet.”[14]

Adherence to the mechanisms of the traditional constitution as outlined above as well as the acknowledgment of a vital role for intellectuals and other people of ability should minimise greatly the problems of inaction facing the Gá-Dangme. We suggest that the re-institutionalisation of an annual pre-Homowo Panmonaa involving all the traditional leaders would offer a way of harnessing the genius of the people to national development.


    [1]See Reindorf 1895, pp. 348-350.

    [2]Ibid. p. 117.

    [3]F. Agbodeka, African Politics and British Policy on the Gold Coast 1868-1900, (Evanston) Illinios 1971, p. 6.

    [4]Quartey-Papafio 1911, pp. 438-439.

    [5](1980) G.L.R. 609.

    [6]Quartey-Papafio 1911, p. 439.

    [7]On the functions of the Akwashong generally S. Yartey, Mojawe Accra 1971; and Quartey-Papafio 1910-11, pp. 324-329.

    [8]Cf. Reindorf 1895, p. 118.

    [9]Ibid. p. 123.

    [10]Cf. Ibid. pp. 122-123.

    [11]Cf. R.S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution, London 1929.

    [12]Field 1940, p. ….

    [13]On this see K.A. Busia, The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Asante London 1951.

    [14]Attoh Ahuma 1971, p. 53.

The rise of Ayawaso: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh


                             THE RISE OF AYAWASO

 “Ayawaso was a city on a hill whose light pierced the surrounding darkness, and brought purity and knowledge to people far and wide. If we are to know ourselves completely, we must first seek knowledge of the thoughts and deeds of our forefathers at Ayawaso; and write them upon our hearts.”[1]

The second part of these Lectures deals with the kingdom of Ayawaso. Although Ayawaso is widely recognised as the first centralised kingdom to emerge on the Gold Coast, its role in the development of modern Ghanaian culture seems to have been generally under-researched. Reindorf’s work has largely documented the extent of Ayawaso and its connections with the early kingdoms of the Gold Coast; but the detailed political history of Ayawaso as well as the social and economic systems which underpinned Ayawaso culture have barely engaged the attention of historians.

There is evidence to suggest that Dangme civilisation preceded Gá culture. Prior to the centralisation of the Gá-Dangme states, Osudoku appears to have been the epicentre of Dangme culture;[2] the founder of the Dangme dynasty is identified as La Nimo.[3] By the time of the rise of Ayawaso there were about thirty major Gá-Dangme towns strewn across eminences on the Accra plains; these were united by the Gá priest-kings into a centralised kingdom.[4] What is known about the Accra plains prior to the emergence of the Gá-Dangme kingdom is owed to archaeologists. Anquandah has suggested that the Accra plains were inhabited during the first four millenia before Christ by Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers who were given to fishing for fresh water molluscs along the inland waterways of the Odaw, Densu and Nsaki rivers;[5] little is known of the identity of these Stone Age inhabitants.

Under King Ayi Kushi and his son Ayitey the Gá dynasty, organised around key Gá Mashi quarters, started to assert its authority across the Accra plains, exploiting well-defined Ga-Dangme social arrangements to ensure solidarity amongst scattered subjects and to maintain authority. It has been suggested that the Gá dynasty had a “prince with a few body-guards who had commission to rule over the Tshis [Akyems] in the interior.”[6] Although the connection between the Gá dynasty and the ruler of the interior is not defined, there is ample evidence, particularly in the royal names of Ofori, Ankama, Ayikuma, etc. (which are common to the Gá and Akyem royal households) to suggest a blood connection between the Gá and Akyem rulers.

Ayitey is said to have marched with the Gá, Dangmes, Obutus, Awutus and the Twi prince to establish the inland kingdom of Ayawaso.[7] It is thought that fourteen large towns were founded by the Gá alongside Ayawaso; these included Akpadegon, Amonmole, Fanofa, Dokutso, Pletekwogon, and Kushibiete or Legon.[8] Several other towns were established by sub-divisions of the Gá. These included Wodoku, Lashibi, Wodode, Wo-Akwamu, which belonged to Nungua; Tebiano, Podoku, Lakanmabi or Ashaman and Takimabi, which belonged to Tema; and Ladoku and Ajangote, belonging to Labadi. The various towns founded across the Accra plains as well as the rest of the Adangmes, Agotimes, Akwamus and Akwapims were absorbed into the kingdom of Ayawaso which is said to have extended from Aharamata to Popo beyond the Volta.

From the hill-top capital at Okaikoi, near present-day Ayawaso, the Gá monarchs kept a watchful eye over their kingdom and consolidated their hold over the trade in gold, establishing considerable influence over peoples on the periphery of their domain. A large military force was developed to deal with upheavals and ensure tranquility within the kingdom. Dapper reported that the king of Accra had fifteen to sixteen thousand men at his command in time of war.[9] Equally, Roemer commented that the king of Accra had “many thousand archers, assagay or spearmen and swordmen; each of his eighty generals carried a gun with ten charges of gun powder and bullets.”[10]

The army was supported by a thriving guild of blacksmiths as well as traders, merchants, farmers, salt-makers and fishermen.[11] Aside from a standing professional army, all able-bodied persons were drafted into service during times of war. Munitions and military assistance were regularly obtained from European merchants; and vassal states sent their princes to the king’s court to be educated in the arts of warfare and statesmanship. Archaeological evidence documented by Anquandah suggests that Ayawaso flourished through a number of inter-connected activities.[12] Excavations at Ayawaso and surrounding hills have revealed excellent pottery with complex artistic motifs and stylised figures. Alluvial gold appears to have been dredged from the rivers Densu and Nsaki and sold to the Portuguese;[13] the resulting commerce introduced Portuguese cloth, iron rods, European pottery, firearms, alcohol to the Gá kingdom.[14]

Further excavations at Ayawaso have also revealed fragments of walls of furnace used for iron-smelting and smithing; finished iron implements have also been excavated as well as clay crucibles used for melting down brasswear and for the manufacture of jewellery and other ornaments.[15]

Clearly the military organisation of the Gá was fairly more complex than could be found among comtemporary peoples. It was based on a system of regimentation that drew on the house (we) and quarter organisation of the Gá-Dangme towns. Each individual fought as part of a wider unit headed by a recognised leader; the units were in turn connected to the the quarter chief under whom it fought. The resulting military system is examined in some detail in section …. below.

The territory of the king of Accra was divided into two basic units, corresponding roughly with the plains to the East and West of Okaikoi. The Eastern plains or Boka-Nná were well-known for the pottery of Shai, and the animal husbandry of the Ningo and Prampram coastlands. The Western plains or Jor-naa (valley site (after the Densu depression)) were largely settled and worked by agrarian farmers of Awutu and Awutu origin. The king’s territory was subdivided into the coast lands of the South and hunting lands to the North. The first family known to have occupied the coastal strip of Accra was that of Lakote Aduawushi.[16] Towns and their households were organised along well-defined principles under which each citizen could be identified through an alternative generational naming system in which each individuals name is coded to reveal not only the town and quarter from which he or she originated, but also his or her position within the family.

According to the traditions of Naiwe and Sakumowe, the Akwapim hills were used by the Gá rulers for the settlement of slaves; hence the name (Akwa-apim or “a thousand slaves”).[17] On the other hand, the territory which was later granted to the Akwamu was used for the settlement of fugitives. Thus when the occupants of these territories, led by a certain Amu, started to assert themselves the Gá stated dismissively: Akwé-Amu or “see what Amu is up to”.[18]

Blood relationship between the Gá-Dangme monarchs and the Akyem appears to have ensured peace between the two peoples. But to consolidate their power further and to unite the Gá with their neighbours, the Ayawaso kings contracted several strategic marriages. The Obutu and Awutu were joined to the Gá-Dangme through Mampong Okai’s marriage to the grand-daughter of Wyetey, Dode Akabi; and to cement their relations with the Dangme further King Okaikoi contracted a marriage to a Shai princess.[19]

Having united their neighbours through military strength and diplomacy the Gá dynasty then proceeded to build its economic power, chiefly by monopolising the gold trade. By the reign of Mampong Okai the Gá monarch was living in considerable style; and Akwamu, Akwapim, Obutu, Awutu and the Eastern territories as far as Popo formed part of the kingdom. Dapper remarked that the king of Accra “hath the repute of a potent prince…He hath a more absolute sovereignty over his subjects than any of his neighbours.”[20] There were several influential officials at the king’s court. The king’s treasurer was described as he who “keepeth his gold and other riches; receiveth and payeth all and doth all other business for the king. He is next to the king, and he commonly hath more golden rings about his neck, arms and feet than the king himself.[21]

In addition to several officials of military rank there was also the dzara-manche or captain of the traders who exercised considerable authority over the gold trade; he collected taxes and settled quarrels; he also punished offending traders.[22]

The king himself was largely concerned with maintaining law and order in his kingdom; and keeping external powers at bay. He kept a council of elders (agyinafoi) and  and retained considerable judicial and executive powers.

By the reign of Mampong Okai the Gá-Dangme had successfully monopolised the trade in gold in the South-Eastern part of the Gold Coast. Mampong Okai himself was reputed to be so rich that he went under the appellation Owura Mampong Okai; his son Okaikoi was nicknamed “Afadi” or the prosperous one.[23]

In common with Gá monarchs of the time Okaikoi had kept a large court; and had many wives, courtiers and court musicians.[24] Aside from the monarchical princes of the house of Tungmawe there seemed to have emerged an oligarchy of powerful personages who started to exert their influence powerfully in town-quarter politics.

Aside from the general acknowledgement that Ayi Kushi was the first Gá king within living memory little has been recorded this individual; he is particularly revered by the Gá-Dangme high priests. Like a veritable Black Moses, Ayi Kushi emerges from the oral tradition as an illustrious and astute leader as well as law-giver who united the Gá-Dangme into a powerful tribe; and set the precedent for the diplomatic and conquering activities of later Gá kings. To organise the Gá into a strong nation Ayi Kushi needed to establish a powerful core group of powerful leaders who felt sufficiently loyal to their forebears as to defend its honour at all times. Ayi Kushi also realised the value of peace and political stability as the basis of all social progress. To this end he embarked on a series of brilliant military campaigns which drove a number of people’s, including the Le and Kyerepong tribes to the interior; he also instituted a number of commandments, now incorporated into the baptismal or kpodziemó blessings of all Gá infants.

Central to the lore surrounding Ayi Kushi are what are generally regarded as the Seven Commandments of Ayi Kushi. Legend records that the commandments of Ayi Kushi were given to the gathered tribal elders on Kushibiete or Legon hill (hill of knowledge). Ayi Kushi’s Seven Commandments were for the members of the group to love and to cherish the commandments of their fathers; to obey the will of the Deity at all times; to show extraordinary self-sacrifice for the group; also, to show sacrifice as a life-long duty to one’s children; not to steal; not to lie; and to be utterly truthful and pure in all one’s activities.

The Commandments appear to have risen out of Ayi Kushi’s concern to preserve the religious purity of the Gá-Dangme; the fight for religious purity was ultimately to lead to the expulsion of the major religionists to the coastal strip where a hard stratum of the aboriginal Gá-Dangme religion was ultimately mixed with the nature-gods exemplified by Nai, Sakumo, etc; and by the orgiastic antics of the akon cult and other fetish religions.

At Legon, Ayi Kushi is also said to have bound the Gá leaders and their peoples by a Sacred Covenant; the leaders pledged themselves and their descendants to perpetual loyalty to the ruling house. In return the Grulers vowed to rule justly according to the precepts of the religion of their ancestors; and to defend the interest of the Gá-Dangme at all times. In recognition of this covenant Ayi Kushi decreed that both his remains and those of the assembled Gá-Dangme leaders, including Obutu and Awutu leaders, were to be interred on Okaikoi hill which was to be a symbol of the perpetual unity of the peoples of the South-Eastern coast of the Gold Coast.

Part of King Ayi Kushi’s duties as supreme lord of the Gá-Dangme was to occasionally sit in judgment over disputes between his various subjects; he appeared to have delegated part of this job to leading priests and other influential people. Thus developed the custom of holding court and public arguments under trees in the court-yards priests; Sakumo-tsoshishi and Osrama-tsoshishi in the present Gbese quarter being well-known examples. Ayi Kushi’s judgments laid down the various rules which ensure the ethnic cohesion of his people; for instance, his precept that patrilineality is the defining principle of Gá-Dangme citizenship has generally been observed to this day. For assimilated peoples such as the Akwamu, many of whom were married to Gá-Dangme women matrilineality (emphasising the Gá-Dangme female blood) became all-important.

After the political leaders had departed Ayi Kushi invoked the name of the Almighty in the manner of his ancestors, and made a covenant with the leaders of the quarters and the households. Amidst scenes of thunder and lightning the peak of Legon hill is said to belched sulphurous smoke as the old king called on the name of his ancestral God. Before the assembled mass of Gá, Adangme, Awutu and Obutu peoples, the king is said to have prayed, poured water on the ground and asked the Almighty to bless and set his people aside to be an example of piety to other peoples. Ayi Kushi is believed to have retired to the coastal strip,[25] and died shortly after gathering the people on Legon hill; his remains were, as he had decreed, buried on Okaikoi hill.

Ayi Kushi was succeeded by his son, Ayitey, who consolidated the gains of his forebear principally by the complete assimilation of the Awutu and Obutu into the Gá-Dangme polity through marriage. Further, the inhabitants of the new territories were encouraged to inter-marry with Gá-Dangme peoples and to think of themselves as Gá-Dangme. In this way the people of Senya Bereku and Awutu became assimilated into the family of Naiwe; to the present day the ruling families of Awutu and Senya Bereku bear the title of Nai in recognition of their blood relationship with the Gá.

By the time of King Mampong Okai the kingdom of Accra was the most powerful and most prosperous political entity to have yet emerged in Southern Ghana.[26] So magnificent was the king’s court and his power over the interior tribes that that he was styled Owura Mampong Okai; he was said to have ridden in a chariot[27] and started to turn the attention of the Gá-Dangme tribes to the presence of Europeans on the coastal strip. Owura Mampong Okai extended his kingdom further eastward as far as Popo;[28] his death was followed by the regency of Dode Akabi, “an intelligent and masculine woman and Princess of Obutu”,[29] whose alleged cruelty is still remembered by the Gá.

Dode Akabi’s easy accession to power and her long reign (1610-1635)[30] obviously suggest the degree of assimilation of previously non-Gá peoples. However, Dode Akabi’s has hitherto been treated rather unfavourably by historians. Reindorf relates a series of brutal decrees issued under her authority; she was finally killed after she had ordered her subjects to sink a well at a place called Akabi-nmenme (mis-spelt Akabikenke by some writers).[31] Nmenme is Gá for gravelly or rocky ground; it is revealing that the place where Dode Akabi was said to have been stoned is described as being covered by nmenme. Her accession to power as the first major female figure in Gá, and indeed Gold Coast, history should certainly rank as a remarkable event attesting to the skills of this powerful personality; Dode Akabi certainly displayed the ruthless decisiveness that has marked the careers of admired male statesmen the world over. Her alleged atrocities aside, Dode Akabi appears to have kept the kingdom intact. However, the manner of her death indicates a degree of dissent among her subjects.

Dode Akabi’s regency and greatness is, perhaps, best analysed in the context of her role in the evolution of chiefship in the Gold Coast. Until her accession to power, chiefship appears to have been a male preserve. The chief in the theocratic state of Accra was by definition also a high priest or wulomo; he took a personal part in ritual dancing. As the high priest could only be male, Dode Akabi’s rise to power necessarily entailed a shism between the powers of the wulomo and that of the king; this marked the secularisation of Gá-Dangme politics, and the concentration of religious authority in the hands of the wulomei. Since her authority, unlike her predecessors’ was no longer derived from privileged access to the Deity, Dode Akabi had to formulate new methods of governance; this she did principally through the previously untried method of direct legislation which appears to have so drawn the ire of her subjects. She brought a new magnificence to royalty, chiefly by combining Western luxury with new standards of culture. Analysed this way, Dode Akabi emerges as a formidable figure whose rise as the first female political leader of the Gold Coast opened new vistas of power to her gender. She is generally believed to have introduced much display, jewellery and colourful attire into the institution of chieftaincy; some even attribute the popularisation of the custom of sitting on stools to Dode Akabi.[32] Prior to Dode Akabi stools were mainly taken into war, and held aloft to lift the spirit of the troops; popularly regarded as having no authority from the Deity, she demanded to sit on the war-stool to visually symbolise her authority over her people.

The reign of Okaikoi was the beginning of a fresh assertiveness by the Gá-Dangme. Okaikoi’s power was based largely on the cult of the warrior, signalling the final shift of power from priest-kings to secular kings whose power rested almost exclusively on their ability to manipulate and control affairs within the Gá-Dangme polity. Okaikoi appears to have continued Dode Akabi’s policy of political control of his subjects, casting aside the previous practice of rule by consensus and through the authority of the Deity; it was the first major challenge to the theocratic basis of Gá-Dangme kingship. Surrounding himself with a body-guard of selected youth, Okaikoi demanded unlimited recognition and subservience from both subjects and conquered peoples; he also institutionalised the practice of princes of provincial states serving as armour-bearers in the king’s court, formalising a practice which had always existed among the Gá-Dangme in a more general form.

Further, Okaikoi formed the Akwashong or supreme military command;[33] this was intended to provide the basis of a renewal of Gá-Dangme military power. The king used the Akwashong as the basis for a new praetorian guard of fighters trained in aspects of warfare ranging from the handling of firearms to fist-fighting. Although this soon led to resentment on the part of the old generals, it also led to the hitherto unexcelled expertise of the Gá at akotoku or fist-fighting. Okaikoi himself was famed for his personal valour; he was said to have killed leopards and lions bare-handed, and to have distinguished himself in battle and in several duels with neighbouring princes and noted warriors.

Confident in his own physical strength and courage as well as the fighting quality of his men, Okaikoi ignored his generals more and more. This divided the Gá-Dangme army and led to a conspiracy to topple the king; the conspiracy, hatched by Nikoilai and other generals involved the betrayal of the king into the hands of the Akwamu. According to Reindorf, the generals and the majority of Okaikoi’s warriors arranged with the enemy to fire without bullets.[34] Thus, deserted and betrayed by his generals, the great king took his final stand against the Akwamus with a small force made up largely of his body-guard. With unequalled courage and ferocity he held the advance of the entire Akwamu army for the greater part of the day, killing six commanders himself. Eventually tired by his exertions and realising the treachery of his generals, King Okaikoi retreated to Nyantrabi where he mounted his royal stool,[35] prayed for the prosperity of those warriors who had stood by him, and asked that no success should attend the efforts of the deserters; then took his own life. However, the courage of the king and his body-guard enabled thousands of women and children to be evacuated from Ayawaso, earning for him an imperishable name.

 2.2 The contribution of Ayawaso to African history

 To fully appreciate the role of the Gá-Dangme to the history of Ghana and Africa it is vital to understand firstly that the kingdom of Accra was the first to be established on the Gold Coast;[36] it pre-dated the kingdoms of Akwamu, Denkyira and Asante. It is also essential to bear in mind that the Akwamu were actually subject to the Gá and learnt the arts of government and diplomacy from the Gá; it is probably worth emphasising, also, that the Gá and the Dangme assimilated many Guan. What is generally not appreciated are the implications of the foregoing for the emergence of the traditional state across Southern Ghana.

Once it is grasped that part of Akwamu culture and politics were derived from the Gá-Dangme, the prevailing orthodoxies about Ghanaian culture should be appropriately modified to acknowledge the pioneering role of the Gá-Dangme.

It was the Gá who invited the Akwamu to settle at Nyanoase;[37] they were said to have regarded the Akwamu as “uncouth farmers”[38] and invited their princes to the court of Okaikoi to learn the Gá art of government. At the time the Gá king and chiefs occupied seat made of brass (ayawa); this was said to comprise a basic seat and a head-rest from which the monarch addressed his subjects. What the Akwamu seem to have done is to have taken this concept and mixed it with fetish notions. It seems significant that it was Okomfo Anokye who introduced the idea of stools to Asante. Having been born at Awukugua, a stone’s throw from Ayawaso, Okomfo Anokye must have observed Gá practices at first hand and introduced them to the new kingdom.

The Gá-Dangme also appear to have introduced new religious notions into the Gold Coast; the concepts of susuma and kla, originally essentially Gá now constitute part of Southern Ghanaian peoples understanding of the human being.  Also, the organisation of civil life around the town or man as well as the arrangement of the traditional calendar around an afi were originally typically Gá. Further, the Gá-Dangme practice of outdooring and child-blessing and naming on the eighth have gained acceptance throughout Southern Ghana. Arguably, the greatest contribution of the Gá-Dangme to the civilisation of Africa lies in their system of ethics and National Purpose both of which have been elaborated elsewhere in these Lectures. Other contributions of the Gá-Dangme peoples are considered in detail in Lecture Six below.

2.3 The social and military organisation of the Gá-Dangme

Gá-Dangme society is highly ordered in an ascending order along the basis of we, akutso, quarter, town and sub-group; each being a territorial and social unit through which the individual is linked the Gá-Dangme polity. The individual is born into a specific adebo shia (plural: adebo shiai) which constitutes part of a we or a larger ancestral household. Presently, the we are concentrated in the ancestral settlements of the Gá-Dangme and in the outlying villages. A we usually comprises a maximal lineage made up of smaller lineages linked by remote ancestry or common residence. Members of the we are usually referred to as the we-ku or wekumei (people of the we-ku) and acknowledge the same weku yitso (head of family). It is the responsibility of the weku to inculcate in the individual the Gá-Dangme social and economic ethic, and to ensure that he or she performs his or her role as a good citizen.

Traditionally, the weku sought to inculcate in boys the spirits of valour and civic responsibility. Aside from ensuring the son’s general education in the history of the weku and allied groups it was the father’s duty to train him to bear arms and to protect his social group. Various traditions suggest that before boys were entrusted with firearms they were as a rule encouraged to keep chicken and sheep. The natures of these creatures often brought the owner into conflict with neighbours; for chicken are apt to feed in the yards of others and sheep frequently destroy the properties of others. As a result the keeper often found himself in conflict with neighbours who might have been disposed to deal harshly with the creatures. The nature of such disputes provided sons with object lessons in patience. Once the father deemed a son to have been sufficently tested and shown trustworthiness he considered considered the son worthy of bearing arms without taking precipitate action which might plunge the town into conflict. Within certain families gift of a gun forms an essential part of the blessing and “outdooring” ceremony.[39]

In ancient times, the we-ku was much more closely-knitted and fought in the same war company or ta-ku under an asafoiatse appointed by the neighbourhood or akutso.

In practice, the akutso (plural: akutsei or group of [family] trees) constituted the basis of the Gá-Dangme socio/political order; the akutso is the Gá-Dangme state in microcosm. It provides the first major forum for dicussion of issues affecting the body-politic; and in serious cases sends a deputation to the chief, articulating the concerns of the leaders of the various we. The man-dzranó (public square) of the akutso provides a place for public assembly, news-exchange and debate, initiating young people into the art of public speaking, political discussion and public entertainment.

The akutso therefore forms an important segment of the quarter; through the man-dzranó it performed, in ancient times, a role now undertaken by the daily and periodical press; through debate and public assembly, it also offered individuals the opportunity of vigorous intellectual exercise. The average citizen mixed with the exalted personages of the generation and if he was sufficiently diligent learnt of heroic exploits, the origin of customs and traditions and the general history of the group. By superior mental cultivation in this manner, many individuals rose above their rank; some were able to found we of their own; others were elevated to the quarter council; yet others, like Wetse Kojo, were able to found their own quarter.

The quarter is a political division of the Gá-Dangme polity; all smaller units are sub-divisions. The quarter is linked to the King through the quarter stool whose occupant or chief regularly swears oath of allegiance to the King, particularly prior to and during the Homowo/Asafotufiam/Nmayen festival. The residence of the chief or mantse-we is an important point in traditional politics, constituting in essence an appellate court with jurisdiction over all matters arising within the limits of the quarter; it also exercised original jurisdiction in all matters considered to be of sufficient importance to merit the attention of the chief and his councillors.

Although a chief may delegate a good number of cases, he occasionally hears an important action himself. On such occasions he sits formally robed and surrounded by several courtiers robed according to rank. Matters of law aside, various other issues, mainly political and social, constantly engage the attention of the mantse-we officials. Such occasions become a compelling demonstration of formal and idiomatic speech as well as custom, usage and procedure. The mantse-we tends to form the minds of many eminent courtiers and citizens used to listening to important matters and keen to acquire knowledge of traditional custom.

In times in war, heads of families and other influential persons in the akutso are called upon to provide troops and logistics. Able-bodied youngmen gather at the public square and are drilled for the war by specially appointed officials. The akutsei collectively appoint their own asafoiatse, usually a distingiushed veteran of an old war, and one who would subsequently be capable of representing the interests of the akustei at quarter meetings. The asafoiatse is therefore usually a man of forceful personality and considerable leadership qualities, able to instil discipline and inspire confidence in the troops. The various asafoiatsemei are in turn commanded by a shipi or captain of captains who is directly under the Akwashongtse (head of the Akwashong) or General Commander; the king remains the Commander in chief, and consults closely with the Akwashong.

Although the men generally fought as one group during battle, individuals stuck with their own neighbourhood company under the asafoiatse. The entire body of fighting men was in turn divided into 4 main parts. At the rear were the reserves who kept the munitions and supplied them to the frontmen as and when required. In the main body of fighting men, troops from the seven quarters were divided into three units, corresponding roughly with the right wing, the van and the left wing. The king, if he happened to be at the war front, fought in the van together with the Akwashongtse and other distinguished generals. The other wings and sub-divisions were commanded by the shipi.

As the ranks resounded to the clash of arms exhortations were heard from the rear, urging the men to fight ever forward and animating the zeal of the troops. If any prisoners of war were captured, the task of quartering them fell to the rear; and if reinforcements were needed fresh troops were called up from the rear. It was the duty of the commander of the rear to also gather intelligence for the army. If the war was delayed or prolonged he got some of his men to procure food supplies and mount reconnaisance surveys on the position of the enemy. He also kept a hawk’s eye on the progress of the war and gave the Akwashongtse valuable advice on strategy and tactics, pointing out weak lines of defence in the ranks of the enemy and co-ordinating the movement of logistics and fresh troops.

Odom nni Amanfu (“An army without desolate places”) was the general description of the Gá-Dangme army at the height of its invincibility; an indivisible army, courageous, unyielding, victorious. Thus emerged the saying: Nkran Pon: Wose ye du; Ketekre: Odom nni Amanfu (Great and mighty Accra; their saying is ten, meaning perfect, exact and true; and strong, durable and energetic; an army without desolate places.”[40]

Ayawaso appears to be the most important centre of Gá-Dangme culture in the pre-colonial period. In spite of the strengths of traditional institutions at Ayawaso the Gá-Dangme remained numberically small; in an era of constant warfare this was to prove an Achilles heel. That Ayawaso survived for so long is due almost entirely to the resillience of the Gá-Dangme spirit and the bold  and fearless leadership of the traditional authorities.

Social grouping among the Krobo

The Krobo are a patrilineal people; the Krobo nation, comprising the Yilo and Manya groups as well those in isolated farm settlements, is usually referred to as Klo-má or “Krobotown”. It has been suggested that following separation from the Gá and the other Dangme the Krobo were separated into two political units, Nówe (Manya) and Nyéwé (Yilo).[41] Each of the political units was ruled by a paramount chief or Konor together with their councils.

Three important social units were recognised among the Krobo: wetso, kasi and we; they overlap and every Krobo belongs those three groups. The wetso is the largest social unit among the Krobo. It denotes a group of maximal lineages tracing their ancestry to the original kinship groups which founded the town. Wetso literally not only means a group of maximal lineages but is also a derivative of the concept of man-tso (town-tree) (see p. … below) which underlies the indivisible unity of the Gá-Dangme peoples. Huber has suggested that the wetso is best conceived as a “sub-tribe” not bound by the rules of exogamy.[42]

Kasi is a smaller unit in the structure of Krobo society than the wetso. The word literally means “people eating from the same bowl”. The members of a kasi are the putative descendants of a remote common ancestor. Therefore all legitimate living offspring through the male line; daughters given away in marriage, and assimilated or adopted persons, and children of unmarried daughters belong to the kasi. Because of the realities of segmentation and continual fission in Krobo society it is possible to distinguish between a primary kasi and a secondary kasi. The original kasi are sometimes called kasi wayo. A kasi may acquire so many fissions that it ceases to be an exogamous unit, and marriages within become routine.

A kasi is divided into a number of houses or we, minor kinship groups of various span. New wes are continually being found as sub-families break away from lineages, settle on new land and found their own house. This is particularly the case in the new Krobo settlements across the Eastern, Central and Volta regions of Ghana. Every wetso and kasi is by definition ancient institution; but many we are relatively new social accretions, occasionally founded within memory of some members of the older generation.

Cross-cousin marriages (weku-gbla) were preferrred among members of the we as they were considered a useful mechanism for ensuring that property remains within the same household and become part of the wenye ni or property belonging to the we.

A we is ofyen headed by the we nókótoma (elder of the house), most senior member of the oldest most senior generation. The fear of supernatural sanctions ensures that the head of the household does not become despotic and resort to arbitrary actions;[43]he orshe tends to consult the senior members of the we in all major actions.

    [1]His Holiness the Nai Wulomo, Numo Tete, Patriarch of the Gá.

    [2]Anquandah 1982, p. 116.


    [4]Ibid. pp. 116-117.

    [5]Anquandah 1982, p. 115.

    [6]Reindorf 1895, p. 4.

    [7]Ibid. p. 5.

    [8]Ibid. p. 12.

    [9] O. Dapper, Africa being an Acuurate Description of the Regions, Aegypt, Barbary, Lybia, etc., (Adaptation in English by J. Ogilvy) London 1670, p. 434.

    [10]Roemer 1670, p. 119.

    [11]Quaye 1980, p. 34.

    [12]Anquandah 1982, p. 116.

    [13]Ibid. p. 117.


    [15]Ibid. p. 121.

    [16]Reindorf 1895, p. 10.

    [17]Cf. Roemer 1670, p. 118: “The mountain negroes ancestors had been enslaved by the Accras; they had been placed by the seashore to fish and on the mountains to cultivate the fertile land.” See Kwamena-Poh 1973, p. 23 confirming the above. See further, D. Brokensha, Akwapim Handbook, Legon 1972, p. 46: “Before the rise of Akwamu power, the Akwapim hills and the stretch of land occupied by Krobo were under the Gas, even Akwamu had been under Accra suzerainty.”

    [18]Cf. W.E.F. Ward, A Short History of the Gold Coast, London 1935, p. 21: “The Akwamus were a band of robbers who fled from Accra to live in the caves and the forest on the hill by Nsawam called Nyanao.” Ward further suggests, alternatively, (id.) that although there was an original Akan element among the Akwamu “all sorts of criminals and traitors from Accra fled to join them.” Barbot also appears to make a distinction between the Akwamus and the Akans (Accanez), noting that the Akwamus sold their “Accanez” (Akyem) prisoners at Lay and the “Accanez” sold their Akwamu prisoners at Accra. Barbot 1732, p. 439.

    [19]Reindorf 1895, p. 20. See also p. 59: “[In] every yearly grand feast of the Akra king, the kings of Obutu and Akwamu were his hammock carriers.”

    [20]Dapper 1670, p. 434.

    [21]De Marees …., p. 311.

    [22]Quaye 1980, p. 39.

    [23]Ibid. p. 38.

    [24]Id. See further, E. Tillemann, En liden Enfoldig berretning on kysten Guinea og dets Beskaffendeg, Copenhagen 1697, p. 93.

    [25]Cf. Reindorf 1895, p. 12.

    [26]Amartey records that another king, Nii Amá (1560-1585) ruled in the period between the death of Ayitey and the reign of Owura Mampong Okai. See Amartey 1991, p. 21. On the other hand, Reindorf records that the third king of Accra was Nii Koi Nalai or Nikoilai. See Reindorf 1895, p. 12. Cf. ibid. p. 20 where a certain Nikoilai is described as “the great chief of Asere.” According to Ward some Gá maintain that Nikoilai was not a great chief, but a linguist. See Ward 1935, p. 20.

    [27]Ward 1935, pp. 20-21.

    [28]Reindorf 1895, p. 17.

    [29]Ibid. p. 18.

    [30]Amartey 1991, p. 21.

    [31]Reindorf 1895, p. 18.

    [32]There is evidence of Benin chiefs sitting on stools long before the tradition took root in Ghana. See Egharevba 1968, p. 1 referring to the Benin chiefs’ rectangular stool (agba) together with a royal throne (ekete). If the claims of Gá connections with the Benins during the migratory journeys from Upper Egypt are sustainable it should be possible that the practice of sitting on stools existed among Gá chiefs even in pre-historic times.

    [33]Amartey 1991, p. 21.

    [34]Reindorf 1895, pp. 19-22, esp. at 22.

    [35]Ibid. p. 22.

    [36]Ibid. p. v.

    [37]A.A. Boahen, Topics in West African History, London 1966, p. 66.

    [38] ……

    [39]Secretan, …., p. ….

    [40]Attoh Ahuma 1971, pp. 48-52. Wose ye du Ketekre has been corrupted by the Gá into Ashiedu Keteke, the former name of the parliamentary constituency of Accra Central.

    [41]Huber 1993, 25.

    [42]biId. pp. 25-26.

    [43]Ibid. p. 31.

A people Blessed: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh

                                 LECTURE I

                             A PEOPLE BLESSED

“An Accra man was then respected, not by reason of his national prestige only, but by his personal ability and superior qualities also … In war, travel and voyage, in times of epidemic, and in the critical   moments of life, he was the special object of divine        protection; he felt no paroxysms of fear in the  presence of a foe, however redoubtable.”[1]

1.1 Methodology and structure of the lectures

In preparing these Lectures we have consulted various sources, both oral and written, to depict a history of the Ga-Dangme that should be at once authoritative and evocative of the great episodic scenes which underly the past of our forebears. What we depict is not only a history defined by the acrid smoke of the gunpowder of the battle-field but above all a social history which establishes the true genius of past heroes and heroines. A comprehensive bibliographical sketch is clearly not necessary for a work of this nature, but it is nevertheless appropriate to touch on a number of historical and juridical works.

Reindorf’s monumental work, History of the Gold Coast and Asante[2] is of necessity the first landmark for all who seek to understand the past of the Ga-Dangme; it is not only the first major intellectual work about the Gold Coast produced by any Ghanaian,[3] but it also describes in considerable detail the early history of the Gá-Dangme. Reindorf may indeed be described as the Father of African history; for as Christaller observed, Reindorf’s work was “the first comprehensive history of an important part of Africa written by a native and from the standpoint of a native.”[4] A number of earlier works authored by European were also consulted; these include Jean Barbot’s Barbot on Guinea[5] and William Bosman’s A New and Fuller Description of the Coast of Guinea.[6]

In common with the other European sources on which these lectures partly rely, the works of Barbot and Bosman are essentially the records of individual non-historians whose interpretation of local situations were apt to be inaccurate in parts. This cautionary note is particularly appropriate given the near-sacrosanct manner in the early European works are regarded in the present age. As is evident in the rest of these pages the lectures also draw upon the accounts of countless other European writers.

In addition to the early European sources, a large body of writing has, over the past half-century or so, emerged from various historians of the University of Ghana. As is obvious to anyone familiar with the corpus of recent Ghanaian historiography, the history of the Gá-Dangme is more or less incidental to the themes explored by the University of Ghana writers; the considerable writings of Ward, Boahen, Daaku, Fynn, Wilks, etc. appear to have settled the major points Ghanaian history in a manner which appears to minimise the role of the Ga-Dangme. The major work within this period on Gá-Dangme history is Irene Quaye’s The Ga and their Neighbours.[7] Supervised by Boahen, Quaye’s work tends to uncritically repeat various assumptions about the history of the Gá-Dangme. John Parker’s work, Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra, 1860s to 1920s[8] has also been relied upon.

To avoid the pitfalls shown to exist in many of the above works the present Lectures rely, firstly, on archaeological evidence documented largely in J. Anquandah’s Rediscovering Ghana’s Past.[9] Secondly, as the matters discussed in these Lectures can hardly emanate entirely from one compendious mind, use is made probably for the first time, of oral traditions passed to Gá-Dangme office-holders; such traditions are generally transmitted through the process of tsünwoo (confinement) during which the prospective office holder is instructed by a succession of acknowledged oral historians of, among other things, the history of the Gá-Dangme.

Given the weight attached to such expert evidence in these Lectures, it is, perhaps, necessary to provide a justification. Tsünwoo appears to be an enduring form of traditional education by which the history of the various Gá-Dangme quarters are handed down to selected personages who, then, upon the nomination and acceptance of a new office-holder converge on the ancestral household to instruct him on the duties of the office. In the process, the individual sits at the feet of acknowledged masters of oral history and becomes well-versed in the history and origin of his own people. It is widely accepted by scholars and layfolk alike that the knowledge passed during this process probably represents the best form of Gá-Dangme oral history, retaining intact knowledge and secrets anciently witnessed by the forebears of the contemporary Gá-Dangme. The durability of Gá-Dangme social and political institutions is largely due to the uniformity of practice which arises from this form of education.

Several works on the customary law of Ghana, particularly those of N.A. Ollennu and J.M. Sarbah have also been consulted in setting out our brief exposition of the traditional law of the Gá-Dangme. However, while not being exhaustive the account of traditional law given here encompasses the major points of Gá-Dangme traditional law; the major purpose is to set out an outline of traditional law within the overall socio-political scheme of the Gá-Dangme.

Persons from all the major Gá-Dangme towns and quarters have been consulted through a process of random sampling; we have also consulted the various king-lists to establish a reliable time-frame for our account.

The foregoing sources, as well as contemporary writings, are subjected to the searching light of modern critical scholarship, and the essence of Gá-Dangme history distilled and presented in a new light.

Structurally, the Lectures are divided into seven major parts dealing with the main periods of Gá-Dangme history and culminating in the reign of King Tackie Tawiah I which is portrayed as the crowning episode of Gá-Dangme history up to the end of the nineteenth century. Lecture I deals principally with the origin and prehistory of the Gá-Dangme, examining in extensive detail the argument for a Jewish connection; Lecture II summarises the major developments in Gá-Dangme history, examining how the relative geographical severance of the Accra plains from the forested areas provided the cradle for the development of the ideas and concepts which later spread across Southern Ghana; Lecture IV considers the traditional constitutional structures of the Gá-Dangme. The relationships between the key traditional offices are explored in detail, and their evolution traced. Lecture V deals with the traditional laws of the Gá-Dangme, considering, in turn, the rules relating to marriage, divorce, property, succession as well as procedural law.

Lecture VI considers the career of King Tackie Tawiah I; the purpose of this part is to isolate and uncover how the main themes of Gá-Dangme history are expressed in the remarkable life-story of this great monarch. The concluding part of the Lectures project the lessons of the Gá-Dangme past onto the contemporary scene when once again as the Gá-Dangme struggle to come to terms with modernity and urbanisation, they are being perforce required to revert to the dynamics of traditional society to define a way forward.

1.2 Contemporary Gá-Dangme society

The homeland of the Gá-Dangme is in Southern-eastern Ghana where in Accra and a number of towns surrounding the national capital Gá-Dangme kings and chiefs rule in a time-honoured tradition. The Southern-eastern coast and plains have shaped the history and culture of the Gá-Dangme to a considerable degree. Although European records suggest that the Gá-Dangme have occupied their present homeland for about five hundred years or some seventeen generations, oral tradition indicates that they have occupied the land for much longer. Military reverses against the Akwamu aside, the Gá-Dangme remained unconquered and relatively undisturbed throughout the pre-colonial period, providing a vital Freeport to the coast for a number of inland peoples.

According to Ozanne, by the middle of the seventeenth century, Accra had become “the greatest gold market on the Gold Coast.”[10] Barbot noted that “the kings and chief Blacks of Acra were, in my time, very rich in gold and slaves through the vast trade the natives drove with the Europeans on the coast and their neighbouring nations up the country. These people, in their flourishing peaceful times, possess more wealth than most of those spoken of put together.”[11] Barbot further stated that the gold traded in Accra was about 22 carats in quality.[12] In the middle of the nineteenth century Horatio Bridge, the captain of an American vessel, observed that “Accra is the land of plenty in Africa…its supply of European necessaries and luxuries is unequalled.”[13] Regarding the commercial skills of the people de Marees wrote: “[T]he Accra people are a crafty and subtle people, and the subtillest of all that coast, both for traffique and otherwise.”[14]

So long-established are the Gá-Dangme in their present location that one informant observed: “If you pick a speck of dust in the centre of Accra or any major Gá-Dangme town, it is likely some minute remain of an ancestor of mine might be mixed with it.” The above is no mere metaphorical statement; the Gá-Dangme practised intra-mural sepulture of important individuals. Thus heads of families and other important personages were buried beneath the floor of the family house or adebó shia; the umbilical cords of infants were also buried in the family house. Because of the spiritual presence of the ancestors in the ancestral house, it is often said that such houses are “heavy” (tsii) and utterances are not be made lightly in such houses. Therefore, the ancestral settlements of the Gá-Dangme, built as they are, on the remains of the tribal patriarchs remain a great spiritual home for every individual in whom the Gá-Dangme blood flows.

Of the present condition of the Gá Kilson has observed:

“During the era of British colonial rule, the strategic coastal location of the Gá facilitated their participation in Western religious, educational and administrative institutions … Consequently, the proportion of Gá who are Christian, educated and occupy skilled Western occupational    categories exceeds that of other Ghanaian peoples.”[15]

The above observation, however, conceals a marked failure of the Gá and Dangme to participate strongly in the central arenas of Ghanaian politics. Macdonald has described the Gá as being “in manner…quiet and unassuming, though somewhat difficult to govern, and when thoroughly roused hard to conquer”;[16] he further states:


“The Akras, Krobos…and Addahs differ greatly from the branches of the Akan family in physique. As a rule, the men are taller and stronger, and the women remarkably well formed, with complexions not quite so black as those descended from the “Tshi-speaking race.”[17]

Perhaps, the post-independence politics of Ghana has been too turbulent and unsystematic for a people accustomed to peace, the orderly progression of events and the steady unfolding of divine will over time. This, however, robs the nation of the talent of a people who could bring valuable new insights into national administration.

Aside from South-eastern Ghana, there are sizeable Gá-Dangme communities in modern Togo and the Volta region of Ghana; these include the Gé or people of Anecho (Little Popo) and the Agotimes. Also, as a result of the pioneering role of the Gá-Dangme in the cocoa industry and the Krobo huza farming system large pockets of Gá-Dangme are well-settled in parts of the Eastern[18] and Central regions of Ghana; indeed smaller huza villages are to be found scattered across the entire cocoa and food-growing belt of Southern Ghana. Further, links between the Gá-Dangme and the coastal peoples of the Eastern half of the Central region of Ghana have been reinforced principally through the seasonal voyages and settlement of itinerant Gá fishermen in such places as Fete, Senya and Winneba. In the result, the Awutu who are already interconnected in other ways with the Gá-Dangme, have developed even closer ties with the Gá-Dangme. Several leading Gá families have Awutu connections, and many Awutus bear Gá names and are bi-lingual. In fact, some commentators have even suggested the Winneba district as the site of the earliest Gá settlement on the Gold Coast.[19] Both Gá and Awutu informants agree that the Awutu and Effutu peoples were in origin a branch of the Gá-Dangme. Occupying the periphery of the ancient Gá kingdom the culture and language of the Effutu became influenced in turn by the Guan and the Gomoa.

Apart from the original Gá or Gá krong many other peoples, loosely classified as “other Gá” are now recognised as being part of the Gá-Dangme. Such people who have gained acceptance by the Gá either through long and uninterrupted residence in Accra (usually spanning several generations) or by direct assimilation through constitutional means into the Gá-Dangme polity; they include Fantis (of Adansi and Ajumako in Jamestown), Asantes (Osu Ashanti), Akwamus and Denkyiras (Otublohum and Ada) and Ewes (of the former Ussher Town village of Avenor). In addition, many immigrants of Sierra Leonean (the Coles, Taylors, Doves, Renners, Easmons), Nigerian (the Braimahs, Peregrino-Braimahs, Kayedes), West Indian (the Clerks, Francois, Halls, Millers, Hoytes)[20] and Brazilian[21] (and even some Lebanese) stock are now considered Gá. Many Gá-Dangme surnames (including Reindorf, Schandorf, Fleischer, Richter, Wartemberg, Hesse, Engmann, Hoffmann, Briandt, Quist, Lutterodt, Swaniker, Magnussen, Plange, Vanderpuije, Van Dyke, Archer, Caesar, Brown, Lawson, Johnson, Thompson, McCarthy, Kingston, Wulff, Bannerman, Crabbe, Hansen and Sawyerr) suggest an extensive admixture of European blood. The modern Gá-Dangme are therefore an amalgam of many races and peoples.

As a result of the status of Accra and the building of the first Ghanaian harbour and airport in that city, many Gá-Dangme travelled abroad abroad. Known as the man-sebii (diaspora Gá-Dangme) these migrants have today established communities in Europe and North America, particularly in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Toronto, Washington, New York, New Jersey and Oklahoma City. Within such communities a strong yearning has arisen for a proper documentation of the culture and history of the Gá-Dangme lest their progeny be lost to the group.

The Gá-Dangme have played a pivotal role in the modern history of the Ghana, particularly as the Battle of Katamanso which was fought on the Accra plains became a great War of Independence for many non-Gá-Dangme peoples across Southern Ghana. Also, by becoming the central ground of the fight for Ghana’s independence, Accra played a pioneering role in the liberation of Africa. Quartey-Papafio aptly encapsulates the basic Gá historical imperative:

“The Gas have never been conquered and made slaves of. The soil of the land has always been, and is, the property of the Gá people.”[22] It is widely felt that the resilience and prosperity of the Gá-Dangme peoples and their ability not maintain their identity are due largely to the obligatory practice of transmitting blessings from elders to children. As successive generations of Gá-Dangme around the world inherit the great traditions of their forebears, observation of the “out-dooring” and annunciation ceremonies conferring age-old blessings upon the children as well as continuous knowledge of the Gá-Dangme past have become critical to the tenacity and prosperity of this remarkable group.

1.3 Origin and pre-history of the Ga-Dangme – a critique of existing             literature

It is proposed in this course of lectures to assess the role of King Tackie Tawiah I in the development of Gá-Dangme history and culture, and thereby to lay bare the main threads of hitherto unrecorded oral tradition. The principal purpose of the exposition and analysis of Gá-Dangme contribution to African history is to highlight the extraordinary sense of mission which inspires these remarkable people.

Over the past decade or so the history of the Gá-Dangme has been more or less occupied a penumbral corner of Ghanaian historiography. Various inaccuracies, lacunae and extravagancies have emerged in what little historical work there is on the Gá-Dangme. In the main, these appear to derive from the general absence of critical historical study. Clearly academic hyper-criticism should have no place in any national history; but then again, the almost total absence of critical study leads to questionable assertions passing as fact. If the trend in the study of Ghanaian history persists, the Gá-Dangme stand in danger of becoming a people without a history; and even court the greater danger of denying their progeny the pride that arises from the knowledge of the heroic acts of one’s forebears.

As will soon become evident the ancient Ga kingdom of Ayawaso is, arguably, the cradle of Ghanaian culture. It therefore seems apposite to say that the history of Ghana will never be properly understood until the contribution of the builders of Ayawaso has been properly studied. But how do we begin to understand the builders of Ayawaso? It is suggested here that we trace the origin of the Ga-Dangme and to decisively dispel the more repulsive accretions which have accumulated in recent historiography over the origin of our ancestors.

Chiefly as a result of statements by Reindorf the view has gained ground that the Gá-Dangme originated from Benin.[23] However, a close reading of Reindorf also suggests that the Gold Coast was part of the Western division of the kingdom of Benin.[24] This gives rise to several possibilities: if by virtue of residing in the Gold Coast, the Gá-Dangme originated from Benin then the other peoples of the Gold Coast can also be said to have originated from Benin; alternatively, if the Gá-Dangme alone were considered on the basis of the above evidence as having originated from Benin, that would indicate that they arrived in the Gold Coast before the other Ghanaian peoples. There is a further possibility; namely, that the Gá-Dangme migrated from the capital of Benin. Reindorf himself appears to dismiss a Benin origin as “mere folklore”.[25] He offered an alternative tradition which claims that the Gá together with the Dangme emigrated from Tetetutu or Same in the East “between two large rivers”.[26]

Konotey-Ahulu has touched on the alleged migration of the Gá-Dangme from Eastern Nigeria;[27] he, however, inclines firmly to the view that the Gá-Dangme migrated from the region of Abyssinia or Ethiopia through eastern Nigeria, Benin or Dahomey and Togo to their present position in Southern Ghana.[28] Konotey-Ahulu relies on the klama or festive songs of the Krobo in tracing the migratory route of the Gá-Dangme. The views of Konotey-Ahulu are consonant with those of Amartey who traces the origin of the Gá-Dangme in Egypt where they resided in Goshen together with the ancient Israelites; later the Gá-Dangme migrated to Ethiopia from whence they made their way to their present position in Ghana.[29]

The alleged origin of the Gá-Dangme in Nigeria appears unfounded. There is little cultural or other connection between the Gá-Dangme and the Nigerian groups with which they have been associated. Yoruba traditions agree on descent from Lamurudu whose son Oduduwa is regarded as the common ancestor of the Yorubas, Benins, etc.[30] Attempts to link the Gá to the Yoruba through origin in Ile-Ife appear no more than a variation of the Yoruba fable that Ile-Ife is the spot where God created man, black, white and yellow, and from whence they dispersed across the world. Indeed, the Yoruba claim to have held sway as far as Ashanti.[31] Furthermore, allegations of Gá-Dangme connections with Benin seem questionable in the face of the divergent cultural characteristics of their peoples. For instance, the ancient Benin practised human sacrifice, celebrated a yam festival and lived under an absolute monarchy;[32] none of these existed in Gá-Dangme society.

Several other writers of Gá-Dangme stock have hypothesised about the origin of the Gá. Ammah states that the origin of the Gá was either in Egypt or Mesopotamia.[33] Bruce-Myers also maintains that the Ga had been in contact with ancient civilisations in the centre of the African continent.[34]

Criticising the various theories of origin of the Gá-Dangme, Quaye has documented a number of alternative points of origin, including emergence from the sea; Bonny in Nigeria; emergence from a lagoon; and descent from the sky along a rope.[35] Evidently, these alternative traditions of origin are too apocryphal to merit serious consideration. Besides, they do not explain the linguistic and cultural cohesiveness of the Gá-Dangme. While stating these apocryphal traditions of origin, Quaye dismisses the information of whole classes of informants, especially the educated whose insistence that the Gá-Dangme migrated in two groups from ancient Egypt or Mizrain she finds untenable.[36] What vitiates much that Quaye writes about the origin of the Gá-Dangme is her tendency to accept the minority views of some informants while rejecting the opinion of significant and influential sections of the community.

Equally, Quaye’s reasons for doubting a Jewish origin of the Gá-Dangme seem suspect. Her argument is two-fold: the Ga-Dangme cannot be Jewish in origin since they are a negroid people; and cultural and linguistic characteristics among two peoples cannot be conclusive evidence a common origin.[37] In response to the first part of this argument it suffices here to point out the acceptance of the Falasha or Ethiopian Jews as part of the original twelve tribes of Israel. The Falasha are not a semitic people; they were largely accepted as Jews simply on the grounds of their religion and culture. As to the second part of the argument, convincing evidence need not be conclusive; it suffices to show that similarities between two groups of people are not incidental, and to take into consideration the people’s own account of their history.

The works of Field have for years been regarded as some of the most authoritative on the Gá; yet they contain several unsustainable notions which militate against proper understanding of Gá society. To begin with, Field’s generalisations are based on the rather questionable choice of Tema as a model for the study of the Gá.[38] Basing herself on the traditions of the Aboitse family of Tema, Field proceeds to make some far-reaching but questionable conclusions for the Gá as a whole. She maintains, for instance, that until 1840 there was no mantse of Accra;[39] that each of the coastal Gá towns is an independent republic;[40] denies the existence of a Gá state;[41] and asserts that Gá military institutions were copied wholly from the Akwamu.[42] Further, she stated: “Historians who picture Ayi Kushi as a great invading, conquering monarch are vastly mistaken. He was a farmer, the head of a handful of insecure farmers.”[43] On this last point, it is not certain which historians and claims Field was referring to; nor is her description of the early Gá as “a handful of insecure farmers” supported by the historical evidence. As is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of Gá society many of Field’s other claims are unsustainable; they are, however, in keeping with her view of the Gá as a simple and unsophisticated people.

A further source of confusion in understanding Gá society lies in Reindorf’s underlying thesis that the traditional religious hierarchy comprised persons of non-Gá, specifically Guan, descent. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that this effectively leaves the original Gá without a religion, Reindorf who described himself as being of the Nai lineage[44] goes to considerable extent to suggest that the rival Sakumo deity was controlled by people of slave origin. ….  Contradictions arising from Reindorf’s position include the contention that the Sempe people are of Guan origin[45] (simply because they control the Oyeni deity), and the possible contradiction that the conquered Guan aborigines still ruled the Gá through their descendants the wulomei.

1.2 Gá traditions of origin

 In this part, we concentrate on the origin of the present Gá towns and principalities. We have already observed how the nucleus of the Gá-Dangme originated in Goshen, and arrived in the Gold Coast via an easterly route which started alternately in Abyssinia and Upper Egypt. Having crossed the Volta river in a parting of the waters reminiscent of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea,[46] the ancestors of the Gá-Dangme comprising in the main direct and partial descendants of the two tribes of Gad and Dan founded the La Nimo kingdom.

The early Gá-Dangme spoke Dangme; Gá only started to emerge as a distinct tongue after the founding of the Ayawaso kingdom. The proto-Adangme speakers appeared to have spread out, initially, along a East-West axis across the Accra plains. The beginnings of dialect differentiation in proto-Adangme appears to have been either triggered or accelerated by the penetration of loanwords from Guan, Fanti, Dutch, and Portuguese. Kakalika (cockroach), sakis, (scissors) and klakun (turkey) are Dutch; whereas asepatre (shoe), goa (guava), aligidon (grey baft), sabolai (onion), kamisa (chemise), etc. are Portuguese. Also, due to the role of Johannes Zimmermann and other Germans in the reduction of the Gá language into writing, the alphabet and other characteristics of written Gá (including versions of Biblical names such as Yohanne, Yehowa, Mose, Andrea, etc.) are Germanic.

At both La Nimo and Ayawaso the Gá-Dangme tribes were organised into seven quarters reflecting the seven sub-groups which emerged during the long migrations through Central and Western Africa. With the relocation of the Gá capital to Little Accra the seven groups became synonymous with the seven distinctive quarters of Accra. We have already noticed that Abola was formed by the direct heirs of Ayi Kushi who founded the House of Tungmawe as the supreme ruling house of all the Gá. Gbese is believed to have been founded by a prince of Abola and followers who constituted the praetorian guard of the Gá kings; hence the name gbese or “red tree ant”.[47] According to Reindorf’s account, the people of Gbese were the first to arrive on the coast under the priests Amugi and Anyai; they took possession of the tract of land now occupied by the people of Jamestown and Ussher Town.[48] Within Gbese itself the Atukpais together with the people of Arday Acquah We and Nyan Abodiamo We, principally through the exploits of Adade Acquah, Nii Nyan as well as Tetteh Tsuru and his son, Nii Ngleshie Addy at Katamanso gained a reputation for military efficiency.

Ayikai Siahene, a prince of Asere founded the Akumajay quarter together with a number of Obutu and Awutu peoples; thus the Gá connection with Awutu and Obutu is maintained through Akumajay.[49] Otublohum was founded by the descendants of Gas who had inter-married with non-Gás; these were joined by all manner of refugees and travellers from the Twi-speaking hinterland. The principal foreign elements were from Denkyera, Akwamu, Akyem and Akwapim. In addition, significant numbers of Asere, Gbese and other Gá peoples settled in Otublohum.[50] One Oto Brafo or Oto the Executioner, among the Denkyera settlers, introduced the Twi innovation of the fetish stool into both Otublohum and Jamestown.[51]

The major houses of Otublohum are Atifi and Dadebanaa. The Atifi represent the main Akwamu and Akwapim elements in Accra. The people of Dadebanaa, on the other hand, are largely descended from Denkyera royals[52] and Akyem refugees. Certain families of Otublohum, including the Mantse Ankrah family of Dadebanaa being connected with the old Denkyera royal house, claim direct descent from Ntim Gyakari, the famous Denkyira king. As Ntim Gyakari was in turn the son of Osei Tutu,[53] the founder of Asante, some Otublohum people are acknowledged as descendants of the first Asante royals. Furthermore, by virtue of their claims to the old Akwamu stool, and the destruction and/or expulsion of the old ruling lineage of Akwamu, the Atifi people of Otublohum regard themselves as the true representatives and inheritors of the old Akwamu nation.

Ngleshi or Jamestown originated from the settlements of people from the coasts to the East of Accra who came to the town in search of work or to settle. Ngleshie appears to have been organised into a viable political entity by one Odjoe or Wetse Kojo.[54] Odjoe appears to have been instructed in the Twi-style of statesmanship by Oto Brafo of Otublohum who carved and consecrated for him a three-legged stool to symbolise his authority over his Alata subjects. Within Ngleshie settlers from various coastal towns to be associated with particular geographical locations. Hence the Winnebas were associated with Adansi; the Fantis with Ajumaku and the Mowures with the quarter bearing that name. The people of Adentam or Adade-ntam are said by Quartey-Papafio to be the descendants of courtiers from Ussher Town who accompanied Nii Kofi Akrashie to Ngleshie upon his appointment by the then Gá-Manche.[55] To the present day only an Adentam man may be appointed wolei-atse of Ngleshie or represent that quarter on the Akwashong.

Local traditions maintain that the bulk of the first African slaves taken to the United States and landed in Jamestown, Virginia were shipped from the shores of Jamestown, Accra. Dogo beach on the sand spit between the Korle lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean is identified by locals as the point of embarkation of the majority of captives. In fact much of the unfortunate traffic in human beings in Accra was effected from the low-lying Dogo beach on account of the rocky headland on which the original settlement of Accra was founded.[56]

The Aseres and Sempes are of the same stock, and are directly descended from those Gá who settled in Ayawaso. Asere is the oldest and numerically most significant Gá group. Like a number of other groups which followed, the Sempe broke away from Asere and settled on land near the present site of the James fort. With the consent of the Gá Manche the Sempes gave away a portion of their land to British merchants for the construction of James fort. Later as a result of reforms within Accra during the reign of Okaidja, the Sempes temporarily removed to Korle-bu beyond the Korle lagoon, settling on land abutting the sea at the present Roman Catholic boys school.

Turning to the origin of the major Gá towns we must emphasise at the outset that they were all connected to the Gá kingdom of Ayawaso.[57] We first consider Osu or Osudua. The people of Osu are generally regarded as being of Dangme stock; they first settled on Osudoku hill before proceeding to their present site in the vicinity of the Klottey lagoon. The town of Osu is today divided into four quarters: Kinkawe, Anorhor, Alata and Ashanti Blohum; these suggest the origin of sections of the Osu. Ashanti Blohum was founded by large numbers of Ashanti hostages who were seized after the Battle of Katamanso and other wars in which the Gá fought in a mercenary capacity; the Anorhor represent post-exilic Gá who emigrated from Anecho; Alata comprises various persons originally of non-Gá descent; and Kinkawe is made up of the original settlers from Osudoku.

According to certain traditions, the Osu were first discovered in their present location and ushered into the presence of the manche of Labadi by a hunter named Kadi, hence the Osu are also known as Kadi-gboi (strangers of Kadi) [58] After agreement between the Gá Manche and the La manche the Osu were permitted to settle near the Klottey lagoon where they have succeeded in building a prosperous town.[59]

Reindorf suggests that the people of La originated from the Les who originally occupied the coast before the arrival of the Gá; he maintains that the La are closely related to the Larteh, the people of Gbese, the Agotimes and the original inhabitants of Osu.[60] However, the oral traditions of the La suggest that their people were part of the original Gá, and that the town was in fact founded by descendants of a brother of Ayi Kushi; hence in constitutional matters the La manche deputises for the Gá Manche in all issues affecting the Gá polity.

After briefly settling at Ayawaso the La seem to have re-located to Ladoku and from thence to Podoku. The Las, under Adjei Onano and Numo Ngmashie his great chief, appear to have been granted land by the king of Nungua who owned all the land between Nungua and Osu; the grant was against the expressed wishes of Borketey Larweh, the priest of Nungua.[61] After a dispute over water rights and alleged murder of a La princess, the Labadis proposed to have a hand each cut off from Sowa, the high priest and Borketey Larweh. After Borketey Larweh’s hand had been cut off the La reneged on their part of the bargain; as a result, Borketey Larweh is said to have vanished into the sea.

Nungua is today famed for its goldsmiths, craftsmen and traditional industrialists. Barbot opines that the art of goldsmithery, although learnt originally from the Portuguese, had been greatly developed by the natives who had “outdone their masters in certain kinds of work, such as cast filigree, chainwork and drawn gold thread.”[62] Bing suggests, on the other hand, that the craft might have been learnt in Ancient Egypt. Commenting on the technique of a goldsmith near the historic battlefield of Katamanso, now a Nungua village, Bing observed: “Now over the historic battlefield my goldsmith would go in search of scarab beetles. With a technique perhaps handed down from Egyptian practice of four thousand years before, he would cure them in camphor and mount them in gold as jewels for earrings and brooches.”[63]

Various traditions indicate that Teshi was founded by Nii Okang Mgmashie, a nephew of the mankralo of Labadi following a bitter dispute with the King of Labadi. The town soon attracted other Gá-Dangme peoples, including Aseres, Nunguas, Krobos, Obutus, Pramprams. It therefore grew to become one of the principal Gá-Dangme towns.[64] [65]Nii Ngmashie and his immediate fanily and relatives settled initially at Lejokuku (the present site of the Ghana Military Academy), but relocated to a more favourable spot on the sea-front, acquiring vast tracts of land from Nii Afotey Okle of Nungua. Nii Ngmashie was joined by Numo Trebi of Tema together with various peoples from Tema and Lashibi. Okangman, the originally name was changed to Teshie during British bombardment after the people refused to pay the Poll Tax.

Nii Okang Ngmashie and Numo Trebi agreed that Kamoa, the grandson of Numo Trebi should be the first chief of Teshie; Kamoa was succeeded by Ashitey Akomfrah who was in turn succeeded by Tettey Otipon, both being sons of Numo Trebi. Thus the first three chiefs of Teshie were descended from Numo Trebi; they went on to constitute the three Lenshie ruling houses of Teshie: Ashikwei We, Ashitey We and Okpon We or Asheley We.

Due to their location Tema and Kpone and tended to feature less prominently in Gá-Dangme history and politics than their present importance suggests. A considerable early presence of Les in the vicinity of Tema was overlain by immigrant Gá and Dangme peoples. Although Kpone is a Dangme town it appears to be more influenced than other Dangme towns by Gá language and culture. With the re-location of people of tema New Town on Kpone traditional lands it appears that the future of Tema and Kpone is intertwined.

1.3 Dangme traditions of origin and the traditions of Anecho

Relatively little has been written about the Gá, but even less work has been undertaken in regard to the Dangme, described as the “mother tribe of the Gá”;[66] Dangme is also regarded as the “mother dialect” of the Gá.[67] As Wilson observed of one Dangme group: “During the twentieth century, though numerically small compared to the rest of the population of Ghana the Krobo people have determined events in Southeastern Ghana more than any other ethnic group.”[68] The virgin field of Dangme history and culture is therefore yet to be subjected to systematic and rigorous scholarly analysis. Although Dangme territory is today generally known to be immediately to the East of the Gá considerable numbers of Dangme remain across the Volta, particularly in Agotime.[69] According to oral traditions, the first Dangme also intermarried with the Guans, then ruled by their Ataalas.[70]

The Dangme and the Gá constitute one divisible people; united by blood, common origin, culture and history. The Gá tongue is but a dialect of Dangme of which the Krobo language is the prototype. The Dangme are divided into the Krobo, Ada, Shai and the Ningo all of whom presently occupy the Eastern parts of the Accra plains. However, there are pockets of Dangme peoples in modern Togo, and in the Agotime area of the Volta Region. In addition, as a result of the aggressive acquisition of land entailed by the Krobo huza[71] system of farming larger pockets of Dangme are to be found throughout the forest belt of Southern Ghana, particularly in the Eastern and Central Regions.

The Krobo, who refer to themselves as the Kloli are the most numerous of the Dangme groups; however, Krobo country was until 1760 omitted from early European maps of the Gold Coast.[72] Events in Krobo were also omitted from European accounts of the coast; but as has already been suggested the early history of the Krobo and Ada peoples was intricately connected to the history of the Gá. Stone implements of the neolithic period together with excellent pottery suggest considerable cultural development among the early inhabitants of Krobo country.[73]

Some writers have tended to identify Sameh as an important staging-post in the pre-historic wanderings of the Krobo and other Dangme groups. Some difficulty, however, exists as to the location of Sameh.[74] Kropp Dakubu is of the view that Sameh was located in Dahomey, probably on what is now a piece of land opposite Porto Novo.[75] From thence, according to the accounts of Azu[76] and Odonkor, the Krobos departed to the area around the Volta river under a leader called Sukruku. Kropp Dakubu is of the view that in the neighbourhood of the Volta Dangme migrants mixed with various Guan peoples.[77] It has already been mentioned that in some Gá traditions the Gá-Dangme crossed the Volta in the parting of the waters; according to Kropp Dakubu, before crossing the Volta the Dangme visited an island near Kpong. their last place of sojourn before crossing the Volta was Tagologo.[78]

After crossing the Volta and separating from the Gá the Dangme first settled at Biam and Bia-kpo in Ada.[79] Due to attacks by hostile tribes the Dangme departed for Lolovor (“love has ended”) which was to became the centre for Dangme dispersion. The town of Ada was founded on the Volta estuary by four major clans: Dangmebiawe, Adibiawe, Lomobiawe and Tekpebiawe. According to Reindorf, on the other hand, the Adas were originally composed of 11 or 12 families: Adibiiawe, Lonmobiiawe, Tekpebiiawe, Dangmebiiawe, Kabubiiawe or Kabiiawe, Kudragbe, Ohwewem, Kogbo, Kponkpo, Sega, Gbese and Kpono.[80] Originally the ruling house was in Adibiiawe and the first king was Boi.[81] Wilks adds that some Ewe peoples on the Western bank of the Volta were incorporated into the Ada state, and now constitute the Kudzeragbe clan.[82] The Osudoku, the Shai, Ningo and a few sub-groups continued to maintain some sense of separate identity. For a while these groups were united under the rulers of La Nimo.

The first Krobo settlers were divided into the three Dzebiam clans: Nam, Yokuyonya and Agbom; they were followed by the Manya-Lomodze under the leadership of Madza.[83] Other accounts hold that the original krobo were joined by the Susui or Domelu who were Ewe from Adome and Bonya or Bose people.[84] After settling on the Krobo mountains or Klo-wem and strengthening trading links with the Gá and the Ada, the Krobo started to attract new settlers, including people from Denkyira, Akwapim and beyond the Volta.

Following the decline of La Nimo and subsequently of Ayawaso, sections of the Krobo and other Dangme started to spread out and founded villages and towns along the coast and in the hinterland. The villages, now towns, of Ningo, Prampram, Ada, Ada-Foah, Dodowa, Agormanya, Somanya, etc. were founded in this way. A further wave of Dangme dispersal saw the founding of smaller villages to the North and East, including Akuse, Amedica, Sra, Dawhenya, etc. By the end of the sixteenth century three distinct groups of Dangme had emerged: the Krobo, the Ada and the Shai.

The Dangme agree with the Gá that their ancestors originated in Goshen and migrated to modern Ghana via Upper Egypt and Abyssinia. For reasons that some have linked to the legendary King Solomon’s mines, the Gá-Dangme still refer to gold ornaments as “Abyssinia”.[85] There is general agreement that the ancestors of the modern Dangme settled for a while in a place called Same.[86] All the Dangme sources are unanimous in the view that they travelled together with the Gá as one people under the same leaders.

Upon entering the Accra plains the Dangme established the kingdom of La Nimo where present Gá-Dangme concepts of nationhood were pioneered. Some traditions assert that the Gá lived with the Dangme at La Nimo for a while before departing for Okaikoi and the hills to the West of the plains. Due to the relative unimportance of the coast beyond Accra to the early trade with Europeans comparatively little documentary evidence exists of the history of the coastal Dangme. Barbot, however, provided a sketchy account of the coast East of Labadi, suggesting that Labadi shared a common border with the kingdom of Ningo which was divided into Lesser Ningo and Greater Ningo and paid tribute to no king[87]; he noted that Ningo produced fine oranges and the people were largely devoted to fishing. The people also fattened large numbers of cattle which they sold at Accra and elsewhere on the Gold Coast.[88] Although slaves were avaliable at Ningo only a small quantity of gold could be obtained there. Barbot mentions the existence of a kingdom of Soko on the present location of Ada, between Ningo and the Volta river.[89] Maize was the major produce of this district, the inhabitants being mainly engaged in sowing and cultivating the land.[90]

In view of the current a re-forging of links between the Gá-Dangme and their Anecho brethren it needs emphasising that the people of Anecho or Little Popo in modern Togo descend from Gá settlers who left Little Accra between 1677 and 1680. True, other settlers joined them from Elmina, but they were a tiny minority. However, because the Anecho language is generally known as Mina in Togo, an increasing number of observers seem to be concluding wrongly that the majority are of Fanti descent.[91] For instance, statements by both Knoll and Curkeet[92] that the famous chief and trader, George Lawson was a Fanti appears to derive from Duncan’s error in stating: “Mr Lawson, as well as most of his family, were born at Accra, and are consequently Fantees (sic). He is a little old man, much under the middle size, a jet black with round shoulders.”[93] The family names of the Lawsons: Lartey, Larteley, Anorkor, Lartekai, etc. together with their progenitor’s birth in Accra made the Lawsons Gá, not Fanti in origin. Furthermore, Lawson’s jet black complexion suggests that he was not a mulatto, as was suggested by Curkeet.[94]

The founding of Anecho by Gá-Dangme settlers led by royals from Kinka is well documented;[95] the subsequent campaigns of the Gá-Dangme settlers in the service of the King of Dahomey and the founding of Glidyi by King Ofori are also well-known.[96] However, given that most works on the latter history of the Anecho or the Glidyi are unavailable in English it has not been possible to give a comprehensive account of the history of Anecho. Reliance has been placed only on the English works of A.A. Curkeet[97], H.W Debrunner,[98] and J. Duncan[99]. On Anecho, Curkeet stated: “The locus of Togo’s slave trade was its first “capital”, the coastal village of Aného. Formerly the Petit Popo to the Portuguese, it prospered into the 1900s as a small slave port and centre for the ivory trade.”[100] In war, the tactics of Anecho’s highly disciplined forces included the deployment of elephants to create panic among the enemy.[101] European observers were often impressed with the fighting skills of the Anecho soldiers. Isert stated famously, “[As] they knew how to handle arms better than the … Ewes, they became their masters and they exercise this authority still today.”[102]

A substantial part of the history of Anecho centres on the trading activities of the Afro-Brazilians and the Lawson family. Of the influence and authority of the Lawsons, Duncan wrote:

“Mr Lawson, owing to his great trade and wealth acquired by the slave trade, is acknowledged by the inhabitants as the leading man in Popoe, although they have a caboceer, or dootay, who is acknowledged as hereditary chief magistrate or ruler, for when Mr Lawson interferes, the opinion or order of the Caboceer is disregarded.”[103]

In 1884 Lawson, formerly a stewart on a slave ship, attempted to take control of German posts in Southern Togo, preventing a steamer from docking; the Germans suspected him of attempting to declare himself ruler of the populace.[104]

With the abolition of slavery the economy of Anecho relied increasingly on the palm oil trade and plantation agriculture.[105]

1.4 The argument for a Jewish connection

As has already been observed, a number of writers have drawn a connection between the Gá-Dangme and the ancient Jews;[106] there has now developed a considerable body of writing dealing with various aspects of Hebrewisms within Gá-Dangme culture and religion. However, there has to date been no systematic study of this interesting subject which merits a book-length scholarly study. It is therefore worthwhile to undertake here a fuller exposition of the available evidence; emphasis is laid on connections between Gá-Dangme traditions of origin, religion, theocracy, world-view, culture and social organisation and Jewish equivalents. It will be shown that the resulting evidence argues persuasively for a common Gá-Dangme-Jewish root.

The respected African anthropologist Diop has systematically collected and assembled evidence to support a Black African origin of ancient Egyptian civilisation; this should render the idea of Gá-Dangme origin from Goshen far more plausible than would at first appear.[107] Having entered Egypt at the invitation of Joseph as seventy shepherds grouped in twelve patriarchal families, it is unlikely that the Jews could have departed some four hundred years later, 600,000 strong without extensive intermarriage with the local Black Africans.[108] Herodotus has shown that large numbers of people from Ancient Egypt settled in Ethiopia.[109] The possibility also exists that remnants of the Jews would have been left in Egypt who then embarked on migratory journeys into Central and Western Africa.[110]  As has already been shown, Gá-Dangme traditions of origin point to Abyssinia or Ethiopia as their place of origin.

The Bible records the journey of the Queen of Sheba to visit Solomon; the Queen of Sheba is held by Ethiopian traditions to have been accompanied back to Africa by a large number of Jews and to have subsequently borne a son, Menelik I. According to Ethiopian traditions, Menelik I visited Solomon’s temple and took back a golden cross and the Ark of the Tabernacle; he also returned with an entourage of Jews who settled and intermarried with indigenous Ethiopians who were originally a Cushite people.[111] The Prophet Isaiah (11: 11-12) mentions Cush as one the places were the dispersed Jews would re-congregate in his prophecy of the End Days.

Reindorf has wondered whether Ayi Kushi was in fact Ayi the Kushite.[112] Contrary to the assertions of Quaye,[113] there is indeed evidence of the presence of lighter skinned people among the early Gá-Dangme. The Gá royal family of Teiko Tsuru We or House of Teiko the Fair-Skinned, traces its ancestory directly to Ayi Kushi; Saka Tsuru We is one of the principal households of the Sempe quarter; and Tettey Tsuru is a Labadi royal name.

The Gá-Dangme were, and still are, generally acknowledged to be a very religious people the strength of whose institutions derived from the fundamental moral precepts of the society. Some European writers seem to imperfectly appreciate the nature of Gá-Dangme religion and its consequences on the regard in which the Gá-Dangme are held by other peoples. For instance, Parker suggests that Asante respect and wariness of the Gá following the Katamanso war, which he claims to be have been a widely-held attitude, had less to do with “military strategy” than with the realms of cognition and belief. Parker interpretes the notion of the Gá being a religious people to mean they were “fetish-ridden”; and purports to provide examples of Gá reputation for fetish practice.[114] More seasoned observers of Gá society would of course find Parker’s contention and examples untenable and assert that Gá religion has never had a basis in fetishism.[115]

We have already adverted, in a general way, to Gá-Dangme traditions of origin; here it remains to pull together the major strands connecting the Gá-Dangme to the ancient Jews. The general view is that the Gá-Dangme are either directly descended from ancient Jews who settled in Goshen or were the result of inter-marriage between Goshen and Ethiopian Jews[116] and who married with various negroid peoples both in upper Egypt and Abyssinia as well as on their migratory journeys.[117] Ethiopian traditions trace the Falasha to the ancient kingdom of Aksum, the cradle of Ethiopian civilisation. Immediately prior to the advent of Christianity in Ethiopia, half the population of Aksum was estimated to have been Jewish. Inevitably, this led to profound Hebraic and biblical influences on Ethiopian culture.[118]

The settlement of Jews in Ethiopia may have started with the first recorded mass migration of Jews into Africa. In the Book of Exodus we learn that the sons of Jacob (Israel), stricken by famine in their homeland, went to Egypt in search of food. In Egypt they met their brother, Joseph, whom they had previously sold into slavery. Subsequently, the descendants of Jacob settled in Goshen in twelve recognisable groups divided according to the twelve sons of Jacob; the twelve groups of ancient Jews who settled in Egypt are generally called the twelve tribes of Israel. This form of social division is replicated among the Gá-Dangme who are said to have descended from seven individuals from the tribes of Gad and Dan.[119] Thus, divisions of seven form the basis of Gá-Dangme social and political division.

If the above view is correct, the Gá-Dangme must have shared the culture and religion, including monotheism, pioneered by Abram or Abraham in the Ur of Chaldees. Careful observers of Gá-Dangme society and religion will discover a striking resemblance between the pentateuchal religion of the ancient Israelites and that of the Gá-Dangme. Circumcision, the celebration of the Passover, baptism of infants, personal names, death-bed declarations, forms of prayer, nomenclature, and idea of the unclean person or fórlor as well as personal salvation through purity all seem to constitute points of similarity between the Gá and the Jews.

It is noteworthy that the term Jew only came into existence after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 723 BC and largely relates to the tribe of Judah. The earlier exile to Babylon and other events had scattered many of the other tribes of Israel around the world. It is therefore far more likely that the Gá-Dangme would have called themselves after the particular children of Jacob from whom they originated; this has been suggested to be Gad and Dan. As has already been indicated, Hebrewisms in Gá-Dangme religion and culture mainly reflect the condition of Jewish society and culture up to the Exodus. Allusion will be made to parallels between and Gá-Dangme society and Old Testament culture.

It is instructive to note, firstly, that the God of the Five Books of Moses is essentially a land-based God who revealed himself to his followers in burning bushes, pillars of fire and through prophets; it is only in the Psalms and after the Babylonian exile that the idea of a sky-dwelling God begins to predominate in Biblical thought. Moreover, the notion of pure monotheism and the eschatological ideas pursued in the New Testament appear to have taken root in Jewish culture after the writings of Isaiah. In spite of the proclamations of the prophets of Israel and Judah it was the Judahite king, Josiah who in 623 BC proclaimed Yahweh the only god to be worshipped. This provided the context for the exclusivity of Yahweh worship. Prior to that we find evidence of ancestor worship in the visit of King Saul to a necromancer, the witch of Endor, who raised the spirit of the prophet Samuel from the Dead.

Isaiah’s work marked a turning point in Jewish thought; his sparkling prose and brilliant images emphasised not only social justice, repentance and individual accountability to God, but also announced the future appearance of a saviour-figure who carries the sins of his people: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” Whereas earlier Old Testament writers had implied the existence of other gods beside Yahweh albeit to the dislike of the Almighty, Isaiah denied the existence of other gods altogether: “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6). Isaiah’s idea of a universal, omnipotent God, operating in the territories of other gods and other peoples is one that shaped Jewish religious thought profoundly during the years of exile and beyond; and today accounts for apparent ideological differences between the religion of the Gá-Dangme and the Jews.

Ancient Israelite society was until the annointment of Saul as the first king, a theocracy in which foretelling-prophets dictated social conduct through revelations from the Almighty. Early Gá-Dangme society reflected a similar theocratic arrangement in which the people essentially lived in a religious community with the wulomo as supreme leader. Field suggests that the idea of fetish is foreign to Gá notions;[120] wherever idolatry and fetishism appear to occur in Gá religion they are associated with the foreign cults of akon and otu. Whereas a succession of scholars and charismatic prophets had succeeded in cleansing Israelite religion of the influence of the Golden Calf of Aaron, Baal and other gods, no comparable cleansing of Gá-Dangme had occurred. In the result ideas of lesser gods, confused with the notion of angels or divine messengers, have crept into the underlying monotheistic concepts of Gá-Dangme worship.

The Almighty, variously referred to as Nyonmo, Mawu and Ofe is still the ultimate object of private and public prayer; righteousness is emphasised as the end of social behaviour. Ofe Ye-oha-wó – “Almighty fight for us” or “God be on our side” is still a common refrain among Gá elders. The wulomó or wó-lee-mó (“he who knows the future”) mediates between the Almighty and the populace; and was in ancient times the administrator justice. As Patriarch, Soothsayer, Prophet and Guide he directs the social and religious activities of the people, offering sacrifices for the atonement of sins and communicating the will of the Almighty for living righteously. Human sacrifices, the shedding of innocent blood, and the fetishistic belief in idols therefore rarely occur among the Gá-Dangme.

At the centre of the relationship between the Gá-Dangme and the Almighty is the shrine (Gba-tsü) or “house of prophecy”. While the development of Gá-Dangme religion has never reached a level where a Solomonic temple might be required, the gba-tsü nevertheless performs an important role. Within it is a “holy of holies” where a pot of water, a broom, a seat and simple paraphenalia are kept. The gba-tsu is routinely purified by burning nmatsu or the dry male inflorescence of the oil palm. Messages received from the Almighty in the gba-tsü are transmitted to the gba-lói or preachers whose duty is to propagate the Word amongst the populace; a corollary of this was the making of intercession for the people to God. The gba-lói may in turn be understudied by kase-lói or disciples. There exists a need to undertake the systematic study of the messages of the wulómei and activities of the gba-lói in order to develop a distinctive Gá-Dangme theology and liturgy. It is, however, clear that the moral fundaments of Gá-Dangme society derive from rules developed in ancient times by the prophets and priests; these, however, are yet to take on a theocentric outlook.

The child’s commandments, recited at the baptism or kpodziemó ceremony, encapsulates the Gá-Dangme moral code of absolute honesty, and co-operation: “Oná, onako; onu, onuko; amalee; adzuu…”. Reminders throughout a person’s life of the above commandments and social pressures to conform have led to the development of an admirable Gá-Dangme social ethic. Honesty, industry and peacefulness are the central ideas in the Gá-Dangme view of the ideal social behaviour. Individuals who adhere to the social ethnic are rewarded with long life and fruitfulness: eké edin ba eké eyén aya or “he came with black [hair]; he shall return with grey”.

Parents, in particular, are under obligation to bring up their children according to Gá-Dangme notions of righteousness; and to sacrifice their own lives for those of the children. Fathers are expected to devote themselves to the children, and instruct them in a way that brings out their full talent and fully prepares them for the adult world. It is the duty of mothers to support their spouse and children, and to constantly remind the spouse of the duty to acquire landed property and make financial provision for their future.

In the economic sphere, industry, co-operation, thrift and an eye for opportunity are particularly encouraged. Eko atashi ni eko abafita e (may what we already have be retained and more be added onto it) aptly describes the economic imperative underlying Gá-Dangme culture and the attitude to money. This imperative, although somewhat dulled by a tendency to work as civil servants, was dramatised in the spectacular wealth-creating abilities of the famous Makola women and in the activities of the early Gá-Dangme cocoa farmers in the Eastern Region.

There is probably no other figure in world religion whose functions and duties approximate those of the Biblical Moses as closely as the Nai Wulomo or Patriarch and High Priest of the Gá. The bearded and white-robed figure of the Nai Wulomo, by acting as intermediary between the Almighty and his people, has been from time immemorial the unrelenting focus of Gá worship; and as with the Biblical Moses he performs an annual rite of deliverance at the sea. In addition, the Nai Wulomo‘s staff is said to resemble that of Moses; carved upon it is an image of the serpent which swallowed up the serpent of the Egyptians. Moreover, like the Old Testament prophets, the Nai Wulomo and the other wulomei live lives of utter purity and simplicity, dressing always in white and studiously refraining from acts and omissions which may defile his office. As required of Moses at his commissioning at the Burning Bush, wulomei are forbidden to wear footwear. A ram’s horn is used during ceremonies associated with the leading Gá-Dangme priests; equally, the Jews used ram’s horn in commemoration of the command to sacrifice of Isaac when a ram caught in a thicket was used as a substitute.

As we have seen, until the accession of Dode Akabi, the Gá king combined the function of wulomo with his own kingly duties. Ayi Kushi’s career is as good an illustration as any of the law-making functions of the Nai Wulomo; we see in his career a predilection for legislation similar to the law-making activities of Moses. The Seven Commandments of Ayi Kushi reminds us of the Decalogue or the Mosaic Ten Commandments. Like a Biblical patriarch, the Nai Wulomo also exercises judicial functions; he regularly holds court and conciliates; adjudicates over a variety of cases; and is greeted with the salutation: Hé manyé (Peace be unto you). Besides, the wulomo, like the Jewish priest, is required to remain in a state of purity; and is forbidden to be in close proximity to a corpse.

Again, it was the principal wulomei who led the Gá-Dangme in the long exodus or Blema Gbefaa to their present homeland; the first political leaders were in the Mosaic tradition also prophets.

Nai is sometimes erroneously held to be god of the sea; the god of the sea is actually the Sempe deity of Oyeni, located within the walls of Jamesfort. For the Gá-Dangme the sea symbolises the cleansing powers of the Deity as well as his powers of deliverance so dramatically demonstrated at the crossing of the Red Sea. The concept of nshó (literally “ocean” or “expanse of water”) may have originally referred to the Red Sea or the Nile; the present Nai Wulomo maintains that “Nai” is a corruption of Nile. The crossing of the Red Sea through the cleft waters to the Promised Land is one of the high points of the Old Testament.

The Gá phrase etee nshón has been used to refer to a number of things, including voyages to the Bight of Benin; but also major figures of Gá-Dangme history are said to have gone to nshon in a context which does not admit of a literal voyage. Thus Ayi Kushi and Borketey Larweh are both said to have gone to nshón.[121] In the case of Borketey Larweh, Reindorf recorded an actual parting of the waters.[122] If we accept the idea that the crossing of the Red Sea would in the minds of the Gá-Dangme at Goshen have accorded with primitive notions of Paradise or the Promised Land, it becomes easy to argue that on the evidence, the Gá-Dangme notion of historical figures going into nshón accords with the Jewish notion of ascension into the heavens.

Circumcision, the ancient Israelite covenant with God is practised; and all male infants are circumcised on the eighth day. Equally, the unleavened meal is eaten annually, and other rites of the passover observed with the marking of the door-post with red clay. Moreover, the Jewish idea of jubilee or forgiveness and cancellation of debts is practised in the observance of Noowala or Day of Reconciliation, observed on the day after the annual festival of Homowo. Also, the government of the Gá-Dangme is patriarchal, and there is the annual return to the ancestral home.

Other evidence of Hebrewism can be found in the pouring of libation (I Samuel 7: 5-6 – “And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you. So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord”); the presence of sword-bearers in the court of the Gá kings;[123] and the intra-mural sepulture of ancestors in places where the resurrected bodies might be re-united with kinsmen (the Gá buried their dead beneath the floors of their homes). Besides, certain names – Amasa, Annan, Amon, etc. – seem to be common to both the Gá and the Jews.

Anyone who witnesses the passing of the naming-drink among the circle of relatives and friends, and the gentle sipping of the drink by each participant is immediately reminded of the Christian communion when the communicants partake of the bread and wine representing Christ’s body. Drinks are passed in similar manner in several other religious ceremonies of the Gá-Dangme.

The Gá-Dangme also follow the ancient Israelite practice of annointing new kings with oil. In the case of the Gá-Dangme the new chief is annointed with shea-butter which is firstly fed to a captive queen of termites (klemekuku). The digested oil is considered purified and invested with the collective attributes of social insects, including continual hard work, loyalty and an unflinching spirit of mutual support and social cooperation which the king or chief then imparts to his people throughout his reign.

It remains to touch on parallels between Gá-Dangme world-view and Jewish view of the world; the finitude of mortal life and the desirability of preparing for the after-life are common to both. Both begin with the notion of divine creation of man. In Gá, Creation or adebó is regarded as the inscrutable act of the Omnipotent at the beginning of time; an act which occurred out of total darkness out of which God fashioned the Earth and all that is on it, living and non-living. Nyón-gbo, a Gá appellation for the Almighty literally means he who created or carved out of the deep night. In Gá-Dangme philosophy, Creation is not confined to the original act of the Deity; it is an on-going process, symbolised by the re-vitalising powers of rain (also called nyón-gbo) and of water generally.

At the beginning of time, the Gá-Dangme believe, the Almighty created Nwei (sky), Shikpon (Earth) and Nsho (the oceans). The concept of Nwei includes the heavenly bodies, wind (olila) and space. There is a well-developed knowledge of astrology; the Gá-Dangme traditional calendar is based on phases of the moon and appearance of particular heavenly bodies in the sky. For instance, the months Otukwajan (June), Maawe (July), Antón (October) and Alemle (November) are based on the names of stars[124]; and deep-sea fishermen and night hunters locate their positions on the basis of the constellation of stars. The apparently fixed position of the stars is much admired in Gá-Dangme tradition; there is a constant striving to make certain that Shikpon as the dwelling place of mortals and the lesser creations reflects similar order. Nsho, with its apparent unity of Earth and sky at the horizon, is considered to be the unifying element of Creation: all rivers and streams as well as earthly remains eventually end up in the sea which cleans all pollution and returns freshness to the Earth.

Man (adesa), the crowning glory of God’s work, is said to comprise gbo-mo (mortal or “he who is to die”), kla (spirit) and susuma (soul). Given the mortality of the flesh, the focus of Gá-Dangme social ethic is based on the salvation of the soul. The concepts of kla and susuma, originally unique to the Gá-Dangme have been adopted by other Southern Ghanaian cultures.

Also, Gá-Dangme concepts of time based on the calendar year or afi have gained widespread recognition. Within Gá culture, time-keeping is the prerogative of the Dantu wulomo who, by regularly placing pebbles in special pots and noting the aggregate, signifies to the religious and political hierarchies the time for special events in the Gá-Dangme calendar. As will be noted below, the Jewish device of the apocalyptic, first recorded in the Book of Daniel and developed into its ultimate form in the Book of Revelations, seemed to have been embryonic in Gá views of the death of Okaikoi and provided the explanatory key to events leading to the decline of the Ayawaso kingdom. Further, as in the Second Book of Maccabees, the death of Okaikoi has been developed into a form of matyrology, re-enacted every year in the oshi dance which precedes the Homowo ceremony and mocks the warriors who deserted the great and heroic leader.[125]

The Homowo festival, called Black Christmas by some,[126]??? is itself described as the Gá-Dangme equivalent of the Passover. As with the Biblical Passover, is celebrated over several days; it is preceded by the congregation of people on their ancestral households where the doorposts are marked with red clay, indicative of the blood of the Pascal lamb used by the Jewish exiles in Egypt.[127] An unleavened meal or kpokpoi is eaten; although the meal is today prepared with corn, all authorities agree that in ancient times it was made with wheat or millet. In keeping with the Biblical injunction the meal is eaten hurriedly (Cf. Exodus 12:34 and Deuteronomy 16:3).

In the Gá-Dangme idea of dzielór or deliverer one notices the germ of the uniquely messianic concept. Various Gá-Dangme families and quarters as well as the Gá-Dangme polity as a whole periodically look forward to deliverance from adverse conditions by one of their own number. Certain Gá-Dangme traditions allude to a final gathering of the Gá-Dangme peoples when the Anecho in particular would rejoin the kin in Accra.

It needs emphasising, in closing this argument, that although strong similarities exist between Jewish and Gá-Dangme culture, the Gá-Dangme are today a distinctive negroid people, with the characteristic assemblage of physical features associated with that race; they are therefore an African people whose religion should be regarded on its own merits as showing the profundity of African religious thought. In particular, if the argument of a Jewish origin and culture is found to be sustainable, this should be credited to the advanced qualities of African philosophy and civilisation rather than to the age-long misconception of the civilising influence of outsiders upon Africans. Also, if it is considered that the Jews have a special role to play in human history, it is arguable that in the Gá-Dangme, Black Africans have a special part in playing out that role.

In summary, available evidence suggests a strong connection between the Gá-Dangme and the ancient Jews; the evidence further suggests common principles underlying the religions of the two peoples. However, their separate post-Exodus histories appears to have rendered Hebrewisms in Gá-Dangme culture a distinctive Black African phenomena.

    [1]S.R.B. Attoh Ahuma, The Gold Coast Nation and National Consciousness, London 1971, p. 49. Cf. C.C. Reindorf, History of the Gold Coast and Asante, Basel 1895, p. 23: “The Tshi nation may have found that the Akras are a divinely favoured tribe, when they consider how from time immemorial they had been trying to extirpate and root them out from the place divinely allotted to them…without obtaining their object…In wars, in travellings, in voyages, in times of epidemic, they are divinely more preserved than any other nation”. Cf. A.A. Amartey, Omanye Aba, Accra 1991, pp. 38-40 on Jórmó or blessing, esp. at p. 40 on the specific blessing of a Gá-Dangme child.

    [2]Basel 1895.

    [3]Wilhelm Anton Amo had previously travelled to Germany and written a number of dissertations, but none of them dealt directly with the condition of the Gold Coast. See W. Abraham, “The Life and Times of Wilhelm Anton Amo”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 7 (1964), pp. 60-81.

    [4]Reindorf 1895, p. x.

    [5]P.E.H. Hair, A. Jones & R. Law, Barbot on Guinea, London 1992, particularly Vol. II hereinafter referred to as Barbot 1732. Although Barbot’s work appeared in English in 1732 it was actually written in the 1680s. Barbot, who worked in a slave ship, was off the coast of Accra in February 1679; he visited Fort Crévecoeur (heart-break) or Ussher Fort where he met the King of Accra. See ibid. p. 593. As far as the history of the Ga-Dangme is concerned, Barbot’s work appears to be more authoritative than Bosman’s. See note … below.

    [6]Utrecht 1704.

    [7]Unpublished University of Ghana PhD thesis, 1972.

    [8]Unpublished University of London PhD thesis 1995.

    [9]London 1882.

    [10]P. Ozanne, “Notes on the Later Prehistory of Accra”, Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 3 (1964), p. 20.

    [11]Barbot 1732, pp. 435-436.

    [12]Ibid. p. 484.

    [13]H. Bridge, Journal of An African Cruiser, London 1968, pp. 141-142. Bridge’s work was originally published in 1845.

    [14]P. de Marees, “A Description and Historicall Declaration of the Golden Kingdome of Guinea”, in Purchas His Pilgrimes, G.A. Dantisc (trans.), S. Purchase (ed.) 1965 reprint of the 1600 original, p. 262.

    [15]M. Kilson, Kpele Lala, (Cambridge) Massachusetts 1971, p. 15. Cf. SNA/11/1772, Palaver Book, pp. 100-101, interview between Governor Nathan and the Gá Manche Nii Tackie Tawiah, April 17, 1902 in which the governor complained that he could not find Gá unskilled labourers. See further M. Kilson, African Urban Kinsmen: The Ga of Central Accra, London 1974, esp. pp. 5-13. Today the Gá-Dangme are heavily represented in the medical, legal, technical, academic and other prestige professions and occupations.

    [16]G. Macdonald, The Gold Coast Past and Present, London 1898, p. 193. See further Attoh-Ahuma 1971, p. 49: “The character of the people presented a psychological problem to the multitudinous hosts of foes…mild, inoffensive, genial to a fault, gentle in manners they were; but rub them the wrong side, and the assailant caught a Tartar. Perhaps misled by the long list of Gá World and Commonwealth boxing champions (including Roy Ankrah, Attuquaye Clottey, Joe Tetteh, Floyd Robertson, David (Poison) Kotei, Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Alfred Kotey, Percy Commey and David Tetteh) other observers tend to regard the urban Gá as aggressive and abrasive. See e.g. M. Adjei, Pain and Death in Rawlings’ Ghana – The Inside Story, London 1993, p. 263: “It is not beyond a 10 year old Gá boy to threaten to beat (Mayi bo) somebody two or three times his age and size.”

    [17]Macdonald 1898, p. 192. See also M.J. Field, Akim Abuakwa, London 19 …, p. … contrasting the physique and appearance of a Gá woman and child to a Twi-speaking woman and child.

    [18]See e.g. R. Rathbone, Murder and Politics in Colonial Ghana, New Haven & London 1993, p. 17 on Gá settlements in the Eastern region.

    [19]See e.g. G. Macdonald, The Gold Coast Past and Present, London 1898, p. 191: “Some people hold that the Akras did not come from this direction [the East] at all, but had their origin in a small village at the back of Winneba, called Nkran at the present day.”

    [20]See e.g. S.K. Odamtten, The Missionary Factor in Ghana’s Development Up to the 1880s, Accra 1978, pp. 148-149.

    [21]See e.g. the case of Nii Azuma v. Peter Quarshie Fiscian (19530 W.A.C.A., 287, esp. at 288 briefly describing the arrival of the Brazilians in Accra under one Mama Sokoto and the allocation to them of land at present-day Adabraka.

    [22]A.B. Quartey-Papafio, “The Ga Homowo Festival”, Journal of African Society, (1919-20) Vol. 10, p. 126.

    [23]Reindorf 1895, pp. 3-4. The work of F.L. Roemer, Tilferladelig efterretning em Kyeten Guinea, Copenhagen 1760 (esp. p. 16) appears to constitute the basis of Reindorf’s view of a Gá connection with Benin. Reindorf’s view has been followed by other historians; see in particular, M.J. Field, Social Organisation of the Ga People, London 1940, pp. 121 and 142; and W.E.F. Ward, A History of Ghana, London 1966, p. 57 describing the Gá as “newcomers from Nigeria”. See finally, A.B. Quartey-Papafio, “The Native Tribunals of the Akras of the Gold Coast”, Journal of the African Society, Vol. X (1910-11), pp. 320-321. The claim of a Gá-Dangme connection to Benin has also been made by the Benins themselves. See J.U. Egharevba, A Short History of Benin, Ibadan 1968, p. 12 “The migration of the Gas from Benin to Accra took place in his [Udagbedo’s] reign about 1300 AD.” However, Egharevba does not indicate the basis of his claim; at any rate, it seems plausible that the Gá-Dangme may have been part of a larger movement of people from Egypt to West Africa which also involved the Benins. See ibid. p. 1.

    [24]Reindorf 1895, p. 3.

    [25]Ibid. p. 5.

    [26]Ibid. pp. 6-7. The Dangme writer, Azu supports the Same origin of the Gá-Dangme. See N.A. Azu, The Gold Coast Review, Vol II, No. 2 (1926), p. 242.

    [27]F.I.D. Konotey-Ahulu, The Sickle Cell Patient, London 1991, p. 19.

    [28]Ibid. p. 6.

    [29]Amartey 1991, pp. 13-14.

    [30]O. Johnson, The History of the Yorubas, London 1921, pp. 1 and 15. See also D. Forde, The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria, London 1962, esp. p. 4, emphasising Yoruba territorial connections with the Gold Coast; A.B. Ellis, The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, London 1894; and P.A. Talbot, Culture Areas of Nigeria, Chicago 1935, esp. p. 395.

    [31]Johnson 1921, p. 15. In keeping with current usage Asante is preferred here to Ashanti which is the Gá form of the word. See the prefatory remarks of the renowned Twi lexicographer, J.G. Christaller in Reindorf 1895, p. x: “The wrong spelling “Ashantee” is owing to Mr Bowdich and his interpreter, an Akra-man who went with him to Kumase in 1817. The Akras, having a predilection for “sh” especially before “e and i”, pronounce the original form “Asiante” indeed “Ashanti”, whereas the Asantes themselves have suppressed the short “i” but retained the “s”.”

    [32]H.L. Roth, Great Benin, London 1903, esp. pp. 49, 57, and 63-65. See further P.A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, London 1926, pp. 153-181; and cf. Macdonald 1898, p. 194: “In their early historical times the Akras were forbidden by their priests to touch human blood, and when blood was spilt by accident or design, the king and elders of the people made sacrifice by way of atonement for it, and the people causing it are fined in proportion.”

    [33]E.A. Ammah, “History of the Gá”, unpublished, quoted in Quaye 1972, p. 5.

    [34]J.M. Bruce-Myer, “The Origin of the Gas”, Journal of African Society, Vol. 27, (1927-28), p. 70.

    [35]Quaye 1972, pp. 5-8.

    [36]Ibid. pp. 5-6. Quaye’s assertion that the Nai Wulomo dismissed the theory of a Egyptian origin is contradicted by the statement of the present Nai Wulomo, Numo Tete who maintains the Jewish origin of the Gá-Dangme; and states that the Gá originated in Misraim or Egypt.

    [37]Ibid. pp. 11-13.

    [38]Kropp Dakubu maintains that Tema was originally a Dangme-speaking town. See. M.E. Kropp Dakubu, The Languages of Ghana, London 1988, p. 102.

    [39]M.J. Field, Social Organisation of the Gá People, London 1940, p. 156.

    [40]Ibid. p. 72.

    [41]Ibid. p. 78.

    [42]Ibid. p. 73.

    [43]Ibid. p. 143.

    [44]Reindorf 1895, p. iv.

    [45]Ibid. p. 108. “[Okaidja] summoned all the Guan element (sic) to his side, viz., the priest of Oyeni, Tete Kpeshi, and his family, and the Berekusus.”

    [46]Cf. Bruce-Myers 1927-28, pp. 169-170. Reindorf suggests a common origin for the Gá-Dangme as well as the Mowures and Lartehs. See Reindorf 1895, p. 4. On the same point see further, M.A. Kwamena-Poh, Government and Politics in the Akuapem State 1730-1850, (Chicago) Illinois 1973, p. 16, Note 8: “The very name [Latebi or Larteh] has a Gá origin. Late-Bii = Late people.” Kwamena-Poh also states (ibid) that in the movement to the Akwapim hills the Larteh had in their ranks a Gá minority who came to adopt the Guan language; he also documents (p. 129) early Gá settlers among the people of Mamfe in Akwapim.

    [47]Reindorf’s interpretation of gbese as “the name of a species of red ants which live on fruit trees and attack anyone coming near” aptly describes the praetorian duties of the the original founders of Gbese in protecting the person of the Gá king, a duty still symbolically performed by the Gbese manche who precedes the Gá Manche on major ceremonial occasions. See Reindorf 1895, p. 4.


    [49]Ibid. p. 28. Quartey-Papafio 1910-1911, p. 437 suggests a link between the Akumajays and the Sempes and Gbeses, pointing out that Ayikai is a Gbese name.

    [50]Ibid. p. 446.

    [51]Reindorf 1895, p. 28.


    [53]Ibid. pp. 48-49.

    [54]Ibid. p. 29. Although it is claimed by certain authorities that Odjoe was a Yoruba, his direct descendant and the present chief of Jamestown, Nii Kojo Ababio IV, maintains that Odjoe hailed from Prampram; hence his Dangme title of wetse.

    [55]Quartey-Papafio 1910-1911, p. 437.

    [56]Cf. Barbot 1732, p. 435 advising sailors at Accra beach to weigh anchor every two or three days on account of rock-stones.

    [57]Cf. P. Ozanne, “Notes on the Early Historic Archaeology of Accra”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 6 (1962), pp. 51-70 at page 69: “The origins of Nungua, Teshi, Labadi and other towns were traditionally not only linked to such sites as Lashibi and Wodoku but also with the early chiefs of Accra.”

    [58]Bruce-Myers 1927-28, p. 170.


    [60]Reindorf 1895, p. 31. Reindorf further suggests that the La might have emigrated from Bonny, and that they migrated together with the Akras. See reindorf 1895, p. 32.

    [61]ibid. p. 34.

    [62]Barbot 1732, p. 527.

    [63]G. Bing, Reap the Whirlwind, London 1968, p. 165.

    [64]Bruce-Myers 1927-28, p. 171.

    [65]The following account is based on traditions narrated by Mr J.K. Tawiah, a well-known barrister of Teshie.

    [66]Macdonald 1898, p. 195.

    [67]Reindorf 1895, p.7; Quaye 1972, p. 2; finally, see J. Zimmermann, A Grammatical Sketch of the Akra or Gá-Language, Stuttgart 1858, p. ix: “The Adánme Dialect is to be considered as the mother-dialect of Gá proper.”

    [68]L.E. Wilson, The Krobo People to 1892, (Athens) Ohio 1991, p. 1. See also, Macdonald 1898, p. 250, describing the Krobo district as the richest part of the Gold Coast for production of palm oil; S. La Anyane, Ghana Agriculture, London 1963, p. 33: “The highest density of palm cultivation and the centre of greatest activity was the Krobo district”; and Reindorf 1895, p. 280: “The Krobos are known to be the best and able farmers on the Gold Coast.” Reindorf further noted (id.) that the Krobos had bought “thousands of acres of land from the Akuapems, Akwamus and Akems”. The role of the Krobo and other Dangme groups in the dramatic growth of cocoa-farming in Ghana is well-known. See generally P. Hill, Migrant Cocoa Farmers of Southern Ghana, London 1956.

    [69]See e.g. D.E.K. Amenumey, The Ewe Unification Movement, Accra 1989, p. 2; and R.G.S Sprigge, “Eweland’s Adangbe: An Enquiry into an Oral Tradition”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. X (1969), pp. 87-123.

    [70]Cf. A.A. Boahen, Topics in West African History, London 1966, p. 59.

    [71]La Anyane seems attribute the success of the huza system of farming to the “wanderlust” of the Krobo. See La Anyane 1963, p. 62.

    [72]See “A Chart of the Gold Coast, wherein are distinguished all the Forts and Factories…improved from Sr Danville”, reproduced in F. Wolfson, Pageant of Ghana, London 1958 and cited in H. Huber, The Krobo: Traditional Social and Religious Life of a West African People, Fribourg 1993, p. 16.

    [73]Huber 1993, 16.

    [74]See e.g., T.H. Odonkor, The Rise of the Krobos”, trans. by Rev. S.S. Odonkor, probably written around 1910 and preserved in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

    [75]M.E. Kropp Dakubu, “Linguistic Pre-History and Historical Reconstruction: The Ga-Adangme Migrations”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 13, (1972), pp. 87-111 at pp. 94-95.

    [76]N.A.A. Azu (arr. and trans. ), Enoch Azu, “Adangbe (Adangme) History”, The Gold Coast Review, (1926), p. 242.

    [77]Kropp Dakubu 1972, p. 97.

    [78]Ibid. p. 98.


    [80]Reindorf 1895, p. 43.


    [82]I. Wilks, “The Rise of the Akwamu Empire, 1650-1710”, Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol. 3 (1957), pp. 99-136 at p. 112.

    [83]Huber 1993, p. 17.

    [84]See M.J. Field, The Krobo Constitution in Relation to the Nyewe-Ogome Dispute and the Significance of Priestly Stools, Unpublished 1942, cited in Huber 1993, p. 17.

    [85]See e.g. A. Okunnor, “Tackie Tawiah I Memorial Trust”, West Africa Magazine, 18-24 November 1996, p. 1812.

    [86]See note … above.

    [87]Barbot 1732, pp. 437-438.

    [88]Ibid. p. 438.

    [89]Ibid. p. 439.


    [91]See e.g. A.J. Knoll, Togo Under Imperial Germany 1884-1914, Stanford (California) 1978, p. 9; and A.A. Curkeet, Togo: Portrait of a West African Francophone Republic in the 1980s, Jefferson (North Carolina) & London 1993, p. 5.


    [93]J. Duncan, Travels in Western Africa 1845 & 46, London 1847, p. 99.

    [94]Curkeet 1993, p. 5.

    [95]See e.g. Reindorf 1895, p. 25: “This obliged obliged Ashangmo in the year 1680 to retire to Little Popo with all the Akras from Labade down to Ningo.” See also W.W. Claridge, A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti, London 1915, p. 121. See finally Barbot 1732, p. 586.

    [96]Reindorf 1895, pp. 25-27. See also D. Westermann, Die Glidyi-Ewe in Togo, Berlin 1935, pp. 4, 15, 17, 37, 128, 136, 137, 195, and 248.

    [97]Curkeet 1993.

    [98]H.W. Debrunner, A Church Between Colonial Powers, London 1965.

    [99]Duncan 1847.

    [100]Curkeet 1993, pp. 3-4.

    [101]Ibid. p. 4.

    [102]P.E. Isert, Voyages en Giunée, Paris 1793, p. 119.

    [103]Duncan 1847, p. 101.

    [104]Curkeet 1993, p. 5.

    [105]Knoll 1978, p. 9.

    [106]See generally, Bosman 1967, pp. 150 and 210; J.J. Williams, Hebrewisms of West Africa, London 1930, p. 101; H. Meredith, An Account of the Gold Coast of West Africa, London 1967; and Reindorf 1895, pp. 23-24.

    [107]C.A. Diop, The African Origin of Civilisation – Myth or Reality, Chicago 1974.

    [108]Ibid. p. 7.

    [109]Herodotus, The Histories, London 1992, pp. 82-83. Some controversy exists on the geographical meaning of “Ethiopia”, particularly as employed in the Bible. The ancient Greeks used the term, to refer to inhabitants of regions to the South of Egypt who were regarded as having “burnt-faces”.

    [110]Following the Babylonian exile other Jewish communities settled in Egypt, sometimes as far down the Nile as the island of Elephantine. See, e.g., B. Porten, Archives from Elephantine: The Life of an Ancient Jewish Military Colony, New York 1968.

    [111]Chamber’s 20th Century Dictionary, London 1986 defines Cushite or Kushite as: “a group of languages of eastern Africa…an ancient kingdom in the Nile Valley.”

    [112]Reindorf 1895, p. 4.

    [113]Quaye 1972, pp. 4-12.

    [114]Parker 1995, pp. 76-77.

    [115]See e.g. Field 1937, p. …  ”

    [116]On the Ethiopian Jews, also referred to as the Falasha or Beta Israel, see S. Kaplan, The Beta Israel (Falasha) in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century, New York 1992; T. Parfitt, Operation Moses: The Story of the Exodus of the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia, London 1985, esp. pp. 6-26; M. Waldman, The Jews of Ethiopia: The Beta Israel Community, Jerusalem 1985, esp. pp. 9-11 and 51-85; D. Kessler, The Falashas: Forgotten Jews of Ethiopia, London 1982, esp. pp. 24-57; and B. Toy, In Search of Sheba, London 1961.

    [117]As noted earlier, Quaye has questioned the Jewish origin of the Gá-Dangme on the ground that the Gá-Dangme are not a semitic people. It is arguable that on a strictly semitic definition of Jewishness at least some Ashkenazis or European Jews may not be classified as Jews on account of their Caucasian appearance.

    [118]Kaplan 1992 pp. 14-17.

    [119]Cf. Kaplan 1992, p. 24. In 1973 the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Ovadiah Yosef, officially declared that the Falasha were descendants of the lost tribe of Dan. See further Parfitt 1985, p. 17.

    [120]M.J. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Gá People, London 1937, p. 4.

    [121]Reindorf 1895, p. 5. The Krobo believe that the spirits of the dead live in ancestral communities somewhere on or beyond the ocean reached by a “crossing of the water.” The spirits of the dead first congregate on the small island of Azizannya on the Volta estuary near Ada. There they throw themselves into the water when the funeral songs reach their ear. See Huber 1993, pp. 220-221.

    [122]Ibid. p. 35.

    [123]Cf. Reindorf 1895, pp. 13 and 20-21. The levirate or the inheritance of a widow by a relative of the deceased husband is another custom common to the ancient Gá-Dangme and the Israelites.

    [124]Amartey 1991, pp. 180-181.

    [125]Ibid p. 22.


    [127]The Gá-Dangme do not sacrifice animals on the festal day, but neither do the Jews; with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans the sacrificial system came to an end, to be replaced by prayer services.

What the Black Labour Movement must do! – Ade Sawyerr

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Black Labour: Speaking for Ourselves!!!! –  6th December 2017 at Peckham

Labour missed an opportunity in the 1980s to embrace and consolidate the support that it had from the mass of African and Caribbean people.  These people had mostly voted Labour at elections and the rejection of their own movement, Black Sections, was a kick in the teeth for most of the activists especially since the leadership was often unwilling to support them as candidates in winnable seats in areas where there were a lot of black people in the population.

I attribute this rejection as the reason for our inability to grow confident activists who should rise within the party without patronage.  The result now is that we cannot influence policy and help set an agenda within the party that would encourage more race equality.

The past couple of years have presented some opportunities but we are still so slow to take these up to create a formidable movement that should reflect our electoral usefulness to the party.

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The party has agreed to the formation of the Black Socialist Section in the party, but this has not quite translated into the political success of activists from African and Caribbean communities.  The issue of the name is important, there are many who are Labour who are not comfortable with the socialist label.

An Ethnic Minority Taskforce is in operation that incorporates BAME Labour, Chinese for Labour, Somalis for Labour, Labour Arab Group and Africans for Labour.  The concern is that the voice of the A4L will continue to be muted if it continues to be reactive to issues within the party and expects that it will be called to the table to discuss issues of importance to the party.  Even now that there are several persons of African heritage in the shadow cabinet, we are in danger of having the agenda set for us if we continue to be docile.

We know that the talk at our dinner tables and when we are on our own is about how disenfranchised we are.  We know that whilst it is easy for people to demand all women shortlists at party selection we still do not have the clout to ask for black only shortlists.  We privately admit that the party is taking us for granted and by extension taking our community for granted.

We have seen an organised well-resourced movement grow to have influence within the party within a short space of time!

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We know that as councillors we are rewarded with cabinet positions when we do not complain too much and that to a large extent we are easily set against each other; we get recycled and are almost always in danger of being deselected.  We even suspect that the leadership is ambivalent about promoting more race equality lest it result in a perceived backlash from the majority community and yet we continue to do nothing about this state of affairs.  We allow ourselves to be more disempowered

But we know that there is a lot that we can do!

We know that Labour has always been a broad church with the competing forces between modernisers and traditional Labour , Blairites against Corbynistas and new Labour against old Labour and we assist in this divide when our issues are about racial equality and looking out for the best interests of our black communities.  Even as we speak today there is a battle for who are the legitimate owners of the Momentum Black Caucus or Connexions!!!!

Our issues are about racial inequality and discrimination! Our issues are about poverty and marginalisation! Our issues are about jobs, hope for our youth, health and social care. Our issues are about anti-austerity.

If this is the party that we commit to, then we should let our voices be heard at the high table of our party.  But we can only do that if we are able to plan properly, organising appropriately and find resources needed to operate in a formal way so that we can become a force in Labour.  We must be bold and assume that we can set an agenda for the party acceptable to all.

We must be courageous, we must be resolved, we have to be united and we have to know how to set objectives that resound with will, we need to be able to plan our strategy and we need to organise to attract more black members to the black labour movement wherever they are – not too difficult since they probably vote Labour anyway.

So what must the Black Labour movement do to ensure that it can be listened to and that it exerts some influence in the party and amongst the large numbers of people who vote Labour at the elections?

Let me know what you think!






Nat-Amartefio copy

By: Nat Nuno-Amarteifio

Since its founding, Achimota College and School as it was named at the time of its inception, has had a disproportionate influence on the creative arts in Ghana. In every area of creativity, music, painting, sculpture, literature and theatre, Achimota’s influence has been deep and consistent. This paper seeks to explore the reasons for this phenomenon and to identify some of the main reasons that made these achievements possible. We shall also examine the contemporary nature of this impact.

Colonialism begun in Africa in the final decades of the 19th century when Europeans scrambled for terrritories and took political and military possession of its lands. In India, British rule lasted over two centuries. In Africa colonialism was expected to last at least as long until Africans absorbed the lessons of pax britanica and learnt to govern themselves. The 1920s was a time of unbridled and unapologetic racism. Accra, the ramshackle capital of the colonized Gold Coast was recently segregated along racial lines. The goal was political but the official reason was medical. The policy was justified as a necessary measure to save European lives from African diseases by keeping the two races apart, especially at night. It was generally believed by European medical specialists that Africans were immune to the effects of malaria but that their blood was full of the parasites. The evening was when mosquitoes fed on human blood and transported their contaminated cargo across racial lines to infect Europeans.

On January 28, 1927, the Prince of Wales College and School, Achimota was formally opened. The campus upon which the school stood was segregated. No Africans could stay there overnight without official sanction. It took the personal intervention of the Governor to obtain permission for Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, nominated for assistant headmaster, to spend a night under the same roof as Rev. Alexander G. Fraser, the headmaster.

African culture was regarded by many Europeans as backward and retrogressive and the African middle class bought into this perception. In 1918, Kobina Sekyi a Cape Coast author and social critic wrote a play called the Blinkards. It was a devastating satire on the nascent African middle class of the 19th century. Their social ambition was to strip away all identification with their cultural roots and to present themselves as English gentry. It was a cartoonish portrait of delusion and deliberate self-deception. The play warned of the consequences when a society loses its moral compass.

Against the background of these perceptions, the three principal founders had every reason to be proud of their achievement. For one thing, in the tight colonial world they inhabited, they had been accorded the rare honour of a royal visit. The heir to the throne, Edward, the Prince of Wales was himself present to bestow his name on the institution. The three men, Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, a brigadier in the British Army and Governor of the Gold Coast (1919-1927),   Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, a native of the Gold Coast, born in Anomabu and educated as a cleric in America, and the Reverend Alexander G. Fraser, a Scotsman and professional educationist were loyal to the crown. They belonged to the liberal and progressive wings of European politics and fervently believed that the key to African emancipation was education. The institution they created was designed to justify their hopes and ambitions. They saw the visit as the ultimate endorsement of their enlightened beliefs. They gave birth to a school, and let loose ideas that would lead in three short decades to the end of British rule in the Gold Coast.

The school was created to challenge the existing racial conventions and to instill pride in the nations’s putative leaders. Its motto, designed by Dr. Aggrey and displayed boldly on a heraldic shield, was composed of black and white piano keys. Its message declared that all races are equal and as necessary for civilized harmony as the black and white keys on the piano. At a time when aristocratic and middle-class women in Britain were barred from parliament and other bastions of authority and privilege, the school admitted children of both sexes and educated them together and equally. In 1924, when African culture was regarded by many Europeans as backward and retrogressive, a Department of Anthropology was established on the campus. It was headed by R.S. Rattray, a noted anthropologist. He was given the responsibility and the means to research Asante culture and to make his conclusions available to the government for policy guidance. Rattray employed his students as research assistants and undertook field research in the towns and villages around Achimota and beyond. These communities contained demobilized former soldiers from all over the country. The results were published and used to teach local history. The exercise demonstrated the lie that Africans lacked a history.


Race Equality and the Black Experience in 2017 – the current debate

Ade-house of commons

Was at the House of Commons yesterday to take part in this debate.  this is my presentation.

Inequality remains a problem in the United Kingdom, especially for black people.

There is a still a penalty for being black, there is a penalty in stop and search, in health, in education, in the criminal justice system and in dealing with people with learning difficulties, there is an ethnic pay penalty and a penalty in doing business.


The government needs to tackle inequality!  This country will not be a better place when inequality is still glaring, and our younger people are not getting the jobs that they are ordinarily qualified for even when they go on to higher education.  Without true equality, the country will be unstable in a way that will affect community integration and social cohesion.


A more equal society will put the country back in better balance and will promote the equity that breeds more prosperity and the environment that engenders prosperity and the contribution to the wealth creation effort and more fairness in the distribution of wealth in this first world country.


We have certainly come a long way from those days of open discrimination, but there is still urgent work to be done by black people to keep up with the protest and campaign against racial discrimination.


We need to push for positive action now that our proportion of the population is growing.  It is no longer less than the 1% that it was in the 1970s when we pushed for the Race Relations Act 1976 to be passed.

Over the past 40 years, a lot of work has been done but we cannot afford to be complacent now that there are over 2 million black people and in some local area almost 50% of residents.


The black population is expected to reach over 10% of the working population in the next 10 years and yet black people continue to be discriminated against in workforce.  This is the time when the government must lead the way in implementing targets for the recruitment and progression of black people in their employment.  The question that needs asking is why were those targets that were promised in the Home Office stopped?  Were those targets dropped after an evaluation or was race no longer the flavour of the month. My answer is that let us bring the targets back; the targets may look symbolic but they may yet prove effective for the benefit of the black population, because other departments and other establishments may just follow that desirable example!!

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