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 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 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, 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.” A number of earlier works authored by European were also consulted; these include Jean Barbot’s Barbot on Guinea and William Bosman’s A New and Fuller Description of the Coast of Guinea.
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. 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 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. 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.” 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.” Barbot further stated that the gold traded in Accra was about 22 carats in quality. 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.” 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.”
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.”
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”; 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.”
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 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. 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) and Brazilian (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.” 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. However, a close reading of Reindorf also suggests that the Gold Coast was part of the Western division of the kingdom of Benin. 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”. 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”.
Konotey-Ahulu has touched on the alleged migration of the Gá-Dangme from Eastern Nigeria; 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. 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.
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. 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. 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; 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. Bruce-Myers also maintains that the Ga had been in contact with ancient civilisations in the centre of the African continent.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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; that each of the coastal Gá towns is an independent republic; denies the existence of a Gá state; and asserts that Gá military institutions were copied wholly from the Akwamu. 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.” 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 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 (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, 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”. 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. 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. 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. One Oto Brafo or Oto the Executioner, among the Denkyera settlers, introduced the Twi innovation of the fetish stool into both Otublohum and Jamestown.
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 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, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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)  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.
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. 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. 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.” 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.”
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. 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”; Dangme is also regarded as the “mother dialect” of the Gá. 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.” 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. According to oral traditions, the first Dangme also intermarried with the Guans, then ruled by their Ataalas.
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 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. 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.
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. Kropp Dakubu is of the view that Sameh was located in Dahomey, probably on what is now a piece of land opposite Porto Novo. From thence, according to the accounts of Azu 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. 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.
After crossing the Volta and separating from the Gá the Dangme first settled at Biam and Bia-kpo in Ada. 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. Originally the ruling house was in Adibiiawe and the first king was Boi. 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. 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. Other accounts hold that the original krobo were joined by the Susui or Domelu who were Ewe from Adome and Bonya or Bose people. 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”. There is general agreement that the ancestors of the modern Dangme settled for a while in a place called Same. 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; 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. 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. Maize was the major produce of this district, the inhabitants being mainly engaged in sowing and cultivating the land.
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. For instance, statements by both Knoll and Curkeet 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.” 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.
The founding of Anecho by Gá-Dangme settlers led by royals from Kinka is well documented; 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. 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, H.W Debrunner, and J. Duncan. 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.” In war, the tactics of Anecho’s highly disciplined forces included the deployment of elephants to create panic among the enemy. 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.”
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.”
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.
With the abolition of slavery the economy of Anecho relied increasingly on the palm oil trade and plantation agriculture.
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; 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. 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. Herodotus has shown that large numbers of people from Ancient Egypt settled in Ethiopia. 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. 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. 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. Contrary to the assertions of Quaye, 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. 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.
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 and who married with various negroid peoples both in upper Egypt and Abyssinia as well as on their migratory journeys. 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.
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. 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; 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. In the case of Borketey Larweh, Reindorf recorded an actual parting of the waters. 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; 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; 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.
The Homowo festival, called Black Christmas by some,??? 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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”.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.