THE TRADITIONAL CONSTITUTION OF THE GA-DANGME
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. 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.”
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.”
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. 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 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.”
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.
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. 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. 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, …
Increasingly, destoolments and other dysfunctions within the centres of traditional government have become the bane of traditional politics. 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.”
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.