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The people & culture of Bui Gorge areapdf print preview print preview
01/09/2007Page 1 of 1
 
CULTURAL NEWS -
Features
Thursday, August 30, 2007 – Saturday, September 1, 2007
  

The people & culture of Bui Gorge area

  

By:  DANIEL KONDOR

At long last the sod has been cut for work on the much talked about Bui Hydro-electric Dam to commence. From now on all roads will lead to Bui on the west bank of the Black Volta, in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. The gorge, which is named after Bui village, is the south-western boundary between the North and Brong Ahafo regions, moving towards La Côte d’Ivoire. The Bui Gorge catchment area is sparely populated with diverse ethnic groups with identical cultures and a shared history.

First-time visitors will come face to face with a culture entirely different from their own in terms of language and local customs. This article attempts to give a historical and cultural background of the societies in this area. The scope of the article is restricted to communities within close proximity of the gorge whose people are the same as those within the larger technical catchment area.

To get to the Bui Dam site from Accra or Kumasi one has to drive to Wenchi through Techiman or Sunyani. From Wenchi one drives westward on the Sampa road through Nsawkaw, the Tain District capital, to Menji where the road branches right and northward to Gbao near Banda and thence to the gorge after Bungase. Another route is to move further north from Wenchi through Bamboi to Banda Nkwanta in the Northern Region where the road branches south-west to Jama village, about four miles from the gorge and dam site.

The first settlement camp for the dam workers was located on this side of the gorge in 1963 when the Armenia Academy (Technical Division) of the then Soviet Union started work on the Bui project after exploratory work earlier in 1925 by Snow Mountains Engineering of Tennessee, USA. The camp was later moved to its present site, a mile north of Bui village.

THE PEOPLE OF THE AREA
 

Bui is a small community of about 300 people. Its name is definitely “bigger” than the village of some 35 houses. The name derives from the Kuangho phrase boo-yi – they are coming, possibly alerting a group to an imminent danger of marauding invaders or known enemies. The people of Bui are not native Kulanghos but Nafaana within the Banda Traditional Area of the newly created Tain District. One imagine a high Kulangho influence in parts of the catchment area as it is close to Kulangho communities in Côte d’Ivoire where the people can be described as a large and sociologically powerful group. They stretch from the southern fringes of Bouna in the north-east to Tanda through Bondoukou in the south. Koulangho is of Voltaique language familyand it is classified among the Lobi group. (Louis Tauxier (1921), Le Noir de Bondoukou. In Ghana prominent Kulangho towns include Badu and Seikwa in the Tain District.

The people of the Bui Gorge area comprise the Ligbi (popularly known as Banda-four); the Nafaana, Ntorre Awutu, Degha (Djamo or Mo), Bono, Gonja, Ewe (Tongu) and to a lesser degree Kulangho. There are Dagaba settler communities in the catchments area but because they are not permanently settled there it is not important for the purposes of this article to include them. The groups listed can be found in communities which they identify as their own within the Bole and Tain districts in the Northern and Brong Ahafo regions respectively. The approach for this discussion is to look at each group in the context of its geographical location.

BANDA PEOPLE
 

Banda is located northwest of Wenchi and it is home to the Nafaana, Ligbi, Ntorre and Awutu of Dompofie. Banda is not too far from Hani site of historical Begho, a city whose flourishing trade contributed to its invasion by Mandingo warriors in the 14th Century. With the exception of Banda which is synonymous with the Ligbi as a nomenclature, very little is known about the remaining groups. It may be a surprise to many that there is a group of Awutu people in this area apart from the larger and well known one in the Central Region.

It is also instructive to know that many of Ghana’s Guans once peopled the entire catchment area until the invasion of Begho and the subsequent founding of the Gonga Kingdom by Somalia Ndewura Jakpa in the 15th Century. In fact the Gonga movement started from this area. No wonder we have place names like Di-Nkanachena (feed and stay put) corrupted to Dokochina, Boope, Bagiape and Wasipe which relocated to Daboya, now in Central Gonga which are Guan or specifically Gonja. The Mandingo warriors must have conscripted many of these Guan people to fight on their behalf as they moved eastward to expand and exert their control. Apart from Dokochina, all these communities are no longer in existence. Boope was the last to move out in the mid-1970’s as a result the creation of Bui National Pak in 1970 or thereabouts. The people of Dokochina should have vacated the park long ago but owing to luck of funds to resettle them they had all this while ‘fed and stayed put’ as the name of the village enjoined them to.

All the people of Banda are under a common paramountcy. The stool rotates between Banda Ahenkro (Samrakuu) and Kabrono. All the towns of the various ethnic groups are quite mixed up in terms of settlement patterns. Ligbi towns may be located in between Nafaana communities while the Ntorrre share the town of Brohani with the Nafaana. Also known as Numu, the Ntorre are predominantly found in the Ivorian border town of Soko and other small communities in Ghana’s western neighbouring country. Cross-cultural marriages do not exist between the Ntorre and Nafaana but they are not enemies. The two, however, intermarry with all the other groups in the entire catchment area. Ligbi towns in Banda include Kankan and Saase as well as Menji and Namasa. Known as Huĕla by many French anthropologists, the Ligbi, who call themselves Doghona, have Sorobango, north of Bondoukou as one their principal towns. Apparently, all these groups including the Nafaana originally came from Côte d’Ivoire.

The Ligbi and Ntorre are linguistically alike but they are not the same. Both belong to the Mande-Tan sub-group of the larger Mandinka comprising the Bambara, Dyula and Mandingo, who are scattered throughout the northern parts of West Africa, starting from La Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali through to The Gambia. The Ligbi and Ntorre are Muslims; they practice the patrilineal inheritance system. They are both exogamous except that among the Ligbi there is rather a tendency for marrying patrilineal cousins.

The Nafaana are comparatively more than the rest of the groups in the Banda area. They speak Nafaana, a language of the Senoufo group. It bears linguistic affinity with Tagbana, a language predominantly spoken in the Korogho and Siguĕla areas of northern Côte from Kakala in Côte d’Ivoire to Fuula/Fugalla (Banda); a fact collaborated by Nafaana oral traditions. The Nafaana stretch across Bui south and south-westward through Duadaso (Gbarakasu) through Brodi and Sampa in North Jaman District.

It is interesting to note that this non-Akan group practices the matrilineal inheritance system. From the accounts of Tauxier, these people, like their linguistic kinspeople, originally practiced patrilineal system. What could have accounted for this socio-structural transition?

The most plausible explanation is an influence of their contact with Akans, first the Bono and later the Asante who penetrated the area to plunder its gold. The two later became allies, with the Banda, including the latter joining the Asante army to fight some of their wars and even achieving very high offices. Since then, a strong bond has been established between Asante and Banda.

The Nafaana and Awutu are generally African traditional religious adherents and Christians, with few of them as Muslims by conversion. of course, later generations became Muslims at birth. When it comes to names, these two groups have Akan names as well as indigenous names.

While one finds Akan names such as Dory, Wired, Fore, Poke, etc among the Nafaana, there are like Sié (first born mal child), Obaan, Bilé, Perh, Lamena, Sah, Woeli, Sorsah, Senyunoh, etc. which are peculiar to them. All these are males. Female names include Séli, Blétey, Enyunoh, Yéli, etc.

There are also names derived from deities such as Kupo, an Nchoriba deity; Tain, the name of a river which circles the entire Tain and parts of North Jamah Districts. The Ewe in the area who are originally from North and South Tongu have their communities along the river banks at Akanyakrom near Bui and at Agbadziekope, right on crossing over to the Northern Region side of the dam site. Agbolekame is five miles from Jama village.

Ewe language and customs do not need any elaboration here except that the people have been in the area for well over 60 years now have intermarried with local Nafaana, Mo and Gonja women.

DEGHA, EWE AND GONJA
 

The Northern Region side of the Black Volta is predominantly inhabited by the Degha (Mo or Ndjomo as their Gonja neighbours call them), the Gonja and to a lesser extent, the Safalba of Mandari. The Degha (pl.) are found at Jama, Teselima and Banda Nkwanta within the immediate environs of the catchment area. They speak Degh, a language close to Vagli and with five per cent borrowing from Gonja and few from Twi.

In fact this writer’s researches in the area indicate that these people might, after all, be remnants of Vagla who migrated southward and over time found the language slightly altered structurally with the primary vocabulary remaining the same as the original Vagli. (Konder 1998), Illusions of Difference over time and space. A study of the Vagla and Degha, unpublished. However, a kind of Guan influence has created a situation where many of the Degha were originally Gonja, but due to the inheritance system most of these people have become the former rather than the latter.

The Degha are one of the three groups in Ghana that practice the double unilineal descent system where movable property are inherited on the matrilineal side while offices are acceded to on patrilineal basis. The system creates room for greater choices among the Degha who easily move from side to the other at will.

Gonjas are among the Guans of this country and occupy a vast area. Bole, the district capital of the district that bears the same name, occupies one of the five royal skins that ascend to the Yagbon skin on a rational basis. The Gonja or Ngbanya speak Ngbanyito, a language that has high affinity with other Guan languages, notably Béré in Côte d’Ivoire, Awutu, Chumburu and Nawuri. Béré is not a dialect of Gonja as some linguists claim.

Something that binds all the people within the catchment area is privileged familiarity generally known as playmates. All the groups discussed here take liberties with one another without the party at receiving end taking offence. It exists between Nafaana and Gonja; Gonja and Banda; Mo and Gonja; Mo and Vagla; Banda and Kassena. It even extends beyond the people of the catchment area.

Banda Nkwanta village is a microcosm of all the groups discussed. It has all of them as natives. Being a predominantly Muslim community with an ancient mosque of arabesque architecture, there is a closer relationship with the people of Bungase who are also Muslims than there is with any of the other societies. Ligbi is widely spoken here with Degh, Nafaana, and Gonja as other languages. There has also been a heavy Vagla presence in this community as well as in Jama and Teselima in very recent times. The chief of Banda Nkwanta is a Gonja as is the usual practice. There is a long story to that which time and space do not allow for discussion here. Young men who accompanied the first Gonja chief to Banda Nkwanta in the early 1900s had to look for wives from Bungase and Banda Nkwanta. Marriage among all the groups except the Ewe and this is not at all complex or expensive.

OCCUPATION AND FOODS
 

The people of Bui Gorge catchment area are peasant farmers and cultivate mainly yam, cassava, guinea corn, groundnuts and bottle gourds (Lagenoria Siceraria or L.Vugaris) for their seeds, commonly known as akatowa in Akan. They usually sell their produce at the Techiman Market. They also cultivate calabash plants and generally keep livestock in communal kraals with common herdsmen who is paid through individuals contributions. Today, there are not many cattle in the area, especially at Jama village where there is not a single cow or goat.

Yam fufu and abetie (Akan), cassava dough steamed in maize porridge locally called kode and koo in Guan and Degh/Vagli respectively eaten with soups, ranging from plain sauce through wet and dried vegetables are the main foods relished in the area. Men eat the evening meals as members of a household in front of the house of the eldest of the group. This means that all wives bring their husbands’ foods to a common table where everybody, including young, mature, unmarried men eat together.

Fish and game used to be in abundance until the establishment of the Bui National Park and the enforcement of wildlife protection laws. Until then the people got their fish from seasonal communal fishing, using pulverized plant leaves which they cultivated to daze the fishes. They also did group hunting on individual community basis for game during the dry season.

These group activities had for a long time kept the societies together. Things have changed over the past three decades. Monetization of the economies of these peasant communities brought in its wake individualism, which is splitting apart the cherished extended family system.

In spite of these changes fostered by ‘modernization’ of the communities, the people are still very hospitable and open to strangers. What social changes will the construction of the Bui Hydro-electric Dam bring along with it?  These will be the focus of a future discussion.

 
*Source:     

               Daily Graphic -     Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 – Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007          Page: 30 &10

 
 
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