Dagaaba people

Dagaaba

Dagaaba / Dagara

 

The Dagaaba people (singular Dagao, and, in northern dialects, Dagara for both plural and singular) are an ethnic group located north of the convergence of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. They speak the Dagaare language, a Gur language made up of the related Northern Dagaare dialects, Southern Dagaare dialects and a number of sub dialects. In northern dialects, both the language and the people are referred to as Dagara. They are related to the Birifor people and the Dagaare Diola. The language is collectively known as Dagaare (also spelled and/or pronounced as Dagare, Dagari, Dagarti, Dagaran or Dagao), and historically some non-natives have taken this as the name of the people. One historian, describing the former usage of "Dagarti" to refer to this community by colonials, writes: "The name 'Dagarti' appears to have been coined by the first Europeans to visit the region, from the vernacular root dagaa. Correctly 'Dagari' is the name of the language, 'Dagaaba' or 'Dagara' that of the people, and 'Dagaw' or 'Dagawie' that of the land."

Clusters of Dagaaba

The terms "LoDagaa" and "Lobi-Dagarti" (or Dagara) are used for a cluster of peoples situated across the frontier of Burkina Faso and Ghana, originally grouped together by Labouret, following the usage of Delafosse and other francophones. In this cluster, Labouret included the "true Lobi" (or those the Birifor call the "LoWilisi") around Gaoua, who (according to Westermann and Bryan 1952) speak a Dogon-type language (the inclusion of Dogon is disputed); the Birifor (or LoBirifor) to their east, who speak Dagara, a Mole-Dagbane language; and four smaller groups: the Teguessié, the Dorossié, the Dian, and the Gan. The Teguessié (or Tégué) speak a language of the Kulango Group and are sometimes thought of as the autochthons; they were Masters of the Earth in much of the area. The other small groups speak languages related to Lobiri, as do the Padoro and possibly the Komono; Dian and Lobiri (in the east) are more closely related, as is the western group.

Subsequently, Père (1988) adopted the francophone use of Lobi ("la région Lobi") to cover the peoples of the Gaoua District of Burkina Faso, including not only the Jãa (Dian); the Gaàn (Gan); the Teésé (Teguessié); the Dòcsè (or Dorossié, but also the Kùlãgo [Kulango]); the Dagara (divided into Dagara Lobr and Dagara Wiili [Oulé]); and the Pwa (formerly known as the Pugula or Pougouli), who speak a Grusi language. Indeed, because she is dealing with the region, she also includes the Wala and the Dagara-Jula in her account.

The problems of ethnic classification in this area are several. In the first place, names differ, depending on whether they are used by francophones or by anglophones. The Lobi described by Rattray (1932) include the Birifor as well as the Dagara of Labouret. Second, the names have changed over time. People who were known as "Lobi" in the Lawra District of Ghana at the beginning of the nineteenth century are now "Dagara." Third, the names themselves often do not describe distinct ethnic groups. There are many differences in custom and organization between neighboring settlements, and these settlements may be referred to by the two quasi-directional terms, "Lo" (Lobi, west) and "Dagaa" (east), to distinguish different practices (for example, the use of xylophones). A settlement may identify with its eastern neighbors on one occasion (as Dagaa) and with its western ones (as Lo) on another. This actor usage has led Goody to identify a spectrum of peoples, the LoDagaa, who use these names for reference to themselves and others. They are, from west to east, the true Lobi, the Birifor or LoBirifor, the LoPiel (around Nandom) and the LoSaala (around Lawra), the Dagara (around Dano), the LoWiili (around Birifu), both DagaaWiili (around Tugu), and the Dagaba or Dagarti. The Wala speak the Dagaba language and constitute a small state that has its origins eastward in Dagomba. That state established itself as ruler over the southern Dagaba and some Grusi-speaking peoples. In the west, a branch of the ruling dynasty extended across the Black Volta to Buna, where they adapted the local Kulango language. The LoPiel and the LoSaala are known to francophones as "Dagara" (or Dagara-Lobr), and they now generally use this term rather than "Lobi" for self-reference because they have been forced to classify themselves unambiguously for administrative purposes. That change is widespread because "Dagara" is often a more prestigious term than "Lobi." The latter is associated in many people's minds with the large lip plugs of gourd or metal that are worn in the west (the easterners wear thin metal plugs) and with the stress that the westerners place on matrilineal inheritance, about which modernizers (church, schools, law, some administrators) generally feel hostile and ambivalent.

 

Dagaaba Creation Story/Myth

The Dagaaba creation story can be found in Bagre performance that demonstrates the spiritual importance of the environment to Dagaaba. According to Dannabang Kuwabong "Bagre informs us that humans were created from a combination of the soil (earth), okra (plants), God’s saliva (water), and the semen and eggs of flies and cats (animals). Seen this way, the human person is a configuration of the land, the animal, the spirit, and the plant and we owe our lives to a preservation of the balance between us and these first beings. In other words, animals, plants, spirits, and the land must constantly be negotiated with as they have a closer affinity with the divine who oversees everything. That explains why Dagaaba see spirituality in every creation and situation."

 

Language

The Dagaaba speaks the Dagaare language (also spelled Dagare, Dagari, Dagarti, Dagaran or, Dagao), which belongs to the Oti-Volta group of the Gur branch of the Niger-Congo language family (Swadesh 1966, Bendor-Samuel1971:144, Naden 1989).

Dagaare is a two-toned language also referred to as Mabia subgroup of the branch of the Niger-Congo language of West Africa. (Bodomo 1997, Bodomo 2000, Anttila and Bodomo 2001). It is spoken by about 2 million people, mainly in Ghana but also in neighbouring regions of West Africa, like Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Phonologically speaking, Dagaare and other Mabia languages, including Moore, Dagbane, Frafra, Kusaal, Mampruli and Buli, are marked by a preponderance of consonants and a scarcity of vowel sounds when compared to Indo-European languages, such as English and French (Bodomo, forthcoming).

 

History

The Dagaaba have occupied their present homeland for some three hundred years. H Labouret, in his study of migration in this area, suggests that the Dagaaba moved north, from south of Wa, in about 1680; G Tuurey (1982) holds that the Dagaaba were originally a group which split away from the Dagomba. See also Herbert (1976). Bodomo suggests that the Dagaaba, Mossi, Dagomba, Kusasi, Farefare, Mamprusi and others are directly descended from a common ancestor ethnolinguistic group, the Mabia.

In his article "Customary Law of the Dagara” of Northern Ghana: Indigenous Rules or a Social Construction," published in 2002 edition of Journal of Dagaare Studies, Vol 2, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor quoting other sources posited that "The dominant thesis has it that the Dagara are a rebel group that migrated away from the autocratic rule of Dagbon, under the legendary Na Nyanse (see Tuurey, 1982; Lentz, 1997).

The Lobi-Dagarti peoples are without any overarching tribal organization or, strictly speaking, any territory. They move not as large units, but as family groups, sometimes into other ethnic areas, where they may be absorbed into the local population. Most of the groups to the west of the Black Volta claim to have been formerly settled to the east of the river, in what is now Ghana. From the eighteenth century on, they have moved across the river. There appear to have been Lobi as well as Dagaba in the Wa area when the ruling dynasty arrived; the Jãa were certainly settled in the Lawra area until, attracted by a sparsely populated region with plenty of farmland and forest produce and under pressure from other LoDagaa, mainly from the south and southwest (but even from west of the river), they crossed the Black Volta. A minority of clans trace their origins from other regions.

One of the factors leading to the movement has been the search for more and better land, following earlier hunting expeditions. Another factor has been the raids mounted by the states of the region (as well as by the occasional freebooters and adventurers) in their search for slaves, partly for their own use but mainly to supply the Asante and, through them, the Europeans in the south. The invaders on horseback terrified the inhabitants, who sometimes retaliated with poisoned arrows. Mainly, however, they fled, using the larger rivers. A number of characteristics—their dispersed settlements of fortress-type houses, the women's lip plugs, their rejection of cloth, and their general aggressiveness—have been attributed to the effects of such raids. In the late twentieth century houses are smaller, the manner of dress is more "European," and less hostility is displayed.

The establishment of the international boundary has brought about a decline in east-west migration. The main movement of the Lobi in the late twentieth century has been of two kinds. The first has been from the Lawra District to the vacant lands southward on the road to Kumasi, which many men have traveled in the dry season as migrant laborers. Settlements that produce food for sale in the markets have grown up from Wa south to the northwest of Asante. The second movement, beginning in 1917, has been eastward across the Black Volta from the francophone territories to Ghana, where there were fewer calls by the government on labor services. Many Birifor moved into the sparsely populated lands of western Gonja, which had been decimated as a result of Samori's wars at the end of the nineteenth century. These migrants have proved to be much more aggressive, market-oriented farmers than their hosts, with whom there has been some conflict over taxes and representation.

 

Settlement

Settlements in the area consist of named units that are usually centered on a specific parish or ritual area of an Earth shrine. Among the Dagaaba, most houses are made of mud and/or cement with either thatched, laterite or aluminum roofs. These settlements are inhabited by members of several exogamous lineages housed in fortress-type compounds with 2.5meter-high walls, a flat roofs, and entrances reached (at least formerly) by wooden ladders to the roofs. These houses are some 100 meters apart and contain an average of 15 persons, but they vary in size, depending on the state of the developmental cycle of the domestic group. Around the walls lies the compound farm, which is fertilized by human detritus and is used by the women to plant their soup vegetables. It is adjoined by home farms; bush farms lie much farther away. The settlements consist of some 250 to 750 inhabitants.
Each of these compounds is inhabited by, among others, an elementary family, consisting of a man, his wife or wives and children. Such a family is established through marriage.

 

Subsistence and Commercial Activities

The economy is essentially one of the hoe farming of cereals (sorghum, pennisetum [pearl millet], maize), together with some yams, especially in the southern areas that are occupied by migrants. In addition, people grow squashes, peppers, beans (including Bambara beans), groundnuts, and a little rice. Some of this produce is sold in the local markets, especially sorghum in the form of beer. Most compounds also possess a herd of cows, and some sheep, goats, guinea fowl, and chickens, which are mainly killed as sacrifices to be distributed.

 

Industrial Arts and Trade

Lobi women produce a certain amount of gold, which finds its way into the hands of Dyula traders. Associated with earlier gold workings, it has been suggested, are the ruins of stone houses. Since the advent of colonial rule, the relative peace that it brought about and the cheaper iron tools that it provided have led to increased production, evidence of which can be seen in the markets. That increase is also true for livestock. Along with wage labor (performed either locally or as migrants), these developments have increased purchasing power. Whereas little was imported earlier except salt, now large amounts of cloth are brought in, and other manufactured objects, such as matches, bicycles, transistor radios, and household utensils, are used in considerable quantities. Local craft production consists of iron implements, brass bangles and other ornaments, musical instruments, some wood carvings, and woven mats.

Today migration—both of the uneducated, seeking work as laborers, and of the educated, who generally work in the towns—is frequent. The age of migrants is now much lower than formerly, and the duration of their absences is much greater. The result is that larger numbers of houses are inhabited by old men, women, and children who have to carry out the agricultural work without the help they would have received from the migrants. Thus, the sexual division of labor has been altered. The south, however, is beginning to lose some of its attraction as the international economy affects the recruitment of labor, potential recruits are frightened by tales of AIDS

The LoDagaa (including the Lobi) were not themselves traders (except in the state of Wa), but major north-south trade routes of Dyula and Hausa merchants ran through the area from the forest to the Sahel.

 

Food

Some of the differences that exist between the Dagaare-speaking communities are somehow subtle and not easily noticeable by the on-looker. For example, although the staple dish among the Dagaaba is saabo or Sao (called "to" in many other African languages), the constitution/texture of this millet, sorghum or maize-based meal may vary from one community to the other. In addition, the soup that is eaten with the saabo may be prepared in a slightly different manner in spite of the fact that virtually the same ingredients may be used in each case. Meat is not considered an important food, except in special meals for instance at funerals. Apart from these occasions, only guinea fowl are slaughtered for regular consumption.
Similarly, pito, a mildly alcoholic beverage made of sorghum, is common in all the communities of Dagawie. However, the taste and level of alcohol of this beverage may vary from community to community and from one pito-house (where pito is brewed for sale) to the other within the same community.

 

Division of Labor

Farming was mostly done by men, but women helped with the planting and the harvesting. In some places, women would organize men to farm for a friend by brewing plenty of beer. Women cultivated soup vegetables, collected forest produce, carried loads, gathered firewood, fetched water, extracted oil, and prepared food and beer.

Grinding grain, in particular, was a lengthy process. Their workload is now changing as a consequence of the introduction of wells and mills. Men carried out the heavy agricultural work, looked after livestock, and hunted. Both sexes took part in house building during the dry season.

 

Land Tenure

Dagaaba traditional ethics of property ownership is that no individual can really own land. Land ownership is communitarian, custodial, and spiritual. The power to use land is invested in the Tengdaana (spiritual guardian of the land). The Tengdaana guards the land on behalf of the people, and mediates among the people, the ancestors, the spirit world, and God. He is the High Priest responsible for leading the people in prayer in times of great need, thanksgiving, purification rituals of the land, and other spiritual matters. His position cannot be morally and spiritually challenged, even though he may lack the political authority or the power of legal coercion to carry out his orders and interpretations of the divine will that underpin Dagaaba ‘lesereng’ and ‘Nabaale Yele’ legal culture and customary practice (Yelpaala 1983:367-372, Yelpaala 1992:454-459). Nonetheless, the Tendaana is the only person who can, and who does, sacrifice to the Earth Goddess. The Tendaana’s role ensures that among Dagaaba land ownership is egalitarian, collective, communitarian, and usufructory (Nsiah- Gyabaah 1994). By extension, he oversees the security and sustainability of land use among the people. Accordingly and ideally, no individual traditionally has the moral or political right or power to completely invalidate another person’s entitlement to land use, or to destroy the land’s sustainability through bad land use practices. For this reason, the highest office of Dagaaba is that of the Tengdaana,
and not that of the king.

At certain times, land tenure took the form of a hierarchy of rights distributed within the lineage. At one level, land was "owned" by the wider patrilineage, and if any land was not being farmed, other members had a claim to use it. Use rights were exclusive and more important where land was scarce or especially valuable (because of water). Where population density was low, it sufficed to approach the local Master of the Earth, who would perform a simple sacrifice.

 

Kinship: Kin Groups and Descent

Across the LoDagaa cluster, roughly from east to west, there is an increasing emphasis on the role of matrilineal descent groups. In the east, the Dagaba are organized on the basis of patrilineal descent groups alone. Several of these exogamous units exist in each parish. These lineages, which trace patrilineal relationships between their members, belong to wider named clans, segments of which are found in widely dispersed settlements, even those of different "ethnic" groups, roughly tracing out lines of migration. Groups to the west also have matrilineal clans, and all except the Wiili (and formerly even some of the LoWiili) inherit land and immovables agnatically and inherit movables (wealth, cattle) through the uterine line. Hence, the patricians are locally based, but the matriclans are dispersed. These groups are therefore variants of classic double-descent systems.
Patrilineal clans are numerous, each with its own prohibitions, often against the killing of a totemic animal or the eating of foods in a particular way. The clans are paired in joking relationships, and their ritual foci are lineage shrines. Among the Lobi and, to some extent, the Birifor, although patrilineal clanship is concealed, it is significant in landownership and in some ritual affairs, especially in the Dyoro initiations. The matriclans, right across the cluster, are basically four in number—Some, Da, Hienbe, and Kambire. The first two and the last two are paired in joking relationships, which are particularly important at funerals. These dispersed matriclans have particular loci where sacrifices are occasionally performed.

 

Kinship Terminology

In a double-descent system, one can refer to any kin either in the patrilineal or in the matrilineal mode. The patrilineal mode is Omaha, whereas the matrilineal one is Crow. The dominance of these different modes depends upon the strength of the relevant groups. Kinship terms can be confusing to the casual observer of the Dagaaba. The terms “brothers” and “sisters” do not only refer to people one shares parents with but also to all cousins. There is no Dagaare equivalent of the term “cousin”. Similarly, wives of males of the same descent may refer to each other’s children as “daughters” or “sons”. There is no such word as “step-child” although children generally know who their real mothers are and women may sometimes treat step-children differently from the way they treat their own children.

Another confusing term is n pog, my wife, used by both males and females, in reference to a brother’s wife. There is usually a joking relationship between people and their brothers’ wives. A woman pretends to be a man when cracking jokes with the brother’s wife, hence the use of “my wife” or n pog, which she may also used in everyday language outside the joking context. N pog may also be used by a grandfather in reference to a granddaughter and n seere (my husband) used by a grandmother in reference to a grandson. Grandchildren and grandparents usually have a joking relationship that facilitates a special type of bonding, making it easier for the old ones to impart their knowledge and wisdom on the little ones. The above joking relationships are different from what exists between all Dagaaba and one of their neighboring groups - the Frafra - which is referred to as loloroung. The Frafra are lolorobo or joking partners of the Dagaaba and this has nothing to do with the denie or play that exists between kinsmen as exemplified above.

 

Marriage

Incest taboo is observed in all the Dagaare-speaking communities of West Africa. In some cases, the slightest indication of a blood relationship, no matter how distant, is enough reason for a prospective couple not to be allowed to proceed with their marriage plans. In other cases, matrilateral cross-cousin marriages are permissible and encouraged. Among the LoWiili, a woman’s first-born girl is encouraged to marry (and sometimes, as an infant, betrothed to) her maternal uncle’s son (i.e. marriage between the children of a sister and a brother). This is supposed to strengthen the relationship between a woman’s patrikin and her husband’s kin, who are now her kin due to the marriage. Such matrilateral cross cousin marriages may also involve a woman’s sons and girls from the woman’s patrikin. These kinds of marriages give parents the peace of mind (knowing who their children are getting married to) and also help establish satisfactory relations between the in-laws.

In the eastern groups, marriage is strictly virilocal and is effected by the transfer of bride-wealth in cowries and subsequently in cattle. The transfers take place over time, as the marriage is consolidated with the birth of children. Traditionally, the groom also had to bring parties to farm for his inlaws from time to time, although among the educated this practice tends to get commuted into a monetary payment. Each marriage invokes the construction of a new sleeping room and cooking hearth. Among the Birifor and the Lobi, when a fiancé comes to farm, he may eventually be allowed to spend the night with his future wife and, later, to have her visit his own house in return for further work. She did not usually reside permanently in her husband's house until after the birth of their first child. Until death or divorce, she lives away from the main body of her agnatic kin. Due to the general lack of transportation, the need to keep in touch with one’s patrikin, attending every funeral, visiting the sick, etc., girls are encouraged not to marry to men from villages that are not a walking distance (seven miles or less may be considered as the preferred distance) away from their agnatic home. Similarly, since in-laws are expected to attend each other’s relatives’ funeral ceremonies, parents are particular about how far away their sons go to seek marriage partners. In fact, all the kinsmen of a young man of marriage age keep their eyes open for the suitable would-be bride and may make suggestions to the young man as to who is available and ready for marriage in the near by villages.

In some cases, the selection of a wife and all marriage arrangements are made without the in-put of the groom. The groom is supposed to take their word for it, when his kinsmen bring home a lady and say, “this is the best woman for you”. According to the Dagaaba elders, an ideal bride is one that is hard-working, physically fit and strong enough to be a pog kura (female farmer, capable of all performing such activities as sowing, carrying large loads of firewood, giving birth to as many boys as possible, etc.), and comes from a family with good health and conduct.

Another type of arrangement for first marriages is elopement, which occurs at the age of puberty. The girl is persuaded to leave with her admirer to his home or she may be seized by his kinsmen/colleagues at a dance, market place, or while sleeping at night and forcibly brought to her would-be husband’s home. Although elopement is usually done with the girl’s consent, she is expected to resist and scream the loudest possible
to show that she is up-right, morally, and not a bitch. Similarly, although some of the girl’s relatives may have been aware of the plan to elope, they may express anger publicly. The resistance to elopement marks the beginning of a period of intensive interaction between the girl’s filial and conjugal ties, within which the necessary steps are taken to finalize the courtship and marriage process.

Other marriages may have less dramatic beginnings. After a young man declares his interest in a girl, his kinsmen accompany him to present his proposal formerly to the kinsmen of the girl. During this period of courtship, the kinsmen of the young man are expected to shower gifts in the form of pito, cola-nuts and money on their in-laws each time they make a trip to the girl’s village. When both parties are satisfied with
the way issues have handled during the courtship period, a day is fixed for the bride wealth (kyeru) to be brought to the girl’s family. After the transfer of bride wealth has taken place, the girl (who carries with her a number of accessories including calabashes, bowl/basins and baskets) is accompanied by her kinsmen to her husband’s home. This is known as pog bielle.

Although all marriages among the Dagaaba involve courtship (pog bo) and the transfer of bride wealth/kyeru, the details of what goes on during courtship and what constitutes the bride wealth vary from one community to the other. For example, Goody (1967), reported that among the LoWiili, the bride wealth is not accepted on the first day it is presented. It is only on the third occasion that the bride wealth is finally accepted as being the accurate amount required. This is not the case among other communities like the Sapaare and the Jiribale. However, as to what constitutes a bride wealth, these two communities tend to differ. For example, the amount of bride wealth required for a wife from Sapaare will be insufficient to obtain a wife from a Jiribale community.

 

Bridewealth

In general, bride wealth among the Dagaaba usually involves some amount of cowries, cash, and livestock. The proportions of these various items may vary but will almost always involve a number of cowries. The cowries and/or cash portion is referred to as the pog libie. Among the LoWiili, the bride wealth consists of a cock and guinea-fowl to the in-laws, and the pog libie, a sum of approximately 20,000 cowries, usually, the same amount that was paid for the girl’s mother. Various rituals accompany the counting and transfer of bride wealth by the groom’s family to the bride’s agnatic home. Once the patrikin of the bride receive the bride wealth, they also perform a number of rituals during the counting, distribution and storing of it. In general, the bride wealth received for a daughter is used to get a wife for a son. Whereas paying the bride wealth of a young man’s first wife is the obligation of his family elders, if he wishes to become polygamous, he will generally be solely responsible for paying the bride wealth of these subsequent wives.

The various rituals performed during the counting and transfer by the groom’s relatives as well as those (the rituals) that go on during the counting and acceptance of the bride wealth, are tied to the fertility and fidelity of the bride. If some of the rituals are not well done, the woman could have difficulty bearing children during the marriage. It is also believed that once those rituals have been performed and the bride wealth accepted, then any infidelity on the part of the woman could result in her death if she does not confess immediately and go through purification rites/rituals.

 

Birth

When it is noticed that a woman is pregnant the husband’s father consults a soothsayer (baga) to know who should be asked to “throw water“ at her. She is then called out of her hut and the appropriate person “throws water“; from then on she and others may mention the pregnancy.

She gives birth in the chaani  or kyaaraa (inner room) of her husband’s house, attended by old women and birth attendants.

A child may be named at 7 days old; in the case of a child who cries a lot the soothsayer may tell the compound head that an ancestor wishes to be the child’s segeraa; a segeraa must have died with white hair. People may then say that ancestor has “come back home“.

Boys are circumcised at a hospital or by traditional experts at the age of 1 or 2 weeks. Female genital mutilation was formerly practised between the ages of 5 and 10 years but was discontinued in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Domestic Unit

The domestic unit is generally built on agnatic ties, given that wives join their husbands at marriage, but among the Lobi and Birifor, men do extensive bride-service, and some young children may grow up with their mother's brothers before their mother leaves for her husband's house. In most cases, the farming group is small. A man and his sons may farm together for a longer period among the groups in which patricians dominate. The dwelling group that occupies a compound may consist of several farming groups, and each farming group may be divided into smaller eating groups.

 

Inheritance

Among the Dagaba and the Will, a man's property passes first to his full brothers, if they are farming together, and then to his sons. Among the LoPiel, the LoSaala, the Birifor, and the Lobi, land passes in the paternal line, whereas movable property is transmitted first to uterine siblings and then to sisters' sons, leading to earlier splits in the domestic groups and to tensions between a man and his mother's brothers. A woman's property generally goes to her daughters if it is sex-linked, but livestock may go to her sons.

A man’s brother or other close relative may marry or care for his widow, look after his children, and inherit his gods and voodoo toys.

 

Socialization

Young children are looked after by their mothers and are breast-fed until they can walk and talk, when they "become humans" and are thus entitled to a proper burial (see "Death and Afterlife"). Later on, they are cared for by elder sisters or relatives, who involve them in their play. Boys go off in groups to herd cattle, whereas girls play more domestic games around the compound, helping their mothers from time to time by fetching water or grinding and pounding cereals. Among the Lobi, girls also look after cattle, although boys and girls pass this responsibility to their juniors when they are initiated into the Dyoro society.

 

Political Organization

Except for the Wala and the Gan, as well as the Kaleo the peoples of this group lacked chieftainship and central political organization until the coming of colonial rule. Inferring from Yelpaala’s (1992) article, the political organization of the Dagaaba was, until the imposition of colonialism, decentralized in its general structure.

From the outside, it might have appeared amorphous and not easily susceptible to analysis, for its organization and institutions were not defined in terms of the total territorial unit but in terms of sub-territorial areas teni (villages) referred to by Goody as parishes, and by Fortes in his study of the Tallensi as settlements. The political organization of each teng (village) exhibited a certain degree of centralization of authority with a very limited vertical structure. The central authority was cross-hauled from the elders (ninbere) of different kin-based groups within the territorial area. This body was the basic institution dealing with most issues of general community interest. All elders with the exception of the custodians of the land (tendaana) in certain cases, were theoretically co-equals in all deliberations. However, in matters that related to the teng and the land deity (tengan), the tendaana was the final authority. Thus depending on the issues involved, the central authority was either circular with its functions based on consultation and consensus, or unidirectional, from the tendaana downwards to the rest of society.

In every village (teng), this basic structure more or less replicated itself. Each teng however, enjoyed an independent autonomous existence from the others. Therefore, the society was at the same time centralized at the unit level and decentralized at the total societal level. Centralization within the small units provided the useful check on the abuses or excesses in the use of centralized political power. On very important and broader cultural or extraterritorial issues involving non-Dagaaba, such as warfare or resistance against slave raiding, these centralized institutions would coordinate, cooperate or deliberate as a larger central unit. However, these higher level organizations did not appear to involve the total territorial area of the Dagaaba. Yet, taking any territorial unit as a starting point, that unit was linked separately to all other contiguous units by a chain of common culture, common descent, and political or legal cooperation. Each of these other units was also separately and similarly linked to yet other contiguous territorial units until the chain of interlocking linkages involve the entire Dagawie. Depending on the issues at stake, contiguity, consanguinity, historical ties and the level of sophistication in the native art of diplomacy, cooperation or integration between different territorial units was great or small in amplitude. The basic philosophy which guided the interaction of all central authorities at the larger unit level was equality. All component units functioned as co-equals, for the Dagaaba say that doo bii pog ba gangna o to (i.e., no man or woman is superior to their peer). This then, has been and continues to be the basis of egalitarian thought among the Dagaaba, what is called the traditional level. Within the national political structure, Dagaaba political thought, like all other traditional systems, is relegated to an inferior status.

 

Social Control and Conflicts

The main causes of conflict were rights to women and access to forest products. Within the parish, conflicts of this kind were rare because of kin ties and respect for the Earth shrine. Strong sanctions existed against adultery, theft, and other delicts, which were settled within and between local lineages. More recently, local chiefs and headmen have exercised supervision on behalf of the government, and local courts of law have been established.
Crime and punishment are just as much issues of politics as they of religion. Until recently, theft was a rare occurrence among the Dagaaba. It was taken as a very repulsive and anti-social act condemned by all, including the spirits and the ancestors who could be invoked whenever necessary to punish a thief severely. Theft is so much looked down upon that it is not uncommon to hear a person trying to prove her/his integrity, say that (s)he does not steal or rob - N ba zuuro, n ba faara. In a society where houses have virtually no door panels nor to locks, there is understandably a general need for trust and social cohesion.

In Dagaare, the term iibo signifies the general normative value system covering established and accepted norms, principles, practices, procedures which govern life in general and disputing in particular. It is when a specific conduct is in conflict with the Dagaaba iibo that one may be characterized as deviant. In light of this concept of iibo, therefore, the Dagaaba may be viewed as a unified group, vis-á-vis other non-Dagaaba, including their neighbors.

 

Religious Belief

Dagaaba have strong believe in Naangmen (older spelling Naamwin), supreme God and creator og the Universe. He is good and omnipotent but has no shrines, so there is no means of communication with him. Mwin means “sun“, and Naamwin is sometimes identified with sun, sky, or rain. Goody, in The myth of the Bagre, maintains that God’s practical alienation from his universe is thought of by the Dagaaba as a function of the problem of evil. “If he were to continue in his primordial role“, says Goody, “our problems would not exist. With his aid, disease, evil, and misfortune could be banished“.

In addition, Dagaaba strongly believe and reverence the ‘Mother Earth’ (Tengbane). Tengbane or Mother Earth is the second most powerful deity after the supreme God, Naangmen. Therefore the Dagao sees the Earth or physical environment as sacred and divine; that they are born from the earth, live on and through it, will be buried in it; and that they will join the ancestors who, though invisible, are nonetheless located in the environment with other spiritual beings. This is well articulated in Bagre narrative, and shows that as our Mother, we owe our life to Earth. It is from her breast that the milk of sustenance is drawn, whether it is water, food, soil, wood, or herbal medicine, and it is to her womb that we shall return in death. Likewise, Kukure (1985:55) sees Earth as the ‘controlling agency in life, the source of fertility, of prosperity, [and] of survival [. . . .] Moreover the [Earth must give an account of all that takes place on [her] surface. [She] reports to God the actions of the living, not only of humans, but also of beasts. Hence, the person who is on good terms with the [Earth] (and ancestors) is also on good terms with God.’ This belief system has generated a conceptual frame in which the Dagaaba do not relate to their environment through an ideology of domination, but rather through responsive negotiation.

In relation to the Tengbane, Dagaaba also have the Sagbane (Father Sky). But unlike the Tengbane who is responsible for many things that make human life what it is, Sagbane is responsible for rain, sunshine, and moonlight, and the unseen energies of stars, thunder and lightning. Even though Sagbane is the Father, he is secondary in importance to Tengbane during invocatory prayers of Dagaaba. Tengbane comes second to Naangmen. It is also on account of Sagbane’s secondary position that His priest, the Saadaana, does not feature very much in Dagaaba daily existence, and the office is not found in every settlement. It is to Tengbane that daily libations are poured. Tengbane is Goddess, and the Mother of Bagre; she must not be polluted. When Tengbane is polluted, efforts are initiated to perform the appropriate and necessary sacrifices for the restoration of the broken balance between the self, the community, Tengbane, the spirit world, and finally with Nangmen. Because Tengbane covers the earth’s surface, it becomes the universal altar upon which humans, represented by Dagaaba, gather to pray for rain, cure to epidemics, victory in wars, good harvests, or the settlement of a new village. It is to Tengbane that immigrants are taken for induction into the clan. It is for these reasons and others too many to enumerate here that the High Priest of Tengbane, the Tengdaana, holds the highest socio-spiritual and moral authority in any Dagaaba village. Each settlement of, say, 300 to 1,000 people has an “earth-shrine” (tengbane) and an earth-priest (tengdaana) which is usually situated in a grove in a central part of the settlement. Sacrifices are performed by an earth-priest and his assistants, also by patriclan representatives. In addition, anyone may make sacrifices to the Earth simply by building a small mound by the path leading to the shrine.

Certain prohibitions are linked with the earth-shrine; for instance large sacrifices  must be made if people shed one another’s blood, or if someone commits suicide. It is also a serious offence to have sex out-of-doorsThe complex cosmological relationship Dagaaba have with Tengbane is reflected in the mediatory role played by the Tengdaana and Tengbane between the people and Naangmen. It must be stressed here that Dagaaba have as many Tengbama (plural for Tengbane) and Tengdaamba (plural for Tengdaana) as there are settlements. This does not in anyway indicate any conflictual relationships with the Tengbane. The various Tengbama represent settlement patterns, and must be seen as parishes of the same Goddess. Each Tengdaana then becomes a parish priest, performing the same functions, with local variation, to an omnipresent and omniscient Tengbane
Lesser spiritual powers include ngmimi or weni. Saa ngmin is the rain god (saa means rain); Bo wen is the Bagre god who looks after the granary and farming.

The Dagaaba  spiritual realm is also inhabited by spirits, both ancestral and pre-human. For instance, the Kongtongbilii, what Goody (1972) translates as ‘beings of the wild’, exist within both the spiritual and environmental consciousness of Dagaaba. There are also the various deities who have been delegated territorial authority by Nangmen in the universe. It is Kongtongbilii and these other spiritual beings and deities who help humans to make spiritual journeys back to Nangmen and His wife in the sky to consort with them about the meaning of life and death. In order to make that journey, Dagaaba first invoke Tengbane, then the ancestors, and other lesser spirits. Together, they help them clarify their vision for the journey.

Medicine shrines (tiib), made for instance of dried sticks, may be placed at a house entrance. They are acquired as a remedy for sickness or some other problem.

Ancestor shrines are sticks carved roughly in human shape, and every deceased man who left a son to succeed him is commemorated in this way. They are kept in the cattle byre, which is thus the most sacred room in the house. Their jurisdiction extends to lineage kin, and in some ways also to matrilineal descendants; all important events are reported to them. When a woman dies her shrine is carried back by her clan sisters to her birth-place.
The ancestors are invoked with animal sacrifice at the beginning and end of the farming season and when any calamity threatens the community.
The soothsayer (baga) is appointed at birth and initiated when he is old enough to take up the duties.

Christianity
Dagaabaland, especially in northern Ghana is the Vatican of Ghana. Despite the fact that over 55% of Dagaaba are traditional African religion practitioners, the remaining population are unrepentant Roman Catholics.

Since the 1930s, mass conversions to Catholicism have taken place, beginning among the LoPiel population around Dissin. The pioneer missionaries, Frs Remigius McCoy and Arthur Paquet (both White Fathers from Canada) and Brother Basilid Koot (from Holland) began work at Jirapa in 1929. The treatment they gave for yaws and other prevalent diseases created immediate interest. Within ten months there were two catechumens, and despite some persecution the number grew quickly.

Then in 1932 the rains failed. April to July, usually the heart of the rainy season, were dry. The ancestors were repeatedly invoked, and countless sacrifices were offered to the traditional gods, but to no avail. At last, on 24 July, the people of Jirapa turned to the little Catholic mission, promising generous payment if the God of the Catholic Fathers could succeed where their own priests had failed. In A short history of the Catholic Church in Ghana, Helene Pfann describes what happened:

"Father McCoy told them that God wanted no presents. He only wanted them to believe that he loved them and would help them. He took them into the church and all prayed together. The following night, on July 25th, clouds gathered in the sky over Jirapa and, for the first time in months, rain fell in torrents. The people were so happy that they ran out of their houses and sang and danced with joy, letting the rain soak them through.

The next morning a crowd of Dagaaba, all demanding to become Christians, besieged the Mission House . . That rainy season 25,000 Dagaaba became adherents. No similar mass conversion had ever before taken place in Africa.

A four-year catechumenate was established, and the Fathers started on the daunting task of teaching this vast new community. Following the speedy growth of the work at Jirapa new parishes were opened at Kaleo (1932), Nandom (1933), and at Ko and Daffiama (1952). In 1959 the Dagaaba area was created a diocese, with the seat of the bishop in Wa. There are now 16 parishes, nearly all Dagaare-speaking, but hardly in Wa East and Wa West Districts.

 As the numbers grew, three orders of sisters and two orders of brothers sent missionaries.

The first Dagao priest was ordained in 1951; by 1959 there were six, and in 1984 there were in the Wa diocese no less than 53 African priests, 98 sisters, and 17 brothers, compared with only 8 missionary priests, 17 sisters, and 23 brothers. Fr McCoy, aged 89 when this book was published in 1986, continued to work actively at Jirapa and becane a legend in his lifetime. He died Worship and church life  tends to be based on large church buildings in the main towns, to which people come from the surrounding villages. For instance Ko, a small town some 10 km off the Nandom road, has a church 75 metres long (said to be longer than the longest church in Accra), with seating for 2,000. Even on weekdays the early morning mass is attended by over 100, and the church is comfortably full on Sundays.

The 14 Dagaare-speaking parishes probably have a total adult membership exceeding 40,000, which is over 15 per cent of the local population. A further 10 per cent would call themselves Catholics, though not full members.

Whatever questions one may have about the depth of individual commitment to Christ, there is no doubt that 50 years of Catholic activity and a very large investment of money and personnel have made a big impact on the Dagaaba way of life. Already in the mid-60s the anthropologist Jack Goody found Catholic influence had significantly reduced interest in the Bagre initiation ceremonies in the area south of Lawra. Polygamy may not have been eliminated even among Catholics, but it has been greatly reduced. Early on there was a battle for the right to treat Sunday as a day of rest.
Why have the Dagaaba moved into the Catholic church in such numbers? Clearly a similar investment of personnel and money in other areas has yielded much smaller results.

Cardinal Archbishhop Peter Dery, himself one of the early Dagaaba converts, explains why his people so readily became Christians:
They are good farmers . . . Their moral code was very high and was strictly observed. Their sense of hospitality and generosity was superb. They never practised human sacrifices, and they feared God’s curse on those who did so. In short, they are a people of natural goodness with deep respect for their elders and parents, and a profound sense of worship which they consider a duty towards the ancestors and the  “Naabilengmen”, the “god of the child of man”. These qualities and many more made a good soil, a people already prepared to accept the Good News “en masse”.

A missionary priest made the following points in addition: 1) it was easy to translate traditional sacrifice into the sacrifice of the mass, and prayer to ancestors into veneration of saints; 2) it was easy to translate the strict morality of the Dagaaba into the ten commandments; 3) the Dagaaba are not a proud, dominant tribe but a humble and hard-working one –- we preach good news to the poor, and the under-dog tends to respond more quickly; 4) the first missionaries, with their medical and educational work, lived very close to the people.

Other churches: Adams Bodomo has said that Dagao is one of the most heavily Catholic parts of the world outside of Rome. Until he left the area for college he was unaware that any other expressions of Christianity existed!
Indeed it was not till 1954 that another church, the Baptist Mid-Missions, started work in Wa and two years later in Lawra. By 1986 there was a growing church of 85 members and four times as many regular attenders. Though the Baptists had only half a dozen churches among the Dagaaba they seriously took up the challenge of literacy and Bible translation work.
 The Methodists, who came to Wa about the same time as the Baptists, had a pastor at Lawra by 1986 and two other congregations in the Dagaaba area with a total membership of about 50.

Religious Practitioners. Practically every adult is an officiant at some shrine or another, but the main figure is the Master of the Earth (tengdaana). Some individuals develop special reputations as diviners (baga). All are involved in sacrifices to the ancestors, to the beings of the wild, and to medicine shrines.

Another powerful religious leader according to Bagre secret society functions, is the damdamwule among Dagaaba.  The damdamwule`s sole life depends on rain-fed agricultural practices,is in its ability to know when the rains are due and to share this knowledge with humans to let them know that Sieong is here. The damdamwule also acts as an agricultural extension officer, telling the people through its song, when to sow what and when to stop sowing. Those who refuse to recognize its pedagogy of nature through its music sow in vain (Goody 1972: ll. 4611-40).

The weather-wise damdamwule is helped by the n birime (featherless fowl). He or she wakes up the people at dawn, during Sieong, to go to their farms. It performs this role by beating its wings early in the morning. The belibaar knows when Kpangkyaanee is near and returns ‘from the rain side / and flies / where the sun sets’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4651-53) to warn people to begin preparing their barns for harvest, and the Bagre. It is thus through the migratory movements of this bird that the elders are able to announce the Bagre and to place ritual prohibitions on the initiates.

 

Ceremonies

Annual ceremonies are performed at household shrines, especially at the end of the farming season. It is toward this time that, among the central groups, neighbors dance in the marketplace to celebrate the flowering of the guinea corn. Not long afterward, lineages perform special sacrifices to clan deities, a time when they also poison their arrows. Traditionally, success in the hunt also elicited special ritual performances, as did killing someone in war, whether friend or enemy.

Birth and marriage were accompanied by little ceremonial. Death and burial, on the other hand, were occasions; the funeral ceremonies, which resulted in redistribution of the property of the dead (including sexual rights) and the creation of an ancestor shrine (if there were offspring), lasted for many months and brought mourners from far and wide.

The major ceremonial sequences, however, were those associated with secret societies: the Bagre in the east and the Dyoro in the west. The Bagre is performed by lineages when they have sufficient neophytes (and enough grain) to carry out a performance, with the participation of their neighbors as officiants. During the course of the long sequence of rites, the neophytes are placed under a series of taboos, from which they are gradually released. The rites are accompanied by an extensive recitation concerning the creation of culture. The Dyoro ceremony involves a visit by patrilineages to special centers, where the ancestors lived before reaching the banks of the Black Volta and where the principal rites of initiation take place. Indeed, the ritual reenacts the long-ago migration of the patrician and so preserves a little of its history. In the ceremony, which takes place every seven years, the initiates are killed off and revived.

Bagre Rite of Passage Initiation:  Bagre provides voluntary entry into Dagaaba initiation rites of passage. As a medium in which a free association of neophytes that are called by the spirit can and are willing to journey in and with the spirit, Bagre is divided into two complementary denominations: Bag-Degre (Dirty Bagre) and Bag-Kaang (Oily Bagre), and only one of each type is located in a particular parish. The initiates of the Bag-Degre are usually painted with white stripes of ashes to show their states of impurity, while initiates of the Bag-Kaang are anointed with Shea butter. There are several reasons why a person may become an initiate, or be seized by the Bagre Ngmen. Some answer the call for health reasons, others for prosperity, others to get a wife or husband, children, or to become a teacher in the association. Thus, there are spiritual, social, political, psychological and emotional reasons for a person to become an initiate.

Through Bagre, we are sensitized to Dagaaba views of their environment. The natural environment for Dagaaba, as embedded in Bagre narrative and observances, is a spiritual realm inhabited by spirits, both ancestral and pre-human. For instance, the Kongtongbilii, what Goody (1972) translates as ‘beings of the wild’, exist within both the spiritual and environmental consciousness of Dagaaba. There are also the various deities who have been delegated territorial authority by Nangmen in the universe. It is Kongtongbilii and these other spiritual beings and deities who help humans to make spiritual journeys back to Nangmen and His wife in the sky to consort with them about the meaning of life and death. In order to make that journey, Dagaaba first invoke Tengbane, then the ancestors, and other lesser spirits. Together, they help them clarify their vision for the journey.

According to Bagre narrative Tengbane is Mother of Bagre, Sagbane is considered as Father of Bagre. How the two interact to ensure harmony in the environment is dramatized in Bagre narrative. First, the Father of Bagre sends rain from the sky, which falls and impregnates the Mother of Bagre, Earth. A tree is born and becomes the highway to Nangmen’s residence. But in order for humans to reach Nangmen’s residence to hold palaver, they need the help of other creatures. So with the help of Badare (Spider), they climb the tree to Nangmen’s house.

Badare’s importance as a culture hero in Dagaaba environmental and salvation thought is suggested here.
Human fragility in the interventionist role of animals animals, insects, plants, and invisible spirits is stressed. As Bagre performance elucidates, humanity is precariously peripheral to the centre of God’s creation as the absence of human residents in God’s house is startlingly unnerving. Worse still for humans, God’s palace is populated by insects, plants, and animals: the dog, the lion, the hippo, the elephant, the duiker, the tomcat, the fly, the spider, and the leopard, to mention a few. This shows the gulf between humans and their creator. Consequently, humans need to construct a sensitive and meaningful relationship with the nonhuman beings of the environment.

In Bagre narrative, Nangmen and his wife dramatize the acts of procreation to the human male elder animal characters. Later on, when Nangmen and his wife give the man a wife, together with a child, and they return to Earth, the man still does not know how babies are made. The first earth woman, sent by Nangmen to earth learns the act of sexual intercourse from the boa constructors. Her learning is both observational and participatory, and she later teaches her husband the mystery of the act of procreation (Goody 1972: ll.1951-2219). Similarly, the importance of animals in human survival is reenacted in Bagre through the story of the buffalo woman and the hunter.

Subsequently, Dagaaba Bagre initiation schooling, hunters are taught to kill for food, to kill mostly the male and old female animals, and to leave the young and their mothers alone. Unfortunately, the cash nexus economy that has been imposed on Dagaaba during the colonial period has since confused all that environmental way of living. However, colonialism has not completely eroded Dagaaba environmental thought and pedagogy, thanks to submerged Dagaaba environmental consciousness exemplified in their deep-seated beliefs in the presence of the ancestors and other spiritual entities in their environment. This ensures that they do not willfully degrade their environment, less they loose contact with the spirit world, and subsequently, lose the protection and mode of sustenance that the environment still gives to them (Somé 1998: 54-55).

In order to show how important the above relationship is, it is necessary to consider the role of the ancestral spirits in the environment as narrated in Bagre. The ancestral spirits work in alliance with or against the Kontongbilii, the first nonhuman creatures in the environment to come to the aid of humans. They teach Dagaaba everything about survival: how to grow food, hunt, make weapons, cook, make beer, and even start Bagre itself. Kontongbilii, together with the ancestral spirits teach the Dagaaba about their environment through dreams and visions. For instance, they teach traditional healers about the importance of certain plants as sources of medicine. Hence, Dagaaba perceive plants as living beings with spirits of their own. Plants also provide humans with food, fuel, and medicine. Subsequently, to disrespect and maltreat plants can be dangerous, because plants do strike back with diseases. For instance, a person who indiscriminately destroys woodlots can be sick from what is called ‘tree bite.’ Animals, the Bagre narrative tells us, teach about the medicinal and toxic values of plants from animals (ll.2320-2469). It is from plants that we get poisons such as strophanthus for poison for arrowheads, and to treat guinea worm infection. From the same plants we get medicine to stop birth blood, and facilitate childbirth.

As indicated earlier, Bagre performance coincides in most cases with Kpangkyaanee (autumn), and Uonii (Dry Season). With less work on the farms, and with plenty of food, people are in a festive mood. Bagre performance also is timed with moontide so that inter-clan and intra-clan socialization is facilitated. Consequently, Bagre calendars begin with the beginning of harvest, even though new harvests are forbidden to the initiates until they graduate. The most important crop’s first fruit is the shea, which becomes mature in June. In determining when Bagre season can be announced, the elders resort to the legend of the fruitbat. In this legend, the fruitbat, and other animals and birds as Bagre elders help humans in their spiritual journey

At this stage, initiates begin their education on the roles played by the various animals in Bagre, and thus in human survival. The large fruitbat knows when the first shea fruits are mature. By observing its behavior, the elders are able to know the exact time to announce the season without breaking any spiritual taboos. In this case, material science is of no significance since machines can only approximate time, which would still not be accurate taking into consideration the variables of uncertainties in nature. But the fruit-bat’s eating habits give the people a time precision in which to act. The fruit-bat ‘will know the time / to fetch the fruit / in the night’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4591-93), eats the fruit, leaves the seed for the elders to see, and then they will initiate their preparations for the Bagre.

The role of the damdamwule among Dagaaba, whose sole life depends on rain-fed agricultural practices, is in its ability to know when the rains are due and to share this knowledge with humans to let them know that Sieong is here. The damdamwule also acts as an agricultural extension officer, telling the people through its song, when to sow what and when to stop sowing. Those who refuse to recognize its pedagogy of nature through its music sow in vain (Goody 1972: ll. 4611-40). The weather-wise damdamwule is helped by the n birime (featherless fowl). He or she wakes up the people at dawn, during Sieong, to go to their farms. It performs this role by beating its wings early in the morning. The belibaar knows when Kpangkyaanee is near and returns ‘from the rain side / and flies / where the sun sets’ (Goody 1972: ll. 4651-53) to warn people to begin preparing their barns for harvest, and the Bagre. It is thus through the migratory movements of this bird that the elders are able to announce the Bagre and to place ritual prohibitions on the initiates.

The kyaalipio wakes up women at dawn during Bagre period to go and fetch the water used in brewing the beer for the Bagre ceremony (Goody 1972: ll. 4670-88) before it is muddied by wild boars. Wild boars are also considered spirit beings associated with Bagre. Bagre is a purgatorial journey to a rebirth and hence it has prohibitions that include sexual abstinence for the neophytes, the eating of certain foods, and general leisure. The male crown-bird calls the Bagre members to get up from their slumber and feed the children at midnight, so that from then on they can begin a fast (Goody 1972: ll. 4689-4713). Then there is the old male guinea fowl who tells of the flowering of beans. This way, the elders are able to announce the arrival of Bagre. In a way, the old guinea cock’s discovery of bean flowers in his farm, cross checks the accuracy of timing of Bagre with the large fruit bat’s discovery of shea fruits. Other birds also function in the service of Bagre Mother, Tengbane, and Bagre Father, Sagbane.

In addition to the way in which feathered creatures are treated in the Bagre ceremony, other animals play important roles. Some of these animals are spirit animals and are thus prohibited to Bagre. They include the duo (wild boar), the sienee (porcupine), the sasere (grass-cutter), and mokpaangoo (bush guinea-fowl).

There are no reasons given in the narrative why these are prohibited, but we do not need to search far for the reason. These are totemic animals, and it is not allowed for one to kill a clan totem animal under any circumstance. In contrast to the prohibited animals, there are certain animals that are regarded as fit offering to the Bagre deity. They include, korenga (partridge), soangaa (rabbit/hare), kyie (squirrel), walaa (antelope). Reasons for selecting these as acceptable to the Bagre are uncertain.

It is clear from what I have said above that plants, animals, insects, and spirit beings play a very significant role in the Bagre performance. These roles help to form the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and cultural characters of Dagaaba youth. They also initiate the construction of a positive environmental consciousness among them. For instance, unless the ceremony of the shea butter is performed, any attempt at beginning the Bagre performance will be fraught with danger (Goody 1972: ll.780-960). Consequently, the shea tree and its fruits, and the role the fruit bat plays, cannot be considered purely from a materialist economic perspective, and cultural backwardness. Yes, the shea tree has a lot of economic importance to the Dagaaba. But its ritual importance is what has ensured its survival in the face of worsening environmental degradation. It is also important to recognize the spiritual links between the people, the bat, and the tree. Without this recognition the tree will be destroyed when its economic importance is no longer very relevant, and its role as protector of the soil will be terminated.

In addition, the fruitbat’s ambiguous location as a winged mammal, and as one who sees in the night, gives testimony to its importance in discovering the first fruits of the shea tree. It is carnivorous and herbivorous, and hangs upside down unlike other winged creatures. Thus, it breaks all the boundaries associated with animals and birds. For this reason, it is the eldest among the non-human elders of the Bagre. The fruit bat throws the seed of the shea fruit into the farms of humans. This enables the elders to see and begin the process of announcing the Bagre. The fruit bat’s action also helps disperse the seeds of the tree, and by that action it helps to expand the natural vegetation. Thus, the events carried by the fruit bat, and all the other animals, insects, and birds move humans toward a revelatory recognition of their total dependence on these other creatures. This dependence by humans on non-human subjects is what is then re-enacted in the Bagre performance toward securing human happiness, health, wealth, piety, and social mobility by Dagaaba in their otherwise harsh environment (Goody 1972: ll.922-29).

 

Dagaare Music

While the music on this recording is the expression of a distinct ethnolinguistic group, the Dagaaba, nevertheless, have had long historical, social, cultural and linguistic ties with other peoples of the northern parts of Ghana, such as the Sisaala, the Waala, the Dagomba, the Frafra, the Kasena, the Builsa, the Kusaasi and the Mamprusi. Thus, the musical cultures of the region share certain features. For instance, the main instrument of the northwestern part of the country is the xylophone, which may be supported by a drum or a drum ensemble, and the scales are largely of the hemitonic and anhemitonic pentatonic types, that is, five note scales that include half-steps and those that do not.

Music-making among the Dagaaba, like other peoples of the region, is an intrinsic part of social life. Certain types of music and repertories of song may be associated with particular occasions, cults, cooperative work groups and organized labour, age groups, and rites of passage. For instance, praisesongs (danno ng) are performed regularly as a tribute to the chief while other types of music are exclusive to the rituals and ceremonies of the royal court, such as an investiture, an assembly in the court or audience chamber, or a funeral. Particular types of music are identified with the religious cult called Bagre which holds an annual festival; or with traditional associations, such as the kp 3ta a , which comprises reciprocal help groups for young farmers. The "anle e " social dance is reserved for females; the fe roo is a dance performed by the youth; while the "se3gaana a" is danced mainly by the elderly There are warrior songs (zoore yi e le), as well as songs for farming, grinding, pounding, floor-beating, plastering, hunting (waaron g yi e le) and herding.

There are special songs for initiation ceremonies, funerals (kobie), ritual sacrifice, weddings, and public naming ceremonies that occur seven days after the birth of a child (referred to as ‘outdooring’). On some occasions, certain types of music may be prohibited, for instance, the ba wa a is not performed when a member of the community is seriously ill or when someone has died. Music may also occur as the spontaneous expression of individual community members, such as the music for the solo bamboo flute (wu le e ), the harp (p 3na a or koriduo in Nandom), or the lullaby (bi-ya gleyi e le).
Finally, music is used to welcome and honour important guests and visitors.

Group dancing is intrinsic to ritual and ceremony and is an important marker of social competence. In order, then, for an individual to participate in a ritual he or she must be able to dance. Group dancing is also an important way of maintaining community solidarity. As a Dagaare song says: ‘If one’s child does not know how to dance, it does not belong to the community’.

The bawaa is a call to young people to make dance and music together, indeed the term "bawaa " literally means, "young people, come together" (Kobina Saighoe:1984). The bawaa dance then, is a favourite pastime among the Dagaaba youth. It often occurs simply as a spontaneous expression of young members of the community when an opportunity arises. Mostly, however, the bawaa dance is incorporated into various celebrations, including: rites of passage marking birth, puberty, marriage and death, or to honour an individual.

The bawaa dancers also make up the chorus which comprises both young males and females, including children. One of the dancers, normally a male with the most skill or experience as a dancer or instrumentalist, takes the role of lead singer called the ba wa -ngmaara or the bawa-kye3r3 (‘the cutter’). The dancers are accompanied by two xylophonists, one plays a ‘male’ instrument (gyil-daa) and the other plays a ‘female’ instrument (gyil-nyanngaa), and a drummer who plays a single-headed drum (ganggaa).

The leader of the dance-chorus decides when one song ends and when a new one begins. The chorus, called bawa-sagereba (or sagra: singular ‘one who agrees’), responds to the calls from the leader. The dancers wear metal leg jingles (kyeem e), beaded girdles (l ebie ), metal finger cymbals (pe ra a pl. perre ) and sometimes metal wrist jingles. Uniforms are sometimes worn by the dancers but this may not be so in other cases.

The call to dance normally begins with the clapping of finger cymbals. The two xylophone players, who sit opposite each other with the drummer next to them, begin while the crowd gathers around the dance area. The dancers then enter the area and form a circle around the musicians, dancing in either an anticlockwise or clockwise direction.

The main part of the dance consists of an alternation between two sections. The first section is called the See`o during which they perform a song in call and response fashion. This is followed by a more intense section called a` emmo` (‘to put in’). During this section, the dance becomes more intense as the dancers synchronize their steps with heavy syncopated accents and displays of skill. In Accra, a practice has developed whereby individuals or pairs exit the circle for competitive displays of skill. The whole dance ceremony often has a ‘director’ called the bawaa-naa who does not participate in the dance event itself, but who oversees the entire performance. This cycle is repeated any number of times for each song, until such times as the leader signals a new song and the cycle begins again.

When the dancers show signs of tiring one of the xylophone players gives a signal to end the dance. In the village setting the dancers simply stop, while in Accra a more formal arrangement exists whereby the dancers exit the circle in a single line. Generally, a performance lasts between twenty and thirty minutes.

 

Kobine Dance

Kobine is a traditional dance and festival unique to the Lawra area of north western Ghana. The dance and the festival named after it are celebrated in September and October to mark the end of a successful harvest Festival.

The festival of Kobine lasts four days, with the first day usually reserved for visiting family and friends. The second and third days are the official holidays. A procession of the family heads is accompanied by groups of younger people dressed to represent hunters and elephants.

A number of speeches are made by dignitaries and other guests of honour before the Kobine dance competition begins.

The Kobine music is produced from kuor, a drum instrument with a base made from a gourd, and dalar, a smaller drum made from the neck of a clay pot.
The men usually dress in beautifully decorated skirts, but are usually bare-chested to demonstrate their masculinity as well as their flexibility while they dance. Other ornaments such as headgear and caps are worn. The women dress similarly to the men, except they generally will wear a blouse. Both men and women wear a ring of bells around the ankles to accentuate their rhythmic moves when they dance.

The dance itself consists of quick rhythmic moves especially with the trunk or upper body. At the peak moves period of the dance, the women will generally cut in and dance in front of their favorite male dancer.

 

Death and Afterlife

There is a general belief in life after death, and funeral ceremonies are the means by which the actual passage of a human being from the Land of the Living (tengzu) to the Land of Dead (dapaarewie) is effected. The dead travel across the river of death with the aid of a ferryman; during the trip, those who have led evil lives may be punished for their misdeeds. In the course of the series of funeral ceremonies, a dead man also becomes an ancestor, with a shrine that will thereafter receive regular offerings of food and drink from his descendants, especially from those who have inherited from him.
Additionally, ancestor reverence and respect for the belief in the ability of the ancestors to protect, guide, and offer showers of blessing to the living, may be considered as the most important aspects of the relationship between the living and their supernatural agents. The ancestors are never dead. They merely continue to live in the other world of spirits and serve as media between their relatives and the spirits and gods.

Funeral:   Death, particularly of infants, was frequent. Those who have not yet been weaned are not mourned in the usual way, except by their mothers, because they are deemed to be wandering spirits, rather than humans. Precautions are taken against their return to this earth.

For all others, however, the funeral rites are long and complex, and they involve the participation of many people. All funeral rituals among the Dagaaba involve musicians, mourners and the assembled villagers and guests from neighboring villages. The music group usually consists of xylophonists, drummers and singers. The singers improvise, recreate and reproduce through their songs the history of the family up to the death that resulted in the separation. The theme of the songs is a combination of the deeds and sorrows of the family. The best singer is one who can stir the maximum level of grief in the chief-mourners (kotuodeme, the closest relatives of the diseased) by his choice of words. The effect of the words of the singers is echoed and amplified by the tunes of the xylophones and the sounds of the drums, moving the community to grieve freely.

Wailing, screaming, groaning, running, jumping, dancing and singing are all acceptable ways of expressing grief. Shedding of tears is highly recommended and admired. The kotuodeme are expected to shed a lot of tears and behave in a way that stirs sympathizers to share the grief to the fullest by shedding as many tears as possible.

The dead person, dressed in ceremonial outfit, is seated on a high wooden stool called paala, and surrounded by her/his valuable possessions. The stool is constructed from a special kind of tree. The singers, drummers and xylophonists are usually not far from the corpse and the entire funeral area is marked by turmoil and turbulence, as people act out their grief while others try to control themselves in order to calm down some of the kotuodeme from time to time. The kotuodeme are tagged with ropes (much like leashes) for identification purposes and for easy control by people who may want to calm them down by holding on to the rope. The more contributions and ropes one sent to other kotuodeme in the past, the more ropes and contributions one is likely to receive when one becomes a kotuosobo (singular for kotuodeme).

Reciprocity is the guiding principle here. Although many people are likely to stop by at a funeral before continuing their daily business, the more funerals the deceased and kotuodeme attended, the more likely the funeral will be crowded by sympathizers from all walks of life. A well-attended funeral is an indication that the household has a high social reputation.

The length of funerals varies between one to five days. The final day is marked by the burial of the dead person. There are usually designated grave diggers and specially trained people who do the actual burying, for it is believed the dead is capable of preventing one from exiting the grave once the burial procedure is about to end. Renowned witches and medicine people are particularly notorious for challenging the under-takers. In such instances, only equally toughened witches or medicine people who have been trained to bury the dead will be entrusted with the task at hand.
Highly respected elders are usually buried in the middle of the family compound or in front of the family house rather than in the cemetery. This is to keep them close to the family who are constantly being watched over by the dead elder or ancestor. From time to time, libation may be poured and sacrifices made on the grave. On other informal occasions, the grave may serve as a resting place for naps and for relaxing and chatting. The elders do not play an important only after their death, but also while they are alive.

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