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1 At the time of colonial partition the Dagomba kingdom spread over some 8,000 square miles of the savannah plains. The kingdom had then been in existence for about four hundred years, ruled over by the paramount chief, the Ya-Na, from his capital at Yendi . . . On the eastern edge of the kingdom lay the Konkomba, a stateless people, treated as subjects of the Dagomba.
3 The Dagomba kingdom was one of a cluster of states created by groups of migrant cavalrymen moving south and imposing themselves as a ruling class on established stateless peoples. Of the latter, little is known: they spoke a language belonging to the Gur group and had earth priests (tindamba). The indigenous people figure in Dagomba myth as the `Black Dagomba'. Although the name `Dagomba' itself may have been that of the indigenous people, assumed by the invaders, the great body of mythology is clearly that of the migrants and in this sense `Dagomba' history is that of the kings since the fifteenth century . . .
The mythology . . . refers to a common ancestor, Tohajie, `the Red Hunter', whose grandson Na Gbewa, settled at Pusiga, near Bawku, in northeastern Ghana. The migrants seem to have been pagans of Hausa origin, possibly from Zamfara, one of the old Hausa `Banza Bokwoi' states located in the area of Nigeria to the north of Borgu. According to Fage, they moved westwards and for a time supported themselves by raiding the towns of the Niger valley . . . The raiders were pushed south in the fifteenth century by the Songhai kings Sonni Ali and Askia Muhammed.
4 The conquest of western Dagomba was undertaken by the Dagomba cavalry, who killed or removed the indigenous tindamba and replaced them by members of the royal dynasty and captains of the army.
The conquest of eastern Dagomba took place later than that of the west . . . The final settlement of this area may have occurred in the seventeenth century when the capital was moved towards present-day Yendi. The Dagomba pushed back the Konkomba and established divisional chiefs among them. The main towns . . . had the character of outposts, strategically located on the east bank of the River Oti. Despite this assertion of suzerainty, the Dagomba kingdom seems never to have exercised close control over the Konkomba: administration took the form of slave raiding and punitive expeditions. The Konkomba were by no means assimilated. Relations between them and the Dagomba were distant and hostile: there was little, if any, mixing by marriage.
In the early seventeenth century Gonja was invaded by a conqueror of `Mande' origin, Sumaila Jakpa.
5 . . . the `Ashanti hinterland' was the meeting point of two important caravan routes. One went north-west . . . to Djenne on the Niger; the other went north-east . . . to Kano. These routes were linked at their northern ends to the trans-Saharan caravans and along them passed kola nuts, gold, salt, and other goods, not to mention the creed of Islam. The rulers of Gonja and Dagomba were naturally anxious to profit from control of this trade and it is probable that competition for control was an important factor in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
For Dagomba, an important consequence was the movement of the capital eastwards to Yendi (originally a Konkomba town called Chare.)
Zangina is . . . remembered as the king who brought Islam into Dagomba (having, according to some accounts, travelled as a trader to Timbuktu and Hausaland as a young man). Islamisation was no doubt assisted by the location of Yendi on the trade route . . . to Kano. . . . Islam was by no means universally adopted, even at court: the generality of Dagombas remained pagan and the Ya-Na himself never developed into a theocrat. Indeed, his regalia and the ritual surrounding his office kept a substantial pagan element. Another contribution of Islam to Dagomba culture is said to have been the wearing of clothes. The `drum history' records this innovation: `At that time everyone wore skins as clothing. When Zangina became chief, he went to the Mosque at Sabali and prayed that God might grant the Dagomba clothing. It was thereafter that God enabled the Dagombas to know the art of weaving clothing.'
Very soon after the Gonjas had been expelled from Dagomba, the kingdom became subject to raids from Ashanti. These raids may have been spread over a period of as much as fifty years . . . They culminated in an episode which reveals the same kind of internal disunity as had been evident in the Gonja wars. The chief of Kpatina, Ziblim (. . . grandson of Zangina on his mother's side) is alleged to have invited the Ashanti to attack Na Gariba. Gariba, deserted by all the major western Dagomba chiefs, was captured by an Ashanti army and was to have been taken to Kumasi. However, he was released en route, at Yeji, following an appeal by some of the Dagomba princes. In return, the Ya-Nas were required to send a fixed number of slaves, cattle, sheep, and some cloth to Kumasi each year. In addition, an Ashanti representative was stationed at Yendi. The payments continued irregularly until 1874, when they ceased with the decline of Ashanti power.
There was thus a period of perhaps 130 years during which Ashanti was a strong influence in Dagomba. Historians disagree about the strength and character of this influence. Wilks and Fage have said that it amounted to the creation of a protectorate, the payments being a form of tribute; Tamakloe described Dagomba as a `vassal state'. Not surprisingly, the Dagomba `drum history' minimises Ashanti influence, declaring that the incident of the capture and release of Gariba `was the only occasion that the Dagombas came under the Ashantis', though it admits that payments to Kumasi continued for some years.
Duncan-Johnstone and, more recently, Iliasu have argued that the Ashanti influence was more limited and symbolic and that the relationship between the states was mutually beneficial. Duncan-Johnstone reported that `the Ashanti always treated Dagbon with respect as a powerful kingdom although tributary to their King'. Iliasu sees the relationship as one of `politico-economic symbiosis rather than conquest'. In his view, the Asantehene did not interfere with the internal affairs of Dagomba and the payments made were not `tribute' but rather instalments of the ransom paid for the return of Gariba. Iliasu further remarks that the Ashanti presence was `highly profitable to both sides'. Yendi was on the northeastern caravan route which became more important in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries . .
6. For the internal politics of Dagomba, one consequence of Ashanti influence was the creation of a wing of Ashanti-trained musketeers within the state army. It is unclear whether these musketeers (kambonse in Dagbane) were originally trained in Kumasi or were trained in Yendi by Ashanti `technical assistance'. In either case, the result was the formation of five chieftaincies (the kambon naanema), within which the titles of offices and organisations show marked Ashanti influence - the chiefs, for example, sitting upon stools rather than the skins used by Dagomba chiefs.