Short History of the Gonja Kingdom

From the 6th Edition of the Guan Congress
Damongo, N/R, Ghana
October 2004

The history of Gonja is a bit surrounded in some myths but the general and popular view held by the Gonjas is that the Gonjas are a people who entered into their present modern day area from one of the old Sudanese Empires; precisely the Mende Empire or Kingdom (Mali Empire as some historians prefer to call it). That they were a group of fighters or preferably, invaders led by their leader and founder of the Gonja Kingdom in the person of Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa. Jakpa is said to have invaded vast areas as he moved on through conquest and after each area was captured he would leave behind a son or a loyal servant as chief or leader of the conquered people and area. He did that through his spear and by the end of his death the present Gonja Traditional Area was established fully as a centralized state under his sole leadership in 1675.

The Gonja people whose true name is Ngbanye (meaning Brave Men) derive the name Gonja from a corrupted Hausa phrase Kada Goro-Jaa (meaning land of Red Cola).

History has it that the Ngbanye people and Hausas of Sokoto were trade partners in Cola-nuts. The Gonjas secured their cola-nut supplies from Ashanti from where they were transported to the great Salaga market. The Hausa traders of Sokoto, where there was a flourishing demand for cola-nuts, traveled to the Kasa Goro-Jaa (land of Red Cola) at Salaga to purchase the nuts, overtime the Ngbanye became known as Gonja coined from Kasa Goro-Jaa.

Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa the founder of the Gonja Kingdom was himself initially a trader from Malle or Made according to a source. At a point in time he became bankrupt. Just about the time he had consulted a certain Mallam about his fortunes in life. The Mallam bluntly told Jakpa that even though he came from the royal family he would never ascend the throne. Instead, his fortune was in foreign lands, where he would attain rises and would establish a kingdom for himself, his children and followers. Jakpa was so convinced of the Mallam’s prophecy that he mobilized tens of thousands of fighting contingent and other followers and set out around the sixteenth century.

Emmanuel Forster Tamakloe ex-third class clerk, writing in 1931, on the other hand reports that Jakpa and his followers came from Gizi, a country to the north of Mandi.

From Mandi or Gizi, both sources affirm that Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa and his army on reaching Jah, the first town of call, Jakpa came into contact with Fati Morukpe, a very powerful Mallam of the worn and made friends with him. The Kpe in the Mallam’s name stands for his albino colour and features. Jakpa solicited his company for his impending adventures so that he would be an intermediary to offer prayers unto God so as to divert mishaps and evil in his exploits. If the offer was accepted, Jakpa promised to pay a tribute of a hundred pairs of every domestic animal including one hundred slaves, cattle, horses, and gowns. In the ensuring friendship that developed anywhere Jakpa conquered and left behind a son Fati Morukpe also replicated with a son. Fati Morukpe’s descendants now form the Nsuawura’s lineage in the Yagbonwura’s palace and also form the Sakpari (Mallam) section in every division.

Jakpa’s first point of entry into what is now known as Gonja Traditional Area was a Ntereso-Gbanfu in the Bole State. He over ran the place and on reaching Bole he was told of a certain powerful Fetish or Shrine Priest who must be overpowered at Mankuma before he could settle down. Consequently he marched on Mankuma, and after a great display of black power and show of strength on both sides, he defeated the Fetish Priest and planted his sister and nephew there. The sister was subsequently given the title Mankumawuriche (Mankuma Queen) and the nephew Kakulasewura (meaning an eavesdropper to tap information from the Fetish Priest for Jakpa). Jakpa then over ran the Vagalla people who largely occupied the place.

Jakpa now pushed into the Wala country defeated them and chose Nyanga as the capital of the conquered lands and named it Gbinipowura-pe. He then partitioned the land among his sons whom he made chiefs to administer these areas. This Wala country included Kong and Kandia areas.

Jakpa now turned his attention on the Tampruma people on the Western banks of the White Volta River. These Tamprumas were subjects of the Dagomba Kings who appointed their representatives to administer the area and also control the salt-making by the natives in Burugu (later to be known as Daboya by the Ngbanye). Jakpa went into combat with the Dagombas dislodging them on the western side and followed them up to the Eastern side where there ensued a fierce battle and very heavy casualy were suffered on both sides. In the end the Dagombas were defeated and their Kind Na Dariziogo slain. Many Dagomba towns were captured to include Gbirimani (Birimani), which came under the jurisdiction of Kpembi and Kasulyili under the Wasipewura.

Ndewura Jakpa then placed Burugu (Daboya) under the authority of his daughter who accepted the title Burugu-Wurche (Queen of Burugu). She was left with a small garrison under her command.

The strategic importance of Daboya to the Ngbanye and also to the Dagbamba was in no doubt because it was the gate-way to the western corridor of the food producing country of the Tamplumas who incidentally were also a very brave fighting force who must be conquered and assimilated strategically to act as a buffer to Dagbamba expansion bid to the west of the river. Beside Burugu/Daboya itself was economically and socially important due to the salt making industry and the resourcefulness of the river which earned the town its name Daboya (meaning our brother is better than us).

These benefits indicated above and other factors urged the Dagbambas to continue to make persistent military incursions into Daboya and surrounding villages. This necessitated the removal of the Wasipewura by Jakpa from Wasipe in the Bole area to Daboya to reinforce the garrison and control the salt-making industry. The Daboya chief continued to be called Wasipewura to this day.

Meanwhile Jakpa had conquered the Biegas (Beso Nsoko of the Banda people) after initial resistance before making in-road into the Bole area as mentioned earlier. And from Bole Jakpa also penetrated Bamboi area where the Mos easily submitted themselves to his authority by presenting him with 30 Kegs of gun-powder without a fight.

Jakpa and his men now pushed eastward between the White and Black Volta river routing Kahu (Laribanga) and the big town of Kurase, South-West of Damongo mostly occupied by a section of the Dagbamba. From there Jakpa traversed to Kaniamase the capital of the then Kania people and captured the town and in the process killed their king at the palace and renamed Kaniamase (Gbipe or Buipe).

The army now marched on Mpaha and encountered the Debre people, a fierce battle ensued at Kapiese near Mpaha in which the N’nyamase were conquered. Jakpa proceeded to Tuluwe through Tamanklan (a place Jakpa rested before crossing the river and in the process forgetting his mat on which he rested hence the village’s derivation of its name). From there he came to Nyilalan and met the Apere (Apir) people of Tuluwe area (Singbin) and over ran them.

He continued towards Kafaba and while still on the Western side of the Black Volta the leader of the town sent to meet Jakpa in advance with peace overtures and sending drinking water consisting of mashed Fura and fermented porridge drinking water and honey. Jakpa in appreciation of the leader’s overtures reciprocated by promoting him as peace-maker by giving him a blanket, redcap and a scepter as a symbol of authority for he the Kafabawura to have the power and authority to evoke peace and settle or reconcile any feuding parties or misunderstanding arising thereof in any part of Gonja with his presence.

At Kafaba Jakpa met a thriving cola-nut trade market. From there he subdued all the inhabitants along the way to Salaga which was then inhabited by the Nanumba people. The Nanumbas were driven away and kola trade transferred from Kafaba to Salage which later became an emporium for the slave trade and other products.

The Gonjas however, moved a little out of Salaga and built Kpembe town.

Jakpa’s insatiable spirit of conquest and land soon drove him again eastward to conquer the Kpamkpamba and Bassari people. He took prisoners and captured thousands of oxen, sheep and goats.

The captives taken were planted between Nchumuru, Salaga and Nanumba to till the land and supply the Kpembiwura with foodstuffs.

To consolidate his hold and also place a check on the Dagbamba expansion bid southward of Tamale, Jakpa’s fifth son living with his senior brother Tuluwewura Abass was then equipped and went and took Kasugu from the Dagbambas by conquest.

After years of rest Jakpa contemplated fighting the Asante but his men murmured owing to fatique of war. He later defied them despite warnings against fighting the Asantes. He crossed the Volta River towards Yeji to Kabako and encountered the Asantes. A raging battle then took place in which Jakpa was shot in the ankle and mortally wounded. Before his death Jakpa instructed that his body be sent to Mankuma the sister’s place for burial.

On reaching Aburumase (meaning I am now weak and dying) he was very sick indeed. When they got to Trekpa (I have now reached my end) he died.

On reaching Gbipe now spelt Buipe (Gbi meaning heavy or weight load) the corpse was getting bad he was therefore interred there (Gbipe).

Since it was Jakpa’s express wish to take his final rest at the sister’s place of abode at Mankuma, it has become customary since then for all Yagbonwuras to be entombed at Mankuma, a village on the main Sawla-Bole road.

The successor it was decided should be a prince or chief with large house-hold and plenty followers. The Chief of Kong was elected. Hence the tow Nyanga is called “Yagbon” i.e. “big household” and thus became the name of the skin and title “Yagbonwura”.

It was not until 1944 that the capital of the Ngbanye was moved from Nyanga to Damongo.

It will be noticed that before Sumaila Ndewura Jakpa’s exploited and conquests of the present day Gonja five (5) other kings had ascended the throne in the present Gonja area. Jakpa conquered them and became the first Ngbanye king, as confirmed by Mr. Blair below:

Mr. Blair, in an attempt to compare the histories of the Dagbamba and Ngbanye kingdoms writes, “In the former the Dagbamba came in as a tribe or group of clans, slew many of the Tindanas and impressed their language on the people of the land, aboriginal Grunshi and Guan, or driving them out as in the case of the Konkombas, etc.

“On the other hand, from the evidence at hand, the Kagbanyewere a mere raiding band of Mandingo stock, who conquered the Guan, Vagalla and Apir countries but owing to their small numbers could do no more than establish a ruling dynasty over adopting Guan, the language of one of the conquered tribes. The only evidence of their origin is in the few Mandingo words now surviving in the Gbanya language.”

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