Similar But Different

Canada and Nicaragua are different countries. This may seem redundant to point out, but it’s always good to start with the truth.

These two countries have different national languages, different climates, different histories, different economies, different political structures, and even different flags. Even with all these differences, they are similar in that they both have these common marks of a country. These two nations might be different in almost every possible  way, but it is also possible to see similarities in the struggle for progress that both possess. I will try to highlight three of these differences/similarities below.


One thing that you can reflect upon when
traveling outside Canada is on our use of technology. When we board a bus or other public transportation, you can purchase a ticket ahead of time and it might even stamp the time that ticket was purchased. This makes it easier for the driver as he doesn’t have to worry about collecting fares. This is doubly true if a Canadian utilizes a monthly bus pass; then all that person has to do is flash it to the driver and move on

In contrast, Nicaragua uses a person in photoplace of a machine. On our morning bus ride to work, each person would get on the bus and either find a seat or stand. After a few minutes have passed, a man (I never
saw any females doing this job), like the one in the photo, would walk through the aisle and collect the fare, which was 4 cordoba, or about 16 cents. The fare is a flat rate to ride the pass and it travels in a loop.

The Nica method has some interesting benefits. For one, the fare taker will help an elderly or pregnant women get off the bus, if they need it. They will take over for the driver, if need be. And they (along with another helper) will tell the driver when to leave. This last one is very handy if you are racing to get on and don’t want to be left behind.

It also is a tough job when the bus is 110% full and they have to walk from the front to the back with an aisle full of people, bags, and whatever else is brought on board.


If you walk through Esteli, you will see a variety of commercial establishments. Some are massive, with everything you would ever need. Some are small roadside stores selling a single product, like shoes or clothes. And some might be just a man and a cart, selling vegetables or phone accessories.

It’s even more surprising when you see all ophoto (2)f these within a few feet of one another, as in the photo to the right. PALI is a chain of supermarkets, owned by Wal-Mart, found throughout Nica. There are even larger MAXI PALI stores that are on the outskirts of town which have more room for parking.

In North America, we can sometimes romanticize the memory of “Mom and Pop” stores where you could walk in and speak with the owner. They would answer your questions and in doing so, you would build a relationship with your retailer. This is still a reality in many developing countries, where the worker behind the counter is usually the owner as well. But due to globalization and open markets, the large transnational corporations are also able to get a piece of the pie. It is an interesting contrast between large and small entrepreneurs and one that affects Canada as well.


One final contrast I found was the way construction happens.

Small-scale building, like a house or school imageblock, is more labour intensive in Nica versus the machine-intensive style you would find in Canada. Many people are skilled at construction tasks, such as excavation or building. I believe this is owed to the high cost of machinery in Nica as compared to the high cost of labour in Canada.

It is also important to note that the building
materials are different. In Canada, you find a lot of wood used in framed homes and in hardwood floors. This is a result of our easy access to lumber. In Nicaragua, the vast majority of urban homes are constructed from concrete – a mixture of sand and cement.

(On the build site, we mixed 1 bag cement : 9 buckets sand : 7 buckets gravel for foundation concrete. To make mortar for the beams and touch-ups, it was 1 bag cement : 7 buckets sand; no gravel. Both cases required water to mix.)

I highlight these examples as a means to show that all people have a shared humanity. It is easy to identify differences, but it’s just as important to consider the common thread that links different parts of the world together. We have a shared drive to improve our lives through hard work and determination.

We all have family and friends.

We all experience love and loss.

We all share this planet and are connected to one another.


Short History of the Guans

From the 6th Edition of the Guan Congress

Damongo, N/R, Ghana

October 2004

The Guan speaking peoples live mostly in Ghana though there are some pockets in Togo, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. Modern historians more or less agree that since time immemorial the Guans have been “the original inhabitants” of Ghana, because unlike the Akan who arrived from Bouna in the north-west, the Ewe from Notsie in Togo about 1720, the Ga-Adangme from certain parts in Nigeria, and the Mossi-Dagomba group of states who migrated from the north-east, the Guans, on the other hand, migrated from nowhere; thus Ghana is the ancestral homeland of the Guans.

Even the pockets of Guans in Togo (the Anyanga), those in Benin (the Gbede, Wese, Okomfo) and the Baule in Cote d’Ivoire claim migrant origin from Ghana. There are numerous studies which support Guans claim to their autochthonous (i.e. aboriginal) status. However, for lack of space the present writer may confine himself to factual information provided by Professor Abu Boahen who says: “Neither the Akan nor the Ga-Adangbe found the coastal districts of Ghana unoccupied. It is clear from oral traditions as well as linguistics evidence that these immigrants met the Guans who were living in these areas in different degrees of concentration and political organization”. These Guans are represented today by the Anum, Kyerepong, Basa, Breku, Etsii, Afutu and Asebu: “When these immigrants arrived they pushed the Guans eastwards and south-wards and either totally or partially assimilated the Guans culturally or ethnically. (vide: A thousand years of West African history, 1970. P. 167).

By 1482, when these Portuguese led by Don Diogod, Azambuja negotiated with the local chief of Edena for the construction of a fort, there was not any Fante, Ga, nor Ewe on the coast. The Edena people originated from one of the Ancient Guan Kingdom, namely Aguafo. The rest were Asebu, Fetu near Cape Coast, Agona in the Central region and Guan Kingdom in the Afram Plains under the Ataaras. They were all state builders.

Gonja is the oldest Guan settlement, but whether it is the nursery ground and the cradle of Guans institutions is one of the problems which archaeologists are now called upon to solve. But one thing is certain and that is the partrilineal groups so typical of the Guans definitely evolved here.

Historians assert that the growing power of Songhai Empire pushed the Mossi-Dagomba ancestry ancestors south of the Niger Bend, so that by A.D. 1333 they became a threat to the very survival of the Guans in Gonjaland, thus waves of Guans moved southwards in search of settlements.

Earlier the desire to move southwards into the forest country had been felt by the Guan, because the climate and the vegetation were not conducive to intensive human occupation. Eventually, members of kindred groups broke away and wandered afield to their present inhabitants.

The first Group penetrated into the Afram Plains where they built a powerful state under the Ataaras. The last of the Ataaras, by name King Ataara Ofinam VIII, was ousted by the Akan who migrated from Adansi in a seven-year war, (1690-1697), so that inhabitants fled to Atwode, Akpafu, Lolobi, Santrokofi, Likpe, Buem, Anum, Boso, Nyagbo, Tafi, Akposo, Logba, Akpafo, Abanu, and Okere, as well as the Buem and Nchumuru.

The OKERE ancestors first settled at Tafo, Kukurantumi and Osiem, from there they moved to ABOTOASE near the present-day Adawso before settlinh on the mountains. At Tafo the OKERE established the OHUM festival, which has since become the aboriginal cult of Akyem Abuakwa. In the same way the Fetu Afahye of the original Afutu at Oguaa has remined the aboriginal cult and not the Ahobar of Borbor Mfante.

The second group moved towards the lower Volta Basin. Among them were the Senya, Larteh, the Kpeshi aborigines of the GA countryside, the Obutu (Awutu) who leader by name Awietey had gold and brought this with him. The third group moved to Sefwi, Nzema, Aowin, Wasa, Ahanta, Shama, Asebu, Aguafo and the Etsii settlements. They have all been subjected to Akan imperialism and have lost all cultural triats which made them identified as Guan.

The Fetu settlers founded Oguaa. Some of them moved east-wards along the coast and founded Mumford and Winneba, while the Nkonya continued the journey to Nyanawase, thence to Lartey before the Volta. Almost all the Guan communities now living on either side of the Volta north of Kpando have traditions of COUNTER MIGRATION, i.e. migration southwards and backwards to the north. There was counter-migration from the ancient town of Lartey across the Volta to Nkonya, Prang, Yeji, Dwan, Nkomi and Nammuri.

The Guans now live in five regions of Ghana, namely; Central, Eastern, Brong-Ahafo and Northern. Their institutions and language operate side by side with those of their closest neighbours, and it appears this sense of cultural distinctiveness is intensified and justified by the practise of partrilineal succession in all the Guan-speaking areas, except Anum and Boso who became matrilineal by adoption.

In conclusion, let me digress a little with a plea that the Guans should value their heritage whatever their origins. They should preserve and not neglect their links with the past.


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.”


Always Pack Light

This is the 3rd installment in lessons learned while travelling abroad for the first time. It may or may not be the last of what I learn along the way.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to do a village stay in Bale. It is a small farming village with about 750 people, just northwest of Bole. To get there, I took a moto ride with my host brother, Wisdom.

On Friday, the entire community and most of the entire nation was mourning the passing of the last president, John Evans Atta Mills. So, naturally when I arrived at my host family’s house they were surrounding the tele. Not what I was expecting when going to a remote village. There were even some mud huts that were outfitted with satellite dishes to get BBC and French programming. An amazing combination of modern and traditional technologies working in harmony.

My village home

Some of the other activities that day included walking through the town to visit the local primary and secondary schools; visiting the two boreholes supplying clean, potable water to the entire community; and buying some snacks. Back at home, I was exposed to a lack of toilets, so naturally found a bush to free myself. Also devoid in the village are showers, so a bucket filled with water and a little ingenuity to clean yourself is needed. The thing that many people may find surprising is that people in Ghana actually take 2 showers each day, whether by bucket or running water. It’s one of the many cultural differences that rarely makes it onto our television programming.

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to visit some local farms to see the unique crops that aren’t found in Canada. There’s maize, cashews, yams, ground nuts, millet, and many more. As I stopped to talk from farmer to farmer and hear about the current status of their farms, I would inevitably tell them about my own farming past. Sometimes Wisdom would drop that little bit of info if I forgot. So, naturally, they put me to the test and wanted to see how good I was at weeding around their yam mounds. By the level of laughing, I was either doing a surprisingly good job or was complete rubbish. I think I was more of the second one.

I was pleasantly surprised by the scale of some of these farms. Most were run by a single family, without fertiliser or herbicides, and an astounding amount of manual labour to clear weeds. This truly is the pinnacle of organic farming.

As I met many people and was in need of my own place in Bole, I left midday on Sunday. The ride back on moto would take about 45 minutes, with only a helmet and my death grip on the rear rack for safety. It was surprisingly smooth (most of these weekend’s surprises were a result of me going into it with a clear head and few expectations). The only downside was the backpack full of supplies that I had brought.

There were the necessities to prevent sickness: mosquito net, medicines, some clean water. Others to record the weekend’s events: camera, notebook, pens. And some other comfort items: change of clothes, sandals, iPod. All in all, this made for a heavy load for my back to burden.

If I could have done it again, I definitely would have brought less of the luxuries, like clean clothes and running shoes, as these were not needed for my survival and were under utilized. But I guess that’s called learning from your mistakes.

Onto my next adventure.