The Mossi Empire was organized around four kingdoms: Ouagadougou, Tenkodogo, Fada N'gourma, and Zondoma (later replaced by Yatenga). There were also as many as 19 additional lesser Mossi kingdoms which retained connection to one of the four main kingdoms. Each retained significant domestic autonomy and independence but shared kinship, military, and ritualistic bonds with one another.
The Mossi are a historical nation, already mentioned in the fourteenth century, when a Mossi army crossed the Niger and seized Timbuktu. From reports received during their early explorations on the seaboard, the Portuguese fancied that the Mossi king was the famous Prester John, and envoys were actually sent in search of him. When summoned by the Songhai emperor Askia to embrace Islam, the Mossi people “after consulting the souls of their ancestors,” refused to comply, thus bringing on a “holy war,” in which their cities were destroyed and their lands wasted by the arms of the fanatical monarch. Nevertheless they remained pagans, except in the towns, where foreign influences were predominant.
The Mossi Kingdoms consisted of a number of independent kingdoms located by the headwaters of the Volta River within modern Burkina Faso and Ghana. The ethnically-related Mossi-Dagomba states were founded by "small bands of strangers" who migrated from the east or northeast of Lake Chad to the lands south of the Niger bend. The strangers were acquainted with the idea of chieftainship as opposed to the politico-ritual organisation of the acephalous peoples they encountered. Because of their political and military superiority they consequently overran those scattered and independent peoples and revolutionized their political or tribal patterns by welding them into kingdoms.
The most salient feature of this spectacular change was the office of a territorial and secular ruler, "an unheard - of conception", as Rattray put It, which replaced "the Immemorial institution of e ruler who was the high-priest of a totemic clan and dealt only in spiritual sanctions".
The descendants of those state-forming strangers who still rule over the Mossi-Oagomba states have almost the same traditional accounts about their origins. Thus the lesser-known Mamprusi oral tradition tells much the same story as the more accessible and better known Dagomba oral tradition. Both point to a migration from somewhere east of Lake Chad; both recount the adventures of Tohazie (the "red hunter"), whose son, Kpo-gonumbo, married Sohiyini, the daughter of Abdul Rahamani, a king of Grumah; and both recognize Gbewa, the most famous issue of this marriage, as the great ancestor of the Mossl-Dagomba peoples.
There is however a significant difference between the starting points of Dagomba and Mamprusi oral traditions. The former version nearly always opens with the migration from the east as well as the Saga of Tohazie and his relations with the earlier established Mande and Gur-speaking peoples south of the Niger bend. Mamprusi oral tradition on the other hand, invariably omits this prefatory chapter end starts with Gbewa's migration from Grumah territory to Pusiga from where he subdued the neighboring peoples and, as would be argued later, founded Mamprusi, the oldest of the Mossi-Dagomba states.
This difference probably accounts for the misleading conclusion sometimes made that the great Gbewa is the fons et origo in Mamprusi oral tradition. The explanation for what can be termed the abridged and unabridged versions of their common oral tradition lies primarily in the scale and quality of their respective machinery for preser- ving and recounting their past. The Dagomba machinery is elaborate, accessible, and efficient. The state drummers or "lunsi", who form the core of this machinery, are a highly specialised segment of Dagomba society.
According to oral tradition, the related kingdoms of Dagomba and Mamprusi came into being in the 15th century. It Is evident from the comparison of oral traditions that the emergence of the Mossl-Dagomba states was by no means contemporaneous. The first of them to emerge was the Mamprusi kingdom. It was founded by Gbewa but it was not known by that name until Tohugu made Mamprugu Its capital. Thus, unlike Sltobu and possibly Nya'gse, Tohugu never founded a kingdom; all that he did was to remove the capital of an established kingdom from Pusiga to Mamprugu. This was not an uncommon practice and, indeed, Tdhugu's immediate successor, Na Zobzia, removed the capital from Mamprugu to Gambaga while Na Atabia took it finally to Nalerigu.
Yet neither Na Zobzia nor Na Atabia had ever been credited with founding a kingdom. It is thus misleading to conclude that Nyagse's kingdom was founded about the same time as that over which Tohugu ruled. It is even doubtful, considering that Tohugu was a generation removed from Nyagse, whether they even ruled contemporaneously. The immediate off-shoots of the Mamprusl kingdom Were Dagomba and Tenkodogo; the latter in turn gave rise to Yatenga, Fada N'Grumah and Ouagadougou.
In the end of the 16th century those political units were conquered by Gbanya warriors of Mande origin who earlier had founded the Gonja kingdom. Until the 18th century the Gbanya exercised control over the Dagomba people. They imposed a sort of levy upon them, and had also a considerable influence on the internal matters of the Dagomba kingdom.
Of great importance for the history and development of the Dagomba kingdom was the Islamic religion. It is believed that some Muslim elements in the Dagomba culture must have been brought into the area by the founders of their state. However, this is not confirmed by Dagomba oral tradition. According to oral history, the first Muslim ruler of the Dagomba may have been a certain Na Zangina who ruled circa 1700. It is claimed that he may have been converted by Sabali-Yarna, a Muslim Dyula from a large group of traders engaged in gold trade who since a long had been settled in the first Yendi.
The Dagomba had their own ruling dynasty, related to the Mossi kingdoms of Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), before colonial powers arrived. In the 1740s, the Dagomba were dominated by the Ashanti, and by 1874, their kingdom had fallen apart. Islam has had its greatest impact among the Dagomba, Manprusi, Wlaba and Hausa/Fulani groups of Ghana. Historically, many Konkomba, a stateless group who live along the Oti River on the Togo border, were subject to Dagomba control. The Konkomba have also had numerous disputes with the Nanumba, a subgroup of the Mossi-Dagomba.
It seems clear from oral traditions as well as from archaeological evidence that the Mole-Dagbane states of Mamprusi, Dagomba, and Gonja, as well as the Mossi states of Yatenga and Wagadugu, were among the earliest kingdoms to emerge in modern Ghana, being well established by the close of the sixteenth century. The Mossi and Gonja rulers came to speak the languages of the peoples they dominated. In general, however, members of the ruling class retained their traditions, and even today some of them can recite accounts of their northern origins. Although most rulers were not Muslims, they either brought with them or welcomed Muslims as scribes and medicine men, and Muslims also played a significant role in the trade that linked southern with northern Ghana.
As a result of their presence, Islam substantially influenced the north. Muslim influence, spread by the activities of merchants and clerics, has been recorded even among the Asante (also seen as Ashanti) to the south. Although most Ghanaians retained their traditional beliefs, the Muslims brought with them certain skills, including writing, and introduced certain beliefs and practices that became part of the culture of the peoples among whom they settled.
In the broad belt of rugged country between the northern boundaries of the Muslim-influenced states of Gonja, Mamprusi, and Dagomba and the southernmost outposts of the Mossi kingdoms lived a number of peoples who were not incorporated into these entities. Among these peoples were the Sisala, Kasena, Kusase, and Talensi, agriculturalists closely related to the Mossi. Rather than establishing centralized states themselves, they lived in so-called segmented societies, bound together by kinship ties and ruled by the heads of their clans. Trade between the Akan states to the south and the Mossi kingdoms to the north flowed through their homelands, subjecting them to Islamic influence and to the depredations of these more powerful neighbors.
Many Mossi migrate south each year to live in northern Ghana. They share common traditions with the Dagomba, Manprusi and other northern Ghanaian groups. Many lived in the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo region where they worked on farms belonging to natives of the region. Mossi-Dagomba have only one risk factor for rebellion: territorial concentration. The risk of rebellion is correspondingly low. Similarly, the risks for protest are low, as the Mossi-Dagomba do not face significant political or cultural restrictions or repression and do not have support from kindred elsewhere.
Of all of the ethnic groups in Ghana, the Mossi-Dagomba are the most isolated. They are found in the northern areas of the country, and they have been in the area for hundreds of years, though the Mossi originate from Burkina Faso. The group has its own language and religion, with most members being Muslim. They are not considered to be of a different racial background than other groups in Ghana. Due to their geographic isolation and concentration and their linguistic and religious differences in relation to other groups in Ghana, the Mossi-Dagomba form a fairly cohesive group. However, they do are not highly organized politically.
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