The Ga-dangme tribe is situated at the coastal tip of the Akwapim scarp. They are an ethnic group who lives primarily in the Greater Accra region and the Eastern region of Ghana. They are inhabitants of the coastal plain in Ghana. The Ga people can be found at Ngleshi (James Town), Kinka (Ussher Town), Osu (Christiansburg), La (Labadi), Teshie, Nungua (Little Ningo), and Tema/Torman. The Dangme people make up the populations of Shai, Ningo, Kpone, Osu doku, Gbugbla Krobo and Ada. With the exception of sharing the same geographical location and having similar languages, some common traditional practices suggest the Ga and the Dangme are originally one people and kinsmen. The role of priests in state affairs (kingship, customary law, and child naming ceremony) within both societies correlates the relation of these ethnic groups.
It is believed that the Ga-dangme’s journeyed from the Yoruba land, Ile-Ife or the Benin empire in modern Nigeria through Seme. They made it through, under their king and leader King (Nii) Ayi Kushi (Cush). According to oral tradition, this journey took place in 1483-1519, the groups migrated together crossing the Mono River but dispersed after crossing the Volta River. The Ada settled on the coast west of the Volta estuary while other Dangbe groups moved upwards and settled among the Shai and Krobo hills. The Ga on the other hand settled on the Accra plains. The Accra land was occupied by the Obutus/Efutus and Kyerepongs before the Ga’s arrived. According to Aquandah, the Accra plains were inhabited during the first four millenia before Christ by Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers who fish for fresh water mollusks along the inland waterways of the Odaw, Densu and Nsaki rivers. Historians suggest those stone age hunter gatherers might be the ancestors of the Guans. The Ga-dangme’s however, gained control and succeeded in pushing these aboriginal settlers to the Akwapim hills, Central region and the Eastern region of Ghana. The Yilo and Manya Krobo, also a member of this group, settled in the hinterland.
THE MEANING OF GA
Ga is the short form of Gaga which means soldier ants, it is also called driver ants or a big black ants. According to sources and oral traditions the Ga’s were originally known as Loeiabii (children of Loei). Loei is a Ga word which means dark brown ants, the Akans call this ants nkrang, all this names shows the aggressive nature and how plenty the Ga emigrant tribes were when arriving in Ghana. Prior to That, they easily subdued other tribes as well as the Guans who were the aborigines of the coastal plains.
THE GA, EGYPT/ISRAEL LINKS
According to Amartey’s (1991, pp.13-14) version gathered from oral tradition stories of Gamεi Ashikwέi (Origin of the Ga), which he collected from legends, myths, folklore, songs, and etc. The Ga-dangme people once lived along the eastern part of the banks of the River Nile during the reign of Thothmes II, an Egyptian Pharaoh, circa 1700 –1250 BCE. This was at the time when the Israelite’s had settled on the land of Goshen. He stated that the Ga were part of the Nubians that left Egypt after being freed from slavery by Pharaoh Amenhotep II. They separated from Egypt in Ethiopia and Aswan, they consists of the Wo Kpele, Wo Krowor, Wo Doku and Wo Sagba. The tribe traveled south-western through the Ghazal and Jebe creeks, following the River Ubangi which eventually led them to Boma in D.R Congo. They then moved to the Boni Island in the Niger Delta Basin. The Ga-dangme’s again separated, one part moved west to the land of the ancient Benins, while the rest moved north-west to Ife in the Yoruba land. They moved once gain from Dahomey (now Republic of Benin) and to Togo where they settled at Aneho, and eventually making it to their present location, Ghana. This notion is supported by some noted Ga-dangme scholars and elders as well as the Ewe people who were part of the migrating groups during their journeys from Benin in Nigeria through Aneho in Togo. This migration legends has also made some Ga people realized to have come from the sojourned territories. For example those at Teshi claim to have migrated from a town called Boma on the shores of the Congo River, the La or Labadi people also claimed to had come from Boney Island off the Niger Delta Basin and those from Gamashi is from Benin City in Eastern Nigeria. Some of the similarities of the Ga-dangme’s that can be compared to the Biblical Israelite are the Homowo (Passover) festival, the second one is the unleavened corn bread (kpekle) which is similar to that of Falasha Jewish unleavened flour bread as the ritual food and the red clay painted at the door posts. The Ga-dangme’s also claimed to be the tribe who took the Ark of the covenant from Israel to Ethiopia.
AYAWASO OR GREAT AKRA
King (Nii) Ayi Kushi and his son Ayitey were regarded to had form the Gá dynasty, the kingdom was formed around prominent Gá Mashi quarters. Later the Ga’s started to expand their territory and authority across the Accra plains to form the Ayawaso kingdom or great Akra, the capital is at a hill-top called Okaikoi. The Ga’s who settled in Ayawaso consist of 5 sub-groups: These sub-groups are;
- Wo Sagba – present day Ga Mashi
- Wo Doku – La/Labadi
- Wo Krowor – Nungua/little Ningo
- Wo Kple – Tema/Torman
- Awutu – Awutu
According to Armaah Amartey and other sources, Nii Ayi Kushi was the first person to make the Ga a united kingdom JAKU, ( means a divided group, union of nations), Ayawaso was also Ga political authority. The kingdom of Ayawaso is said to have extended from Aharamata to Popo beyond the Volta. Nii Ayi Kushi was the King from 1483 to 1519. He was regarded by his people as a King, Priest and a Warrior and was also the Commander-in-chief. He was said to have made the Ga leaders swore by a Sacred Covenant; the leaders pledged themselves to respect and honor the ruling house. In return the Ga rulers swore to rule peacefully and justly according to the religious guide of their ancestors; and to defend the interest of the Gá-Dangme kingship, culture, traditions bond and ties at all times. Ayi Kushi also declared that both his remains and those of the Gá-Dangme leaders, including Obutu and Awutu leaders, were to be buried on Okaikoi hill which was to be a symbol of unity among the Ga and dangme’s. He then invoked the spirits or other nature forces and his ancestors, and made a covenant with the leaders of the quarters and the households. According to Oral traditions and sources, this happened amid a tumultuous scenes of thunder and lightning, it is said the peak of Legon hill (hill of knowledge) was filled with sulphurous smoke as the king invoked and conjured the name of his ancestral God and the Almighty to bless and set his people devoted to other people.
Ayi Kushi is believed to have spend the rest of his time at the coastal quatters or Ga Mashie where he died and was buried on Okaikoi hill. Ayi Kushi was succeeded by his son, Ayitey, he made Ayawaso a great state and a fortress by blending the Awutu and Obutu into the Gá-Dangme tribe through marriage, status and prestige. That was when the Senya Bereku and Awutu became part of the family of Naiwe. Ga towns were sprung across the plains which were basically established by the Ga-dangbe sub-groups, these include, Fanofa, Dokutso, Amonmole, Pletekwogon, and Kushibiete or Legon. Others are Wodode, Lashibi, Wodoku, Wo-Akwamu, which belonged to Nungua; Tebiano, Podoku, Lakanmabi/Ashaman and Takimabi, which belonged to Tema; and Ladoku and Ajangote, belonging to Labadi. The various towns founded across the Accra plains as well as the rest of the Adangmes, Agotimes, Akwamus and Akwapims were absorbed into the kingdom of Ayawaso. The Ayawaso kingdom was protected by a fortified military force with fifteen to sixteen thousand men.
THE 7 PURITAN COMMANDMENTS OR KITAI KPAWO OF AYAWASO/GA KINGDOM
Ga Kingdom was founded on the 7 commandments or Kitai Kpawo below.
- Love and respect the rules of your father
- Obey the commandments of the deity at all times
- Sacrifice as a life-time obligation for the sake of the group
- Sacrifice as the life-time duty to one’s own children
- Do not lie
- Do not steal
- Pure and truthful in all things
GA MASHIE OR LITTLE ACCRA
“Ga-Mashie or little Akra” represents Central Accra which includes seven clans, Otublonhum, Asere, Ngleshi Alata, Sempe, Abola, Akugmaje, and Gbese. It is believed the first family known to have occupied the coastal strip of Accra was Lakote Aduawushi. The Ga moved to the coast of little Akra after the Akwamu destroyed Great Akra (Ayawaso) in the early Sixteenth Century. Ga territory stretched to the West by the Sakumofio River, East by the Tshemu (Chemu) lagoon near Tema, North by Akuapem Mountains, and South by the Gulf of Guinea. In addition, their territory encompassed west by the Densu River and stretched eastward from the hills of Weija, Kplagon, Nsaki River to the Laloi River of the Shai Plains. The Ga belong to the Ga-dangme group of Kwa people, the Akan language is part of the Kwa language group. They created coastal towns such us; Accra, Osu, Labadi, Teshie, Nungua, Tema, and Kpong after leaving Ayawaso (great Akra). The Ga gradually appropriated aboriginal lands at Tema, which belonged to old Kpéshi town. Nungua absorbed Lashbii lands, while those who went to Ga Mashie took the aboriginal Guan territory, Akuŋmadzei. The Ga came to meet the aboriginal tribes along the coast/ inland, they included the Guan, Late, Kpeshi, Kyerepong, Lé, and Ahanta. Sources suggest the Ga regarded Guans as owners of greater Accra; (Shitsε mεi) (landowners). Seven Ga families were led by Nii Tete and Nii Moi; Wọlọmεi of Nai and Onyeni deities respectively. Those who worshiped Nai deity established their settlement at Tuŋmatε, or Ussher Fort while the woshippers of Onyeni deity led by Nii Moi, settled behind the cliffs of James Fort. The Ga’s were led by traditional priests and prophets called Wolomei and Gbaloi who served as intermediaries between gods and people. Nai Wọlọmọ was lord and supreme leader of the Ga Mashie community. The Ga people also incorporated and blended the political structure of the Akans or the Aboriginals into their culture. Ga Mashi was divided into two quarters, Tuŋma (Abola), and Jɔɔshi (Asere); they were the royal clan which operated the military. Osu, Teshie, and 5 other divisions of Ga Mashi were also at the outskirts of Ayawaso. These coastal towns were later additions created after the collapse of Ayawaso. Each Ga group had its own leader who reported to the king. The Awutu’s pledged allegiance to Ga because they were once part of the Ga kingdom of Ayawaso (great Akra).
OWURA MAMPONG OKAI, DODE (DEDE) AKABI AND OKAIKOI
KING MAMPONG OKAI
According to sources and oral traditions, the Ga kingdom became popular and reached its peak during the reign of King Mampong Okai, Dode Akabi, Okaikoi and King Tackie Tawiah I. The Ga kingdom became one of the most powerful and most prosperous and resolute political, martial and well organized kingdom in Ghana during the reign of Mampong Okai. He hammered enough power and wealth for his successors to make the kingdom continued to be a formidable force to reckon. it was said, the kingdom has one of the awesome and magnificent palace or court in Ghana at that time. He was the one who typically started to extend his kingdom further eastward to the interior tribes. Mampong Okai was also one of the few kings in Africa who rode in a chariot. He was affectionately called Owura Mampong Okai by the conquered states and vassal states, his tragic death was succeeded by the tyranny rule of Dode Akabi, “ a powerful, tireless, an intelligent and masculine woman and Princess of Obutu”, whose profound and alleged cruelty is still lingers in the the Gá-dangbe’s chronicles.
She was one of the powerful female queens who ruled the Ga kingdom with Iron fist, she was also blamed to have indulged in certain atrocities during her reign. Dode Akabi was the first recognized female queen or king figure in Ghana as a whole. She reigned from (1610-1635) and regarded by the Ga-dangme’s as the one who introduced much display of elegant and pageantry of kings and queens in Ghana. She inducted the using of jewelery and colorful regalia and swag into the chieftaincy in Ghana, this act is still very popular among kings and queens in Ghana today. Dode Akabi was also credited to have introduce the custom of sitting on stools to the Ga-dangme Kingdom. Her stools portrays a significant role and authority during wars. Her stools was mostly carried to war to ginger the spirit of the troops. This notion of sitting on stool is a symbolism of her authority over the people she rules. She was also considered as the one who kept the Ga kingdom and the people intact, though she was reorganized by her people to be cruel and assertive. She changed the perception of only male dominated chieftaincy and kingship in Ghana. At first the Ga-Adangbe wulomei hold the power as both political and religious authority. She was the one who separated the political role of wulomei to concentrate solely on religious authority and duties. She was said to occasionally took part in ritual Ga dancing. Dode Akabi emerges as a formidable figure whose rise as the first female political leader of the Gold Coast opened new avenues of power to females in Ghana and Africa. This powerful, elegant and strict ruler’s life came to an abrupt end when she was killed after she had ordered her subjects to sink a well at a place called Akabi-kenke.
The Ga-dangme’s ruling system was based on the authority and instructions from their chief God or deity, it was Okaikoi who appeared to continue the legacy of Dode Akabi by rekindling the ruling system based on priest-kings to the secular kingship that we see today. Okaikoi exercised total political control of his subjects, casting aside the previous practice of rule by consensus and through the authority of the Deity. He was noted to conscript and surrounds himself with youthful body guards who were vibrant and skillful in warfare. He insured unlimited recognition from both subjects and conquered peoples, he also institutionalized the practice of princes of provincial and vassal states to serve as armor-bearers in his court, a practice which had always existed among the Gá-Dangme in a more general form. Okaikoi was also recognized by forming a supreme military commando known locally as the Akwashong this was intended to provide the basis of a renewal of Gá-Dangme military power but he faced some resentment on the part of the old generals. This local form of commandos were trained to handle weapons during warfare and martial arts and fist fighting. Okaikoi was a man of physical strength and a powerful king, he was said to have killed a leopards and lions bare-handed, he also distinguished himself in battle and in several duels with neighboring princes and noted warriors. The ignoring of the old generals bred more troubles for Okaikoi because he trusted his own physical strength and courage as well as the fighting quality of his men than the generals of the kingdom. This divided the Gá army and led to a conspiracy and betrayal by a general called Nikolai. This betrayal and conspiracy helped in toppling his rule as a king. His death came through the hands of their fierce rivals the Akwamu’s. He faced the Akwamus with a small army made up largely of his body-guards or commandos. They killed six commanders in a long and intensive battle. Eventually tired by his exertions and realizing the treachery of his generals, King Okaikoi retreated to Nyantrabi where he mounted his royal stool, prayed for the prosperity of those warriors who had stood by him, and asked that no success should attend the efforts of the generals and their descendants after he continued to took his own life. However, the courage of the king and his body-guard propelled thousands of women and children to be evacuated from Ayawaso to the coast. According to Oral tradition and other reliable sources the death of Okaikoi split the Gá-Dangme tribes.
KING TACKIE TAWIAH I
King Tackie Tawiah was born in 1817 as Nii Kwashi Tawiah in Accra, he succeeded king Yaote. He was the twentieth king of the Ga Dynasty and reigned from 1862-1902. King Tawiah was one of the most important Ga kings and is still acclaimed as the most vibrant, progressive, and productive of all the Ga kings. His father was Nii Teiko Doku, son of King Teiko Tsuru a prosperous trader and his mother was Naa Ashong Danso from Asere. King Tackie Tawiah I was exiled to Elmina Castle for three years between 1880-1883 after he was accused by the British and Asafu Agyei of Juabeng, of defying their orders to help them invade Ashanti during the reign of Asantehene Mensa Bonsu. Prior to the exile he earned the name “Abiasuma”, which means the “King Still Reigns.” The reign of king Tackie Tawiah I lasted for forty years and he was the second longest king to rule Ga kingdom after Nii Tetteh Ahinakwa who reigned from 1740 to 1782. He was a successful merchant before becoming the king of the Ga people. King Tawiah traveled far and wide to places such as Cape Coast, Nzema-Ahanta, Tamale, Akropong and Kumasi in Ghana and also to Togo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea) to trade in various commodities. He made friends with people from the Caribbean and South America, especially Brazil. He was the first king to invite Afro-Brazilians to settle in Accra in hopes to aid the development of the Kingdom of Accra which was progressing and transforming. Afro-Brazilians were referred as Tabom people by the Ga. One of the prominent Afro-Brazilians was Alasha Nelson.
King Tawiah fought many battles along with two powerful warriors, Asafoatse Oman and Asafoatse Ayi Kodwo Mankattah. The wars they fought included the Tordzie or Adidome wars in 1869, Anlo wars in 1855-1866, and the war between James Town and the Usher Fort in 1864. The later war occurred because of the ruthless and diabolic rule of the British residing around the coastal areas. King Tackie Tawiah’s rule was characterized by numerous achievements. His unpronounceable ability to listen, support, and sacrifice for his constituents encouraged him to give land to the first Hausa community in Accra. He also influenced Teteh Quarshie who embarked on a trip to the Fernando-Po to bring the first cocoa seeds to Ghana after the Swiss and the Dutch. His reign also supervised the translation of the Bible to the Ga Language. King Tackie Tawiah l died in 1902 and was buried in Accra. He was the second Ghanaian King to be featured on a Ghana stamp after the Asantehene. In 2002, a colossal statue was dedicated in Accra Central. The Kanda flyover in Accra was also named after him in 1997. In the same year, the Ga-Dangmes instituted King Tackie Tawiah I Memorial Lectures.
MODERN GA OR ACCRA
After the death of the Ga Masntsε Nii Okaikoi and the destruction of the great Akra or Ayawaso, the Ga living on the hills began to descend down and settled in Ga Mashie, a coastal town. Others settled in Aneho( Little Popo/Tóng) or present-day Togo. They were led to little Popo by a warrior called Ashangmo . Those who descended to coastal towns settled for two main reasons; firstly, they were evacuated during the war with the Akwamus and secondly, were the emergence of Portuguese and other European powers which settled in coastal towns of Ghana and built mission houses, established trading posts, and etc. The Europeans signed pacts with coastal chiefs to offer them protection from the Akwamus and other fierce interior tribes. Osu were offered protection by the Danes, Dutch offered protection for the Kinka, and English or the british also offered to protect the Ngleshi-Alata (James Town). Ayikwei Osiahene and his tribe settled in the James Fort area. He founded the Akangmashe and Mereku or Bereku quarters. Meanwhile, Adote Nii Ashare and Tete Kpéshi clans made their abode beyond the Korle lagoon and resettled with the Ayiwei people in James Fort area. Their descendants established Sempe dwelling places, according to Henderson-Quartey.
The Ga Mashie community has seven cantonments; Asεrε, Sempi, Otublohum (Otubronu i.e. Otu’s area), these places of abode are believed to be established jointly by the Ga-speaking emigrants, Fante, Obutu, Akwamu and Kpéshi. Abola, Ngleshi Alata (Jamestown), Gbεsε, and Akuŋmadzei derived from those abodes. Among the early migrants from Asεrε and Abora tribes to the coast were Ayikwei Osiahene, Osu Kwatei, Saku Olenge, Amantiele Akele, Akotia Owosika, Oshamra, Anyama Seni, and others. These uncharted coastal townships subsequently developed into the capital of independent Republic of Ghana after the main capital was stripped from the Cape Coasters by the British. Modern Accra traditionally developed around the following European structures, Christiansburg Castle, Ussher fort, James Fort, and the Korle lagoon area. The said Europeans structures were first built to safeguard the traffic of goods between the hinterlands and the coast for the benefit of the natives and the European merchant companies. The places where castles and forts were built in the Ga or Accra lands were strategically designed to overlook the high cliffs of the neighboring bay of Ablá beach. European vessels sailed with merchandise often anchored at the beach to trade with the locals. This trade and other interests prompted attention of British who were the new owners of Gold Coast to create capital in Ga land (Accra). Presently, the head of all the supreme authority of the Ga is Nii Tackie Tawiah Tsuru II.