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Gandah-yir: the house of the brave. The biography of a northern Ghanaian chief (ca. 1872-1950).


I did not set out purposely to write a history text book on my father but to put on paper what he himself narrated orally to his audience when the family gathered to have some pots of pito [sorghum beer, C. L.] to drink. But having started to put on paper his own narration about his life history, I felt it would be very useful to the family, both for those members [...] who have grown up to know him personally and those who have not had the opportunity to know him well or at all before he passed away. For it would be selfish of me and of any of my literate brothers who knew him so well and had the opportunity to hear all his oral history not to pass this down in written form so that his children and grandchildren and future generations would be able to read and remember him with great adoration as I do today.

However, having started to put pen to paper, I felt I should open the readership not only to the family members alone, but to a wider audience, to the members of the immediate Dagara community in which he lived and played no mean feat but also to any reader in Ghana and abroad who might find this a fascinating book to read. It is my hope, should I succeed, to be able to give to future researchers, anthropologists and historians alike, an insight into the society in which my father grew and was brought up during his life time. I am only a lay and general reader in these subjects and I do not profess to be an expert in them; so if I fail to meet my hope and aim, I do humbly apologise to these experts for my inability to do so; for this is not a thesis on history or anthropology.

Since childhood my father never, at any single day, stopped telling people about his life story and the history of the era in which he grew up. Until I went to school, I did not pay much heed to what my father was talking about, and even at the time I went to school, this interest did not develop immediately until I finished my middle school education and was in the first year of a two-year teacher training course. It was then that an ardent passion to write about his life story developed. Even at the primary school there was some encouragement by Mr Henkel, (1) who wanted to collect some historical stories from the district from his pupils through their parents, so that he could make use of them for his dramatisation classes. But the only pupil in the Gandah family, who had enough knowledge about my father's life history, would have been our eldest brother, Sorkumo. However, even if Sorkumo had volunteered to tell stories about my father, they would not have included his mysticisms. (2) For Sorkumo would not have told much of my father for fear that he would reveal the secrets of my father and that it would lay my father open for the attacks by his enemies. Anyway, at the teacher training college, in one of our English literature lessons, Miss Gladstone, who was our form mistress for English literature, read to us the legend of Beowulf, after which she set us to write an essay on a similar historical episode that we knew of. Of course, by this time I was mature enough and had heard and comprehended enough of my father's life stories to be able to write on one of his episodes. The interest and fascination that Miss Gladstone took in this short essay encouraged me so much; so now my brother Biz and I listened to and collected more episodes of his life story any time we went home on holidays. I must indeed be thankful to Miss Gladstone for my early but unconscious encouragement.


[...] I do not claim that my version of my father's life story is the only version there is about him. It should be noted that in listening to oral narrative, be it a lecture, a story or a political speech, each audience only catches the gist of what interests him or her, or what he or she wants to hear and to listen to. So it is perhaps possible that other brothers and sisters, or other uncles or cousins in the village may have heard different aspects of the same narration. It would therefore give a fuller exposition if they could add or correct any part of the version of this book they disagree with. In writing this book I have tried as much as possible to put events in chronological order. Most of the dates have been inserted through referring to historical dates that coincided with Gandah's life, and I make no apologies for inserting them. Where this was not possible, I have tried to group events according to certain themes.



[from Chapter 1]

The present Gandah family can trace its [migratory] route back to one Dapar of Noru, who lived about the seventeenth century. Noru is an out-station of Wa, a district that is situated in the north-west corner of Ghana. Noru lies to the northeast of Wa, on the Wa to Han road. The seventeenth century is an estimate based on my own theory that the lifespan between a grandfather and grandson is about ninety to one hundred years. If this theory is correct, and assuming that Dapar's descendants lived to this average, then the seventeenth century is a modest estimate. It was a period full of turmoil, not only in Africa but all over the world, an age of discovery, of travel and of adventure, an age of wars, of pestilence, of pillagers, of famine and of family feuds. There was a continuous move of tribes and families from east to west and west to east, from north to south and south to north. This upsurge or chaotic atmosphere must have been due to the quest for peace in a distant land, for farming land in order to provide food for growing family sizes, the escape from invasion by superior tribes, or from pestilence, famine and other natural disasters. Whatever the reason, it was during this period that Dapar migrated from Noru to settle at Jirapa Siyri or Naabeg, at the outskirts of Jirapa town. Here one of Dapar's children, Sunkuol, grew up to be a great hunter and travelled miles around in search of big game.

It was during one of these hunting expeditions that Sunkuol first visited the present site of Birifu. This area was totally uninhabited. It was thickly wooded with a vegetation of the fringing forest type, and Sunkuol discovered that it was full of big game, buffaloes, antelopes, lions, and leopards. Delighted with such discovery, the area became his hunting ground which he visited continually. As time went on Sunkuol became fed up with travelling to and from his hunting ground, since this place was about eight miles from Siyri by a bee line. Sunkuol therefore decided to migrate and settle near the source of his game in order to enjoy his hunt and also to make large farms of the vast fertile land.

However, migration to a new settlement in this part of the world does not entail the movement of only a single family but of many families within the patrician and of different patricians. This is necessary for several reasons, for instance funeral rituals, intermarriages, and religious performances such as the bagre festivals that need the cooperation of diverse clans. No doubt Sunkuol must have convinced some elders of other families in his patrician of the prospects that awaited them at this new place. So quite soon Sunkuol with some elders of the families of his patrician, the Naayiile, migrated to their new environment.

It is held that the Silayiile patrician were the first people to settle in Birifu as it is known today. Then came the Naayiile, the Nmangbiile, the Baapere, the Bite, the Gobiile, the Toozuule, the Kyaale and the Tanziile with their respective subpatricians. In what order they arrived at Birifu is not certain; but what is certain is that the Kyaale were the last to arrive at the new settlement. Anyway, this new settlement was then named Birkpe. Bir means 'daring, fearless, brave' and kpe means 'enter, live in, dwell in or settle in'. Therefore birkpe means 'settle in daringly or bravely'. However, its proverbial meaning is that 'only the brave or the daring can settle in such an environment'. Birkpe was soon corrupted into Birfoh. Incidentally there is another version of the meaning of Birfoh, anglicised as Birifu, the spelling of which I shall try to maintain throughout this manuscript. Legend has it that the early inhabitants of Birifu believed that there was no tribe, far and wide, that could tease them, that it would take a doing, for any tribe, to make a laughing stock of them. Hence it is believed that Birifu derived its name from bir as explained earlier, meaning 'brave' or 'daring', and fuor, meaning 'to tease'. So birfuor means proverbially that 'only the daring can tease us'.

The arrival of Sunkuol with his family in Birifu was the beginning of a family that was to grow and play an important role in the cultural and social organisation of this new settlement. Their arrival could be dated back to the last half of the seventeenth century or the early part of the eighteenth century.



My grandfather Deri [one of Sunkuol's descendants, C. L.] must have lived between the first half of the nineteenth century and the 1920s. In a polygamous society such as Deri's, a man may have several children from different wives, and so indeed did Deri. Among his children were Kpomo, Gandah-yir, Dootaa (nicknamed later as Gaziere) from one mother, and Miiru from another wife. Kpomo was the eldest daughter and Miiru the youngest of Deri's children. When Gandah was born, it was in an age that was infested by tribal and inter-village wars apart from family feuds where duels were also not infrequent. Everyone moved about on tenterhooks even in the market places, pito houses, festivals and at funerals. It is little wonder, therefore, that Deri should name his son Gandahyir when he was born about 1872 or 1876. The year of Gandah's birth is a guesstimate based on his stories about his age when the first white man passed through Birifu and on historical records about that period that are available in the official archives. The people of Birifu and in most Dagara areas give names to their children that are proverbial, or names that have a significant meaning in the life history of the parents. Thus Gandah literally means 'a hero' or 'a brave man'. It has been suggested that when his baby son arrived at such troubled times, Deri pondered very hard why such a meek child should have arrived at that time. He told himself that neither his house nor the era was suitable for such a poor and meek creature. His house was the house of the brave, it was a house unfit for the meek. In such contemplation it dawned on him that his baby boy should be called 'Gandah-yir'--the house of the brave. And Gandah-yir was soon shortened to Gandah.

It is reasonable to suppose that his name gave Gandah some sort of inspiration to live by it from childhood to manhood. He was unfortunate not to acquire any formal education, since at that time the white man had not yet set foot on his native soil. However, Gandah was quick in grasping the Dagara education that the village could offer him as a sort of training for useful citizenship. From the age of five onwards he was trained in the art of good husbandry and farming as well as in the use of the bow and arrow. He acquired the training very quickly and very soon excelled children well above his own age group. His capabilities probably produced jealousy in the older children who often molested him when they were out of the sight of their elders. Such brutality strengthened Gandah's nerve and gave him great mantle in future years, but it also made him hate injustice in all its forms. For example, when they drove the family cattle and sheep to graze in the fields or by a river and met cow herds from the other families, he would be asked to wrestle with boys far older than him. This he dared not refuse lest he should be teased for not being worthy of his name. Being a good wrestler he often succeeded in winning these contests over his seniors. The purpose of this exercise was to subdue his ego, but it rather made him much tougher and prepared him for more troubled times ahead. Thus having been a victim of unjust bullying in the past, he hated, as he grew older, to see the very young bullied unjustly by the older ones. He would intervene at such instances and would take up the fight for the bullied. His justice was thus of the Mosaic type, an eye for an eye rule, so to speak. As he grew older and stronger he was greatly feared by his contemporaries around him. He soon became more or less their leader in every thing they did.

In his early adolescence, Gandah had acquired all the qualities that were required of a good citizen. He was a dead shot with his bow and arrow, hence a good defender of his family home, the patrician and the village at large against outside invaders. He was a good xylophonist a great asset as it brought wealth into the family. However, his father was dead against his talents on the xylophone for tear that he might be poisoned or shot dead while he was still at a very tender age by his enemies or rivals. Gandah was also a good carver and thus made simple objects for the village market. This talent later developed into the making of xylophones and the carving of canoes or dugouts. He was a good blacksmith as well and in later years made bronze bangles out of wax. All these skills were greatly developed at a later stage of his life. But much of that later.



Birifu had no chief as such before the advent of the white man, but the chief priest of the earth shrine maintained law and order. He saw to it that no blood was shed in the village, and where this was inevitable, the culprits paid heavily for their disregard of customary law. The first chief to be appointed in Birifu was Derkota, one of the uncles of Gandah. Derkota descended from the Naakyoo family. It was not surprising that he was appointed the first chief of Birifu since it was his family that gave hospitality to the first white man who visited the village. [...]

By 1916 and 1917 Birifu Naa I [i.e., the Birifu chief Derkota] was finding it hard to command the respect of the people and hence difficult to rule them, and he was forced to abdicate. I am not sure whether this was forced upon him by the district commissioner of the day or he abdicated on his own accord. Oral history has it that he was sacked, and I have not yet come across any documentary evidence to prove the contrary. Anyway, when Derkota resigned, Gandah was enstooled by popular acclamation as chief of Birifu, Birifu Naa II and Gandah I in 1917. It was in the native authority records in the late 1940s that Gandah and Tang, the then Eremon Naa, were both enstooled as chiefs in their respective villages in 1917. Nuonatuo Gandah, who was later to succeed Gandah and who was employed as a native authority clerk in 1944, discovered this information and told Gandah about this historical fact. As I write ! can still see the angry face of Gandah ranting and raving how historical facts could so be distorted. According to him, he was enstooled long before Tang was enstooled as the Eremon Naa, and he should know since the chiefs went to the enstoolment of other chiefs. Anyway, this is left for future historians to pursue.

The enstoolment of chiefs in the Lawra District often drew other chiefs from the district to the ceremony. In order to provide drinks for the guests, every household in the village had to brew pito for the occasion. Thus, with communal effort, the villagers provided drinks, foodstuff, meat, fowls, milk and eggs for their guests, including the district commissioner and his entourage. The enstoolment crystallised when the district commissioner put the medallion over the head of Gandah. This solemn moment was followed by an outburst of shouts of joy and ululations made by the women folk, intermingled with the firing of muskets. Thus the villagers burst into great excitement and joy. There was music and dancing, and here the young chief showed his skill on the xylophone. He played almost incessantly so that everyone danced and sang to their hearts' content. There was drink and food galore for both villagers and guests alike. It took everyone time to recover from the excitement.

When Gandah became chief he made it a point that certain rules which he had laid down had to be obeyed. These included inter alia:

1. Any marriage that took place in the village had to be reported to him as soon as was practicable. He therefore had a working knowledge of whose daughter was married to whom.

2. All illnesses--epidemic or not--had to be reported to him immediately. This applied to animal epidemics as well. For he would need to notify the medical officer or the veterinary officer according to whether the epidemic was human or animal. Where he himself could provide cure he offered it to his subjects free of charge, particularly human ailments like diarrhoea and dysentery or anthrax in animals.

3. All immigration or emigration from the village had to be reported. Thus if any youth travelled outside the village especially to the south--notably the Ashanti Region the head of the house had to report this migration immediately. Similarly if they returned to the village their presence had to be reported as soon as possible.

4. All new arrivals into the family as well as deaths had to be reported to him immediately, be it night or day.

5. All village markets, and there were three prominent ones for which he was responsible which fell on every six days, had to disperse before dusk.

These rules, which were strictly observed in the village, showed the great interest which Birifu Naa II took in his subjects. It also showed his great foresight, for if he was educated or had a clerk, these rules would have provided the basis of the first recorded demographic and medical statistics in his village. Unfortunately his toils could not be used in the future as there were no records to fall back on. The last rule was perhaps to promote peace and harmony in the village. The Birifu Naa believed that if he allowed the villagers to enjoy the market days until after dark, one of several social evils might be committed. A rival could slip poison into his or her opponent's drink a deed that could be more easily executed in the dark than in the broad daylight. Moreover, it was an age when family feuds were still rife, and it was these feuds that the Birifu Naa wanted to stamp out. It is also conceivable that if the market period was allowed to extend into the dark, unscrupulous persons might induce the young to drink local beer to the excess, and in their drunken stupor, they could commit rape or adultery. As a believer in moral justice, Gandah had very little patience with immorality. He was therefore strictly biased with regard to the adherence of this rule.


Before the advent of the white man, the Dagara people had a system whereby farming labour was acquired. There was, and still is, the labour that is provided by the son-in-law on his father-in-law's farm (dien kob). The son-in-law brings a number of farmers to the land of his father-in-law on a number of times in the farming year, and the father-in-law provides food and drinks for the occasion. Then there was the reciprocal farming (ko taa). In this, the farmer invites a number of his friends to his farm to do the hoeing. He may or may not provide drink and food for them. However, in the course of the farming season he would have to reciprocate their services on each of the farms of those who came to farm for him.

With the advent of British rule in the Northern Territories all lands in the region were taken as Crown lands but vested in the hands of the chiefs. So even in Birifu, where lands belong to individual families, the chief held these lands for the Crown. (3) The British administrators introduced this manorial system based on the British feudal system which was also introduced into Britain by William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings in 1066. All chiefs were allowed to have free labour from their subjects on their farms a number of days a week called the chiefs farming days (na'kob bibir). With these methods of obtaining farm labour at his disposal, Gandah could get labour for his farms by one of these ways. Thus in return for his services, the villagers came to plough his lands, and again during harvest times their help was solicited. However, during harvest, in order not to interfere with the harvests of his subjects, the Birifu Naa was always the last to harvest his crops or the first to do so. He saw to it that his harvest did not coincide with the peak periods of harvesting in the village, for he hated to deprive the villagers of their livelihood.

[...] Farmers provided by the manorial system introduced in the North were of a special kind in Birifu, for the Birifu Naa believed that farmers would give their best if they were well catered for. So any time the farmers came on chief's farm days (na'kob bibir), they were well provided with food and the local beer. But this was not the same with other chiefs. When the Birifu Naa was no longer head chief in his own domain, but brought under Lawra Naa Bini after the introduction of the 1933 Native Authority Act, he had to provide manorial service for the Lawra Naa by providing land in Birifu for Naa Bini and sending farmers to plough, care for and harvest the crops for the Lawra Naa. None of his subjects were entertained while farming for the Lawra Naa. [...]

With Naa Gandah's special farm labour system and generosity, certain subjects who would otherwise not have had feeding in their own homes made it a point to be present on all chief's farming days, knowing that they would be provided with plenty of food and drink. Indeed, such people won the attention of the Birifu Naa, and often he gave them preferential treatment after the general drinking and feasting was over. This was often in the form of money (the cowries, libir pla) so that they could hire labour for their own farms. The women folk were not forgotten either; they were supplied with a measure of salt, usually a calabash full.

As a zealous farmer, the Birifn Naa often took part in the ploughing of his fields when there were no administrative duties to perform. The villagers helped with his harvest, when the time arrived. It is customary in Birifu for every farmer to give to their helpers a portion of the harvest that they have done. In this respect, the Birifu Naa was particularly generous to boys and girls who accompanied their parents to the farm. These youngsters often went to the harvests of groundnuts, ate as much as they could while they were harvesting and at the close of day were given their whole day's effort to take home. Gandah was also generous to the old and the poor and those whose farms had failed or given poor yields.

The Birifu Naa was known far and wide for his generosity. Perhaps he believed in the philosophy that God could turn into a mortal being in the guise of a poor or an infirm person and then tempt the rich by coming to beg from their households and therefore was generous to the poor, the beggar or the passing stranger. It was the cardinal rule in his household that no visitor was turned away without something to drink or take away, whether he, Gandah, was present or not.

Before the native authorities were instituted, the Lawra-Tumu District was divided into autonomous areas, each ruled by a head chief. The area under the Birifu head chief included Babile, Goziel and Gbetuor, and Birifu itself. Each of the head chiefs had their own flag or colour, and Birifu was one of those areas with its own flag or colour. These flags were presented to the head chiefs of the Lawra District on July 12, 1920 by the Acting Provincial Commissioner. When the Birifu Naa was given his own flag, this meant that Birifu was a paramountcy. Under Duncan-Johnstone as the district commissioner, it was customary to hold itinerant gatherings of chiefs, and the head chief of the area in which the gathering took place was responsible for the entertainment of all the guests. It would seem that such a meeting took place in Lawra on January 8th and 9th, 1919, where a total of 180 chiefs and head men attended. On January 9th there was an excursion by the chiefs to Birifu and Tugu where they were entertained by Gandah and Kayaan of Tugu. I believe the purpose of this excursion was to let the other chiefs examine the good construction of the roads, the N.T. 22 from the Birifu rest house to Tugu which continued on to Jirapa, and the excellent rest houses which the two chiefs had produced. (4)

It happened that one year, the chiefs' gathering was at Tumu. According to Chief Gandah, the Tumu Koro did not treat his guests very well. Duncan-Johnstone must have enquired from the chiefs what sort of hospitality they received from the Tumu Koro. Gandah's report must have been scathing of the Tumu Koro. But Duncan-Johnstone advised the Birifu Naa that he should be patient until the durbar came to his area and he could treat the Tumu Koro with all hospitality within his power so as to put him in shame. The Birifu Naa waited for that day to arrive and one day the gathering was indeed scheduled to take place in Birifu an occasion which the Birifu Naa had been waiting for. The Birifu Naa tried to show that he and his people could cater for all the guests and make them happy. Local beer was brewed in every compound for the occasion. Cattle and sheep were slaughtered, and each head chief with his entourage was given sufficient meat, food and drink. At such occasions, there was always mirth and jollity for the three or more days when the palaver was on. Food and drink was in abundance. In fact his hospitality indeed surprised Duncan-Johnstone. For although he expected the Birifu Naa to satisfy the needs of his guests, he did not expect him to do so much. Everyone dispersed after the deliberations well satisfied and happy. As a matter of fact some chiefs with entourage took home their share of the meat and the foodstuff that was left over. As for Gandah's relation with the Tumu Koro, their friendship grew into a lasting one until they both died in the 1950s. [...]


Besides the qualities of a good father and a good musician, Gandah was also a good craftsman and a good archer. In the late 1930s and even early 1940s, Gandah believed that the white man would soon return to his native country and consequently he started training the youth of the Naayiile clan in the art of archery in case the inevitable happened. As a man of faith, Gandah believed in the powers of the supernatural and hence the gods he worshipped. He was known to be one of the greatest juju men in the North of Ghana. Among his jujus were those that protected his person against any eventual attack from his enemies or opponents. This is presumably why the early district commissioners thought that many chiefs who had jujus were cowards. But they only followed the golden rule that prevention is better than cure.

Gandah acquired most of these bodily protections through Muslim priests who came from as far away as the Sudan, Senegal, Morocco, and even Egypt. Such powers were in the form of talismans, lotions or medicated rubs, which he would put on whenever he was attending a gathering of chiefs. For instance, he had among his clothes a gown which he believed would protect him against gun shots. It sounds incredible to a non-believer how such a light cotton material could withstand pellets from guns or muskets, but Gandah believed it. He wore his protective smock at one of the gatherings of the chiefs when one of the musketeers, or perhaps one of the chiefs, was instructing his disciples to shoot at him. He had hidden and put some pellets in his musket, and mingling with the crowd, he was able to aim and fired at the Birifu Naa. The pellets, however, were unable to penetrate into the smock but only left dark scarred marks on it. Another example of the power of jujus often cited by Gandah was a big funeral outside Birifu: while he was on the xylophone playing, one of his enemies turned into a bumble bee and flew directly towards him, trying to enter his mouth. He managed to catch it before it reached him and gave this to one of his nephews who was a member of his entourage in order to return home with it and put it in one of his juju pots. A few weeks later, the culprit died. It must be stressed that xylophonists were often jealous of one another and tried either to poison one another or to harm one another by jujus or black magic. [...]

It must have been in July or August 1934, the months in which the torrential rains sometimes continuously pour for three to four days. My mother, Poonaa, was on her sick bed--or should I say death bed as she never recovered from that illness. Anyway, the clouds began to gather beneath the rising sun. In less than half an hour the whole place was covered with thick nimbus clouds almost turning the morning into pitch darkness. As the clouds began to rise, there roared a series of thunder bolts rolling across and above the clouds with incessant wrath as if the gods were angry with all and sundry in the village. I flung away the corn which my mother had ordered to be roasted for me on the log fire in the room and which I was then munching. I then clung to my sick mother tenaciously, trembling with fear. The mere thought that she was going to die from her illness and leave me at such a tender age--for she knew she was going to die from the illness, the cause of which we shall return to later-made her go white and pale with grief. At that moment my father entered the room, and when he saw her pensive pale face revealed by the flash of the lightning, must have thought she was dying and wishing to die with her tried to commit suicide. He seized his famous sabre that hung on the wall, pulled it out its sheath and stabbed himself. My mother, seeing what he was doing, screamed aloud for help. However, this great dagger curled helpless under my father's bosom like an overfed viper. My mother's alarm alerted the other women who were in her attendance. They immediately grappled with my father in order to seize the dagger from him while yelling for help. His brothers and grown-up sons came to their aid, and after great persuasion he gave the cursed steel away.

After this incident, my father always remarked that had it not been for his supernatural powers, he would have succeeded in his suicide attempt. Besides the jujus for the protection of his own person, there was the juju for the protection of the family as well as the village people. As a chief he was interested in the welfare of both his family and the village at large. So whenever he learned of the existence of any powerful juju that was capable of protecting the family and the village at large, he did not hesitate to acquire it. Among his notable jujus can be mentioned Lompo, the fetish against petty theft as well as evil. Hence during the farming season, when the crops were about to seed, most villagers came to him for the Lompo bow-stick to guard against wilful destruction of their crops by enemies, children excepted of course; for Lompo never inflicted any punishment on children. Lompo never killed outright but would let the guilty suffer with acute pain which could move from one part of the body to another, until he or she confessed his or her guilt: it would only kill at the last resort if confession was not forthcoming. Then there was the Kukpenibie (lit. 'I shall not co-habit with the evil doer'). Kukpenibie is supposed to be a god against evil, a god which brings riches to whoever so desires that and asks for it, a god that gives fertility to barren women and hence a god for the protection of children. Kukpenibie thus embraces the powers of Lompo and much more. It did wonders in its inception in the village, and its period of sacrifice was normally a great event in the village. Furthermore, my father attended the ancestral shrines such as the main ancestral shrine (kpiin) where all the statues of the dead are kept together from time immemorial to date, but also objects for the rain god, the river god and many more.

Gandah was also a great clairvoyant a power he believed he was born with and also given to him by his three little fairies (kontome or kotobil), namely the power to see into the future while in his sleep. Turning to the more scientific qualities of my father, I would say that he could forecast the weather very accurately. In fact, he was a great asset to Mr J. H. Hinds, the then agricultural officer in the district. For Mr Hinds relied on and used his weather forecast to determine when to plough or sow his crops in the demonstration farm at the agricultural station in Babile. Lastly, my father was a physician and an herbalist in his own right. He could look at the sick and was able to diagnose the symptoms of his or her illness and then decide which herb was suitable for his patient. My father believed in both European and his own medicines and used both when it was appropriate. He saved many lives including my own with his herbal treatment. For example, his drugs for dysentery and diarrhoea, two different herbs, were more effective than those the hospitals provided at that time such as 'mist alba' and the like. Indeed cases which doctors considered as hopeless were often cured by him. But for him, the toll of infant mortality due to dysentery or diarrhoea would have been very great indeed. Night or day parents approached him for these two drugs which he supplied freely. Similarly, he had drugs for small pox and anthrax and tape worms in humans. Obviously as owner of a large herd, he needed to have drugs against such epidemics.

The cure for jaundice was hardly known until comparatively recently, but my father long before was able to detect the symptoms among any member of his family and cured it in less than two weeks. One of my senior brothers, John Deri Gandah (now deceased), had jaundice while he was at the Agricultural Training School in Tamale. He was admitted at the Tamale general hospital and would have died there since at this hospital he was given no medication but only asked to drink a lot of water or liquid. When my father learnt of John's illness and the serious condition he was in, he demanded the discharge of his son from the hospital so that he could cure him at home. At first both the school and the hospital authorities were reluctant to grant his request. But because of his threat that he would hold the authorities responsible and Mr Hinds's strong backing, John was immediately discharged from the hospital and allowed by the school to return home for urgent treatment, and was indeed cured. Again, when the Lawra school was first opened in 1919, my brother Zoi was the first child my father sent to that school. Zoi was to acquaint himself with the late J. A. Karbo, the Lawra Naa, who was also a pupil of that school, and because Karbo was very small and often bullied by older boys, Zoi became his guardian angel against the bullies. Anyway, this school friendship was not to last for long, for Zoi, known to his school mates as Wononuo, was struck low with anthrax (naatir kpoolo) and since the medical treatment was either ineffective or there was none available, he was sent home and my father had to cure him.

My father did not only treat illnesses but he also treated fractures, dislocations and sprains. Indeed fractures such as compound or multiple fractures, in those days that they were only amputated by doctors, were treated by him and one Bill of Kotowura-yir in Tanziir. Unfortunately, none of us children grew up to acquire any of the profundity of knowledge which our father himself acquired through the years. This was partly his fault and partly ours. For there was a time when two European doctors, one Dr Morris, who was an entomologist stationed in Lawra for the North-West District and responsible for the eradication of the tsetse fly, the carrier of sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis), and his French counterpart in the Upper Volta, wanted to get the secrets of my father's cures and incorporate these into a book. Backed by the ill-advice of some of us, my father refused to disclose his knowledge to these doctors. He would have contributed to the knowledge of the cures of certain ailments which were lacking in Western medicine and thus helping the universal knowledge of these cures. But due to our selfishness we have deprived the community and ourselves of the benefit of his knowledge.

doi: 10.1017/S0001972012000289

(1) Mr Henkel was the headmaster of the Lawra Confederacy Native Authority Primary School, opened in 1935 in Lawra, which S. W. D. K. Gandah attended. For more details on this, see S. W. D. K. Gandah, The Silent Rebel. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2004: 36-7, 61-2.

(2) 'Mysticism' here refers mainly to the important shrine for Kukpenibie which Gandah owned and attended.

(3) This is an interesting perspective, but not supported by any documentary evidence on colonial land legislation in north-western Ghana where earth-priestly control of land was never replaced by chiefly administration. On colonial land tenure, see Raymond B. Bening, 'Land policy and administration in Northern Ghana, 1898-1976', Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 16 (1995): 227-66.

(4) For details and archival sources of these durbars and Duncan-Johnstone's period of office, see Carola Lentz, Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press and the International African Institute, 2006: 65-71.

S. W. D. K. (Kumbonoh) Gandah

(excerpts, edited and subtitled by Carola Lentz)
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Author:Gandah, S.W.D.K. "Kumbonoh"; Lentz, Carola
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:6GHAN
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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