Zenabu’s Baby Naming Ceremony

My good friend Kolbugri‘s second wife Fozeaa just had another baby girl and they invited us to the suna (baby naming ceremony). I was honored to be invited to the observe the ceremony where the Muslim elders come and bless the child. This is a private ritual that I had not yet seen in my three years here.

Here’s how it went down. An Islamic name was chosen by the lumaam (maalam) based on the child’s gender and birth day of the week. One of the men brought the name over on a piece of paper and presented it to the father and who passed it around to those attending the ceremony.

ZENABU was the name to be given. It is a transliteration of the Arabic name  زينب, or “Zaynab” which was Mohammed’s daughter’s name. It is also connected to the Hebrew name ‘Zenyeb’ which means ‘pride of her father’. Read More

Magic Charms, Black Cats, and the Power of Jesus

Follow the title link above to read an article and photos I contributed to IMB.org about magic and superstitions objects in northern Ghana.

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Buŋŋa putoo zugu ka Naawunni mɔŋŋi u yiili.

It’s because of the donkey’s wickedness that God refused him a horn.

Mampruli Proverb

Mamprusi in the Basel Mission Archives

The Basel Mission was a Protestant non-denominational mission society that sent its first missionaries to Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) in 1828. Today’s Presbyterian Church of Ghana traces its roots back to the first Basel Mission church plant.

Basel missionaries were great examples of holistic ministry in that they not only sought to evangelize the peoples of Ghana but help them to develop a better quality of life. They introduced printing to the country, established the oldest newspaper in West Africa (Christian Messenger), began the oldest existing basic schools, the first girls’ schools and pioneered seminaries for Africans in Gold Coast. They raised up great African leaders that shaped the early history of this nation. Leaders like Tetteh Quarshie who single-handedly began the entire cocoa industry that produces modern day Ghana’s main cash crop.

My interest in the Basel Mission began when I ran across their incredible photographic archives which are available to the public online. I stumbled across images of Mamprugu from 1910 taken by Dr. Rudolf Fisch. There aren’t many century-old images of northern Ghana and the missionary doctor had about a dozen images taken in Nasia, Langbinsi and Gambaga.

Dr. Fisch was regarded as a brilliant surgeon and fought stubbornly against malaria, alcoholism and improved hygiene conditions. He introduced the first bicycle to Ghana in 1892 and in 1900, he opened the first hospital in Aburi, Ghana.

Dr. Rudolf Fisch in his Aburi dispensary in 1897.

A few cultural things in the images he captured are now obsolete. In the Boayini boys image, they are all sporting a traditional hair style called gbangyuuwa. Nowadays I’ve only see it a couple times in interior villages on toddler boys. They are also wearing the now obsolete kpalaŋŋa – a loin-cloth made from a triangular piece of cloth hanging in front, passed between the legs and tied at the back. The Langbinsi cattle stall image shows a type of gooriga or na’agɔrigu that is covered. Finally, the Gambaga mosque photo shows a building in the once-popular Sudano-Sahelian style mosque. Only a few mosques of that architectural style remain in Ghana today – most famous of which is the one in Larabanga.

“Three people who accompanied Dr Fisch on his journey. Musa from Karaga, Lorenz the cook and Kru the sad.”

It is fascinating to see these fleeting glimpses into life in Mamprugu over 100 years ago.

What spurred Dr. Fisch’s trip to Gambaga? Was he planning to expand his work here?

What is the story of the three men that accompanied him? What were the conditions of the journey? How did they travel?

Did he provide medical care to Mamprusi? Did he operate on anyone? Did he proclaim the Gospel?


Special thanks to the Basel Mission Archives for their generous permission to publish these images on my website. If you would like to browse their fantastic and exhaustive collection visit http://www.bmarchives.org/

I am most interested in the images from Mamprugu, but Dr. Fisch also visited Dagomba land on the same excursion and has more photos in the Basel archives from Tamale, Savelugu and Yendi for those interested.

Gun-Related Injuries in Mamprugu

Guns play an important part of life among the Mamprusi and many other ethnic groups in northern Ghana. All the major cultural festivals involve guns being fired. But it might be more accurate to say that guns play an even more important role in death.

When a Mamprusi man dies, three gunshots are fired to announce the news to the community. A deceased woman receives four shots. During funeral observances – especially for important elderly members of the community, many rounds of guns and mortars are fired.

These guns being fired are not your typical, modern manufactured weapons. They are all homemade guns that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They are always muzzle loaders and usually look like single barreled shotguns. Problems arise when those in the firing squads get a bit overzealous and pack too much gunpowder down the barrel.

Our hospital sees its fair share of gun-related injuries. The more of these cases have to do with these DIY weapons exploding in their owner’s hands instead of people being hit by gun shot. Gun owners come in with horrible wounds to their hands that usually require the amputation of fingers.

With Bugum Toobu (Fire Festival) approaching in a few days, we thought it appropriate for Heidi to discuss some of the gun traumas she has dealt with at BMC.

** WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES **
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But what is the relationship between magic and modernity in postcolonial Africa?

Magic, divination and the belief in spirits imbuing material objects and ancestors, is hardly ‘a hangover from the past’ but rather an attempt to locate meaning and prosperity in a modern, postcolonial world characterized by monetary forms and global market economies.

Bernhard M. Bierlich