On a recent hike I came across piles of recently harvested beans on a large stony area. Each large pile had a small shea nut tree branch and a piece of dried okra set on top. My guides were Bimoba who spoke no English and a little Mampruli. They managed to communicate that the branch and okra were meant to deter thieves.
I took some photos and came home and showed them to my language teacher. He laughed and identified them as bumbɛriga or magic traps. Magic traps are a whole category of juju that come in a variety of forms. The general idea is that some sort of curse or misfortune will fall upon anyone who steals or harms that which the trap protects.
In this particular case, the superstition is that the okra will render the thief infertile and the branch will cause him to get deathly ill if he ever eats anything with shea nut butter in it.
Earlier this year I also came across a bumbɛriga on a loaded mango tree in Zɔgyiligu. It was in the form of a gourd hanging from the tree. It had a few markings on it and had been stuff with some secret ingredients. The tree owner simply told me it would kill any thieves.
Sometimes other languages say it best. The word for laziness in Mampruli is gbinnya’ari which is transliterated as “butt roots.” So a lazy person is a gbinnya’adaana or “one with butt roots.” They’ve been sitting on their butts doing nothing for so long that they’ve grown roots!
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
It’s because of the donkey’s wickedness that God refused him a horn.
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.
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.
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.