Ghana’s Historic Mosques: Maluwe

This is one of a series of posts about Ghana’s only six remaining historic mud mosques built in the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style.


Maluwe is a small village just east of Bui National Park by which the Wa-Techiman highway passes. Its mud mosque sits right on that heavily trafficked road. Unlike most of the other mud mosques in Ghana, it has not had a larger, more modern mosque built to replace it.

A Unique Update to Sudano-Sahelian Architecture

The mosque follows the Sudanic style with two towers that are much taller than Bole mosque‘s, but don’t quite reach the impressive heights of Banda Nkwanta’s mosque. According to the current imam, the northwest tower (left) has collapsed twice and the one standing is its third reconstruction attempt.

One unique aspect to this mosque is that it is longer than the others in the region. It has more of a rectangular shape than a squarish one.

This is perhaps because the back quarter of the building is what appears to be a recent addition made with cinder blocks and cement, and plastered to appear like the rest of the mud building. Notice how the last two buttresses on the back side (west) are a bit thicker and much more precise in their structure with sharp edges. If that new addition to be absent and we’d be left with a mosque much more like the shape of the one in Nakore.

A view of the back (west) wall of the mosque also reveals its more modern construction technique. There are no buttresses supporting the northwest and southwest corners and instead there are sharp corners. Such unsupported corners are possible only with a cinder block construction.

Looking at the flat rooftop you can see that the back side of the flat roof drops down a bit as if it was a separate roof added later. Another interesting evolution in style is that the northwest tower doesn’t contain the stairwell to the roof. Instead it’s a simple storage room (with some old megaphones in it). Access the roof is found via a very small door in a raised portion of the roof next to the east tower. I was unable to enter the mosque and see if it was a stairwell or just a ladder.[1]

The Origins of Maluwe Mud Mosque

I was lucky to meet and speak with Mr. Baba Yousif, the fifth imam of the historic mosque. He is a kind, soft-spoken man who was happy to tell me what he knew of the mosque’s history. He recounts that his father, who was the fourth imam, said the mosque was built in 1942. He can even give the exact date that it was completed because his father was drafted into the British Army the week after they held their first Friday prayers in the new building (Yousif has his father’s enlistment document to prove it)!

The imam’s mother Aisha Yousif is the oldest living resident of Maluwe, Ghana. She was a young girl at the time of its construction.

Imam Baba Yousif also shared with me that he this mosque was build by a muslim missionary from Mali. The man has passed through the region and built five mud mosques along the way. Yousif claimed that the first was in Mandari (now destroyed), then Bole, then Dakrupe (also gone), then Maluwe, and finally Banda Nkwanta. It’s an interesting idea but doesn’t seem to match up with research presented by other historians and archaeologists.[2]

There was no visitor registry to sign at Maluwe nor did Mr. Yousif require any fee to look at and photograph the building. However, like Larabanga’s mosque entry by non-muslims was forbidden so I don’t have images of the interior or any idea of its condition.

 


1 The imam mentioned that some archaeologists from Europe visited his mosque and surveyed it to “put in a book” a couple years ago. I’m wondering if it was Genequand’s team he was referring to. They published details of surveys of Banda Kwanta (to the south) and Bole (to the north) in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology Vol 4.2 but left out Maluwe. Perhaps the modern alterations to the structure made it less relevant to their historical study.

2 For example, Denis Genequand says the Maluwe imam told him it was built in the 1930s in the SLSA 2015 Annual report. He makes no mention of the Malian missionary account nor does he link the construction of the Bole, Maluwe and Banda Nkwanta mosques.

Be sure to check out my other posts about Ghana’s ancient mud mosques: Nakore, Bole

Ghana’s Historic Mosques: Bole

This is one of a series of posts about Ghana’s only six remaining historic mud mosques built in the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style.


On my trip to see the ancient mosques in northern Ghana, I was disappointed to find two of the three mud mosques in the Upper West Region to be collapsed and abandoned. Entering the Northern Region, my first stop was in ex-president John Mahama’s hometown of Bole where another Sudano-Sahelian style mosque was reported to stand.

I was pleased to find it not only standing but in great condition and still in use. I greeted the chief imam, signed the visitor register, paid my 10 cedis and was given a guide to take me in. I arrived a bit after noon time and they were preparing for midday prayers so my tour was a bit rushed.

As with Nakore mosque, the guide had very little knowledge of the history and construction of the old mosque. However, Denis Genequand and his team of archaeologists sponsored by the Swiss-Liechtenstein Foundation for Archaeological Research Abroad (SLSA) did a thorough survey of the Bole Mosque in 2015. They published their study of the mud mosque in the SLSA 2015 Annual report (p.53-65) and it includes the history of the mosque, a detailed architectural survey and results of radiocarbon dating on pieces of wood and charcoal from the mosque.

2015 survey and drawing of Bole mosque by Christian de Reynier and Sylvain Dumont

2015 survey and drawing of Bole mosque by Christian de Reynier and Sylvain Dumont

The oral traditions surrounding the ancient mosque’s history are inconsistent and confused at best. Genequand’s research casts serious doubt on claims of the mosque being 200-300 years old. His Bole mosque radiocarbon results suggest otherwise and combined with the historical razing of Bole by Samori Touré in 1896 [1] they place its construction in the early 20th century.

One interesting feature of the “ancient” Bole mud mosque is that the wooden poles that are found in and between the buttresses do not function as any sort of structural support to the building. They are used as scaffolding for times of maintaining the plaster and painting. However, they are mainly decorative features meant to maintain the West Sudanese aesthetic.

I wonder if this applies to some of Ghana’s other remaining Sudano-Sahelian mosques. It may explain why their towers are prone to collapse and reinforce the idea that most of them are only around a hundred years old. At that point, those with a true mastery of Sudanic mud architecture had passed on.

Along those same lines, the Bole mosque has the shortest towers of all the mud mosques of Ghana. One could describe Bole’s less as towers and more like pyramidal domes. Perhaps also related to the lack of structural support from the bush poles?

Like the Nakore historic mosque, a few modern improvements have been made to this building. The most egregious (in my opinion) is that in the last year or so they tiled the floor. In Genequand’s 2015 images, the floor is of traditional plaster but that is now covered by mass-produced, ceramic, square tiles.

I was disappointed to see that the local community has put their energy and finances into modern tiles but left other parts of the mosque in disrepair. The building could use a new whitewashing and the support beams in the ceiling were visibly infested with termites. Unless something is done to control the termites, I wouldn’t be surprised if the roof collapses in a year or two.

 


1 Levtzion, N., 1968: Muslims and Chiefs in West Africa. A Study of Islam in the Middle Volta Basin in the Pre-Colonial Period. Oxford.

Be sure to check out my other posts about Ghana’s ancient mud mosques: Nakore

Ghana’s Historic Mosques: Nakore

This is one of a series of posts about Ghana’s only six remaining historic mud mosques built in the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. 


Just southwest of Wa in Ghana’s Upper East Region, lies the small village of Nakore (inaccurately labeled Kapaguri on Google). Behind the central mosque stands a centuries-old mud mosque in the ancient Sudanic style of architecture. It has recently been painted white and stands in beautiful contrast to its dull, modern surroundings. Read More

Visiting the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary

I’ve always been a bit scared of hippos. I think it started in Ivory Coast when a missionary shared a horrific testimony about being attacked by a hippo. Then in 2008, I saw a hippo attack victim first hand at BMC (and I saw ‘justice’ served to the aggressor).

The hippopotamus is considered one of the most dangerous animals in the world because it is so aggressive and unpredictable. Add to that the statistic that they kill about 3000 (!) people a year and you’ll understand why I was hesitant to get in a dug-out canoe and approach them on the Black Volta. Nonetheless, after a bit of research I understood the importance that Wechiau plays to protecting these large, amphibious creatures in Ghana and wanted to support that community with a visit and some advocacy.

A hippo in the Black Volta River in the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary.

Read More

White Volta Rapids in Dry Season

Last October, at the very end of rainy season, Nils and I hiked to the White Volta rapids north of Gambaga. There we found the engorged river roaring over an impressive rock formation. We decided then that we’d come back at the end of dry season to see the difference.

Nils and our friend Richard Jangdow joined me this time. The hike was a long one (9.5 miles, in & out) and it was blazing hot (108°F in the shade) but we made it and enjoyed soaking our feet in the water. Comparing the photos from this trip and the last one, I’m surprised that it wasn’t that much lower – probably a meter at most.

After hanging out at the rapids, we headed back to the hunter’s camp about two and a half miles east and the ferryman offered to give us a canoe ride up the river. I hung back and flew my drone to get shots of them in the boat.

Rock Paintings on the Gambaga Escarpment (Tusugu, Gingana and Kpatritinga)

In 1964, archaeologists P.L. & P.J. Carter published a paper entitled Rock Paintings from Northern Ghana. In it they detail their discovery of ancient rock art in January 1963 – the first to be documented in the newly formed nation of Ghana. I myself had stumbled across some very primitive pictographs on the Gambaga Escarpment a few miles from Nalerigu (more on that in a bit) and I was curious to see what they had found 55 years ago.

The drawings (illustrated by Carter to the right) were found right along the Ghana-Togo border on the Gambaga Escarpment (just north of the village of Tusugu or Tusik). On a rock shelter in the side of the cliffs, they found the well-preserved remains of an ancient community. There were over a dozen large terre pisé structures and twice as many smaller granary like constructions. On the walls among the cliff dwellings were four collections of the Ghanaian pictographs. Read More