*THE MO/DEG PEOPLE OF GHANA*
*the mo/deg people of ghana are found in the northern and brong ahafo regions.they speak deg or mo language.*
*ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF DEGA*
location and name:
the dega people live within both the brong ahafo and northern regions of ghana. the two regions are divided by the black volta river which also separates the two major towns that have paramount chiefs, new longoro (maantukwa) and bamboi (gbanboi). the entire dega area used to be within the ashanti territory until the british colonial government created the northern territory in 1908 and used the black volta river as a boundary without due cognizance of the fact that one ethnic group had been divided over two territories. this demarcation resulted in protracted local political tension, especially between bamboi and new longoro.
nevertheless, the same demarcation was used when after independence the brong ahafo region was created. dega hare (dega land) is therefore split between the bole district in the northern region and the wenchi and kintampo districts in the brong ahafo region. on the map of ghana, the dega are surrounded by nafaana people on the west, bono in the south and gonja to the north. the entire area is estimated to be 1,700 sq km with about 46 villages comprising mainly mud and thatched houses. some dega migrated to the jaman district and are in villages like bonakire, adadiem and dokachina. another group moved to settle in cote d’ivoire and live in villages like dwoboi, wireke and zagala and the dega in ghana call them lamoolatina (the people beyond the river). those in ghana too have various indigenous names.
the people call themselves dega, meaning ‘multiplying’, ‘spreading quickly’ or ‘fertility’. one person is called a deg, the language is also known as deg and they call their land dega hare. other ethnic groups in ghana know them as mo and there are three theories behind the name mo.
in 1893 the people of nkoransa and abease, now in the brong ahafo region but then in the ashanti territory, were attacked by asante when the nkoransa chief nana kofi fa refused to pay tribute to the asantehene, agyeman prempe ill. the dega were well known for their exploits in war and nkoransa asked them for help. according to h.j. hobbs, the acting provincial commissioner of the british colonial government, “in this war, the mos and abeases fought for nkronza and banda for asanti. the nkronza and their allies were defeated at sabule a mo village”. this war was also confirmed by a report that perregant, a basel missionary gave in 1894. when he reached nkoransa he “found the whole of nkoranza district in ruins, the majority of the old population remaining in deep need, sore without even cloth for clothes”. according to him, “the account of the issue leading to war is that the nkoranzas refused the yearly tribute of 30 girls and young men”. even though nkoransa and her allies were defeated, they sent a congratulatory message to dega due to the gallant role they played in this battle, saying “mo, mo, mo!”, meaning thank you. this won them the name, mofoo, an akan word literally meaning, “the people who did well”.
doni-kwame alludes to the fact that the name ‘mo’ might have come from a pantera prefix monoo. the pantera people who call themselves nafaana are a neighbouring group in the brong ahafo region. dega was famous for the production of large pots which were sold in the southern markets by the pantera women. the pantera women used to respond to greetings with words like “mpange, mo maa”, meaning, “you are welcome. thank you, madam”. “mpange, mo no”. “welcome. thank you father”. due to the frequent use of the word “mo”, the akans referred to their products as “mo kukuo”, meaning mo pots. later when it became known that the dega people were the producers of the pots, the name was then used to describe them, hence the name, mofoo.
the third theory is that the name came from the dega word for the black volta
river, moh. one of the major occupations of the dega villages along the black volta is fishing. the dega women would carry the fish to markets in kintampo, techiman and wenchi and when asked where they got the fish from, their response was “yedefiri moh meaning we brought them from moh. they used the deg word for black volta because they did not know the asante-twi word. so anytime the akan women saw the dega women bringing fish to the market, they would point to them saying, “mofoo no de adwene reba”, meaning the moh people are bringing fish.
from the research survey conducted, the most popular theory was the first. the
majority of respondents said that their ancestors got the name from the help they gave to nkoransa during their battle with asante. in some writings, the two names are put together as modega to describe the people and modeg, the language.
the origin of dega:
dega, as they are known today, migrated to their present area from different places under different leaders at different periods. each group has their own story of origin and migration. from interviews conducted, some migrated from the sisaala land in the north-western part of ghana, when a fight arose over a dog’s head which had been sacrificed to their earth deity, teo. the ancestors of dega had an annual rite during which dogs were sacrificed to their earth deity. the legs and head were left on the shrine and it was believed that whoever ate them would attain power from the deity. the legs and head were, therefore, usually shared among all the elders.
on this particular occasion, some sisaala people ate them without sharing.
according to david mensah who is a deg, the sisaala shared the meat but there was a complaint that the elder who divided the meat had cheated the rest.a demand arose that the meat should be shared again but the accused elder objected to it and ate his part. those who felt cheated started beating the elder and inter-ethnic war erupted. the above story is confirmed by two other sources. in 1926, (sgd.) r. brace-hall who was the district commissioner of western gonja wrote the following in relation to the origin of mo: the mo [sic] originate from sissala and moved, how long ago does not seem to be known, south until they reached the volta where they settled, as the result of a dispute over the proprietorship of a dog’s head. ls second, the head of the nandoma clan, namoa kwaku kyina, of longoro (one of the oldest towns in dega hare) indicated that one group migrated from a village known as tiwii in sisaala under the leadership of maala and paago. he then related the following concerning the origin of dega: our ancestors lived among the grusi in a town called longoro. they were not grusi but lived among them and spoke their own language, deg. from here we went to settle among the sisaala. our ancestors left the grushies because they demanded so much from them. when they moved among the sisaala, they came with their earth deity, tea, and they used to sacrifice dogs to it and shared the meat with the sisaala. during one of such sacrifices, our ancestors left the head and legs on the vog and the sisaala took the meat without permission. this brought serious conflict and our ancestors decided to migrate.
maala was not a deg but was our ancestors’ land lord when they were living in the sisaalaland. he offered to mediate but when our ancestors insisted on leaving, maala decided to move with them. the nandoma (meaning, i have seen my enemies) clan owns teo and so performs all the rituals. some of our ancestors who migrated were: kombo, nandoma, paago, and kwanben pete. it was after we settled on degaland that paago
was made a chief.
in his book, peoples, languages, and religion in northern ghana. peter barker says that “kasena people are often known as grunshies, from the word grunshi or grunga meaning slave in some northern languages including hanga. the term grunshi may have been widely used by mamprusi and dagomba slave raiders to describe tribes in the area at present forming the upper east and especially upper west regions where they made repeated raids. none of these people would have described themselves as grunshi, but for convenience they came to adopt the name used by their neighbors to the east and south.”
because of what maala did, even paago always took off his sandals before greeting him, as a sign of respect and appreciation. for proximity purposes, the british colonial officer asked the mohene (the chief of mo) to move to the new site, new longoro (maantukwa) since longoro was away from the main road. koro kwaku damkwa was the first mohene to settle in new longoro.
another group came under the leadership of joge and gbage from jefisi also in sisaala and settled in jogeboi and gbanboi (bamboi) respectively. a third group, led by kpaah djan, also migrated from jefisi and settled in jan and later moved to their present place, jama.
another version of this story says that paago was the son of maala and he became a chief through conquest and intermarriage. however, nnaa kwame adjei, the hareti of
longoro explained that paago died as a clan head and the first longorokoro was dimpo
i.it is also believed that maala did not die but disappeared into a hole in manchala. a room with a flat roof has been built over the hole and any new paramount chief enters the room bare-footed to show himself to maala.
according to oral history, the groups that migrated from sisaala met the people of
kandige and chebrenyoa who had already settled on the land. the people of kandige say
that their ancestor and founder, weripi, came over the black volta in an iron boat.
those in chebrenyoa believe that their ancestors emerged from a hole at karampodera but moved to the present site due to lack of water. other groups from the tekyi and damkwa clans also joined the dega later. those from the takyi line are gonja who became part of the longoro paramountcy when they joined dega. tekyi and his sister
wurikye came from kosogwo in the gonjaland to bewela and then continued to longoro. they were first received by the brafokoro (the chief executioner). during their stay, the asantehene had sent to collect gold dust and slaves from dega and they had
none to give. wurikye gave some gold dust and a slave to be paid as tribute to asantehene. as this gesture continued from time to time, tekyi and wurikye asked what they would receive in turn and they were offered the chance to be part of the longoro dynasty. they are the leera clan of dega. the damkwa line came with their ancestor, golo-maala, from felenyoa in the sisaala land and they were offered a place to live. they proved to be good and helpful friends and offered special assistance to the paago dynasty. in appreciation, they were offered a share in the paramountcy and were told that if questioned, they should explain that “a friend offered it to us”, hence the name “damkwa”, meaning “things for my friend”. nnaa adjei explained that dega were not many and were therefore open to embrace strangers. whenever strangers proved good, they were accepted to be part of them. dega people are not able to give the date of their migration since they came in various groups at different times. however, the vagla who moved first from sisaala after the dog’s head saga, date their migration around 1600 ad.27 the acting provincial commissioner of the british colonial government, h.j. hobbs, wrote, the mos are grunshi stock and migrated from twei, grunshi to northern asanti, at the time osai bonsu was asantihene. the reason of their migration was a quarrel between mala and dakora which developed into a fight between them and their respective supporters. the asantehene, nana osei bonsu, reigned from 1800 to 1823 and according to hobbs, the ancestors of dega might have migrated to their present location within this period. reconciliation of the two dates means that there was a span of about 200 years between the migration of vagla and mo. however, indications from oral history do suggest a shorter span of time between their migrations. meanwhile, the political and social structures of dega hare began to undergo some changes as they interacted with neighbouring ethnic groups.
political and social structure:
dega migrated with their distinctive political and social structures which have evolved over the years. the akan type of chieftaincy that is seen among the dega was adopted through their association with asante and boron. dega migrated with dia nomoa (clan heads) and vogti (spiritual leaders) as their community leaders. to a large extent, each clan head was independent. jamakoro explained that teo [the earth deity] is a symbol of authority over a piece of land where it is erected. any chief of mo who has teo has absolute power over his land. he does not serve any other chief in mo.
however, the situation changed when the dega became the vassal of asante after
they were defeated in war. according to nnaa kwame adjei and his elders, dega did not
go under the asantehene because they were defeated but they were asked to be part of
asante. asante found them to be brave fighters and dega helped asante during their war with denkyira. the longorokoro, (longoro chief), who was sometimes referred to as
boikoro or batakarihene32 , was recognized as the paramount chief and the akan chieftaincy system was adopted. other clan heads were appointed as divisional chiefs and queens were also appointed. according to doni-kwame, “this chieftaincy arrangement was copied from the ashanti system by nnaa kwasi addae”.apart from the bamboikoro who sometimes exhibited a reluctance to serve the asantehene under the leadership of the longorokoro, all the other chiefs served under the longorokoro without any notable complaints.
matters changed further when in 1908 the british colonial government used the
black volta river that runs between bamboi and new longoro (maantukwa) as a demarcation between the ashanti and the northern territories.major towns like
bamboi, jogboi, nepui, tasalima, chebrenuyoa and jama became part of the northern territory and therefore served under a new district commissioner and house of chiefs.
the bamboikoro in particular questioned why he should continue to serve under the mohene who was in a different territory. this resulted in a long dispute and in 1912 the mohene petitioned the then governor, u. thorburn asking that “the mos north of the river be placed under the district commissioner of kintampo again and his [the
mohene’s] paramountcy over them be restored”. the governor refused and gave what amounted to virtual independence to the towns in the northern part of mo and ordered that they should appoint a head chief to represent them. accordingly, in 1913 the chief of bamboi was appointed to represent the villages on the north side of the river. 36 during an inquiry held at kintampo on 5th january 1933, before major j.s.r. robertson, district commissioner of wenchi and mr. guthrie hall, district commissioner of gonja, to investigate the claim of the omanhene of longoro to paramountcy over the koro of bamboi, nana yaw dodi (dagwi) through kwasi agina, benkumhene complained, since the whiteman came we have been divided. before, if the people of bamboi got anything they gave half to me. now these people have even
closed the road to my people and it makes me very sad.
it appears that the longorokoro suffered the consequences of the divide and rule policy of the colonial government because asante had been declared a british crown
colony in 1902 and the northern territories, a british protectorate. since the longorokoro was still loyal to asante, it was not in the interest of the colonial government for the towns in north mo to be under him. the longorokoro therefore became the victim of the prevailing political situation. the same demarcation was
sustained when the brong ahafo region was created in 1959. as a result, the dega
people have been divided between the brong ahafo and the northern regions of ghana. the dega in the brong ahafo region are referred to as south mo and those in the northern region as north mo. the south mo continued with the akan political system with the longorokoro, nnaa kwaku dimpo ii, as the paramount chief. however, the chiefs in north mo did not have any centralized authority. in 1991 the provisional
national defense council government gazetted the bamboikoro, nana kwaku dapaa jr,
as the paramount chief of north mo. the koros of the three main towns namely, jogboi,
chebrenuyoa and lama, were not happy because they claimed that this was done without
their approval. this action brought with it attendant problems and doni-kwame has
made the following observation:
there is no cohesion in the north mo administrative structure. there is no
unity and nana kwaku dapaa 11, bamboikoro, is hardly recognized by the
other chiefs as their central figure. his long absence from home in
america makes his impact very minimal. 38
the chief of lama which is one of the important towns in north mo has also
remarked that nana kwaku dapaah li’s claim as paramount chief of north mo
traditional area is an artificial one fabricated through manipulation. his
over-ambition to remain as a permanent paramount chief is creating a lot of problems for nana dapaah himself in particular and mo in general.this is because nana dapaah is now a mere figurehead. govina writes that “the bamboikoro humbly apologized to the other chiefs for having done wrong against them. this took place in jugboi, where sacrifices were made to pacify the gods.” and he adds, “there are many issues surrounding this misunderstanding.
through this research, the writer has observed that dega chiefdom has been characterized by litigation. for example, longorokoro nnaa kwaku damkwa was destooled in april 1948 and replaced by nnaa kwasi amanin-ampong (banempo). he
was also destooled in december) 949 and nnaa kwaku dimpo ii was enstooled on
january 2, 1950. nnaa dimpo ii spent most of his almost fifty year reign attending to
court disputes. several attempts were made to destool him until his death in 1999. he has not been replaced because of internal disputes in the leera (takyi) clan which is the next line of succession. the protracted chieftaincy disputes in the dega hare (dega land) are certainly impacting negatively on the socio-economic
development of the area. whenever litigation is at its peak, citizens of north and south mo cannot socialize during activities such as funerals and festivals. it is not uncommon to see people from bamboi beaten up in new longoro and vice versa. some of the causes of litigation in dega hare are the conflict over the ownership of the black volta river and the integration of the akan chieftaincy systems.
the queenship system, haan-koro, was not part of the dega indigenous traditional leadership structure at all. this was confirmed during an interview with the hareti of longoro, nnaa kwame adjei and his elders. in the akan system, the queen mother is very powerful and nominates a candidate for new chiefs for approval by the kingmakers. in the mo system, “the queen mothers have no customary recognition and
therefore have no hand in either enstoolment or destoolment”.they rather work as
women leaders and mobilize women for community activities during festivals and other
occasions. they also accompany the chiefs during official durbars. because of the long alliance with asante and boron, dega hare has been influenced by a number of akan customs. among them are the chieftaincy system, the gbonjen (jontomfrom, a huge sounding drum), wearing of cloth and golden ornaments, carrying of chiefs in the palanquin and adoption of twi names. however, some dega claim that the gbonjen was indigenous to dega hare.46 deg names like damkwa have been changed to danquah and chewa to kyei. traditionally, dega chiefs used to wear large smocks and rode horses which explain why, in the asantehene’s palace, the mohene was also called batakarihene (the chief of smock). the way chiefs wore their hats signified their status in the society.
to a large extent, the social life of the dega is guided according to the dictates of
the earth deity, teo. in notes on history of mo, the acting provincial commissioner of the british colonial government, hj. hobbs commented, a remarkable incident of this battle was that the mos captured a lot of banda gold ornaments, which they handed over to the nkoranzas, for they did not desire gold. in support of this there are no gold stool ornaments and it is stated the [sic] no mo man is allowed to possess gold. it was not because the dega did not desire gold, but because of religious fidelity. the main deity of dega hare, teo, tabooed war booty and gold in particular, so chiefs were not permitted to wear any gold ornaments. the longoro hareti, nnaa kwame adjei added that teo tabooed gold because it is a golden deity and saw the introduction of any golden item as rivalry.
however, during an inquiry to investigate longorokoro’s claim of paramountcy over bamboi, the following cross-examination took place in relation to gold in dega
hare. the court asked bamboikoro, “who is forbidden to have gold?” and he answered,
“the bamboikoro is forbidden but not jugboikoro, so he looked after the gold mining”.
again he was asked, “what happened to the gold after the banda war?” to this he
answered, “the former chief changed it all for cowries with the ashanti in kumasi”. the proceedings indicate that there was gold mining in some parts of dega hare and not all the chiefs were forbidden to handle gold.
during an interview with the jogboikoro and nomoa kwasi briama, they
confirmed that their ancestors kept the said gold and there was a gold mine at kwi, land which has now been claimed by gonja. opanin kwaku seidu of new longoro also
confirmed it and mentioned that it was in a place called kwi. commenting on the same issue, hareti kwame adjei added that after the alliance with asante, koro yaw dagwi went to kumasi and saw how beautifully asante chiefs had been adorned with golden ornaments. when he returned, he went through the necessary traditional sacrifices and pleaded with teo to allow them to use gold and the gold taboo was consequently
abolished. this is indicative of the fact that even though the akan say amanmere yento ntwene (traditional custom should not be thrown away), yetumi sesa no (it can be changed).
although dega were great fighters and were victorious in many wars, the booty of
gold they obtained was given away. this probably explains why, though great warrior
communities such as asante became rich through war booty, dega hare did not. most of the communities of dega iive in villages made up of earth houses with grass roofs. their ancestors used to bui id houses with flat roofs but these have changed over the years. there were only two buildings with flat roofs in longoro and manchala
(mansra). the one at longoro belonged to the head of nandoma clan who is in charge of
the main earth deity. he explained that it depicted the architectural style of their ancestors and as the spiritual head of longoro, he was required to maintain it. the one at manchala was built over the place that maala was believed to have sunk into the ground. the flat roof type of house structure is common among the kasena, bulsa and grunne (described as grushi) from whom their ancestors migrated. the architectural styles in dega hare are of different varieties: flat mud roofs, round and rectangu lar thatch roofs, as well as modern rectangular houses with corrugated aluminum roofs. dega families are made up of children from the father. women marry outside the clan but are expected to return to their father’s home after the death of their husbands.
however, the children remain in their father’s home. a great number of people from
other ethnic groups in ghana, especially the dagati people from the upper west region, settle and farm in dega hare. describing his own people, david mensah has written they love festivals, intense idol worship, witchcraft and tribal dancing. it
is a very happy tribe, although idol worship has ruined many homes due to the excessive sacrifices that have decimated the already limited supply of cattle, goats, sheep, dogs and fowls.
dega are among the few ethnic groups in africa that practice both patrilineal and
matrilineal systems of inheritance. royal succession is patrilineal and the chief is
succeeded by the father’s family. however, property succession is matrilineal. according to opanin kwaku seidu, the amponsa stool is inherited matrilineally because at a time that sons were expected to fight and defend the stool, they ran away and it was the nephews rather, who fought. the clan head, therefore vowed that those who had risked their iives should be the rightful successors.
the dega are located in the area of ghana where there is a transition from forest
to savannah. the people are mostly subsistence farmers, growing yams, cassava, maize,
melon (akatoa) and groundnuts. there is also river fishing, animal husbandry and a few traditional crafts such as pottery and weaving. women collect uncultivated shea nuts annually and make shea-butter. plantations of cashew and teak trees have been
introduced recently and a number of dega have started cultivating them. production of
charcoal from felled trees has lately become one of the main occupations, to the
detriment of the environment. the african development bank is sponsoring an irrigation project at new longoro and it was scheduled to be completed by november 2004. it has been planned to irrigate 535 acres of land and provide fish ponds for fish farming. cooperative groups have been formed and the members are hopeful that commercial farming will be boosted when completed.
fishing is no longer as lucrative as it used to be in the dega hare as a result of
detrimental practices such as poisoning the fish in the rivers with dot. this constitutes a deviation from the indigenous way of fishing, in which people used the juice from the bel plant that was inter-cropped with cassava. the leaves were beaten and dumped into the rivers. this intoxicated the fish and made them float temporarily so that the people could collect them. the potency lasted for about an hour and so the people had to hurry to collect as much as they could.
the writer observed that few people were involved in animal husbandry on a
commercial basis. animals were left to roam about and the mortality rate was always
very high during outbreaks of diseases. they were rarely eaten but served as a financial security in times of emergency or were reserved for sacrifices to yoga (earth deities).
david mensah has again observed that;the idols demanded most of the goats and sheep. our idols had an unsatiable [sic] appetite for blood. they required sacrifices from everyone- even the very poor and sick. they protected us, but at a very high cost.58
salaried workers comprised mainly teachers and agriculture extension officers. the lack of employment in dega hare has impacted the demography and the rate of migration.
demography and migration:
according to the summary report of the 2000 population and housing census,59
the total population of dega people in ghana is 55,174, representing 0.3% of the national population which is 18,912,079. out of this number, 21,016 live in the brong ahafo region while 5,178 live in the northern region. about 28,980 live in the other eight regions with 8,514 iiving in greater accra region alone. an estimated 1,100 dega people have moved and settled in cote d’ivoire. the statistics show that there are more dega living outside the dega hare and there is a high degree of migration. a number of factors account for this and in 1986 peter barker observed that dega people migrate in search of work and education, or to escape witchcraft. they go to such places as techiman, tamale, kumasi, accra and abidjan. some migrate annually and return to work on their own farms when the rains begin.
even though the first formal school was established in dega hare as early as 1944, there is only one senior secondary school in the entire mo land.61 the majority of dega therefore migrate to other parts of the country for education.
education and literacy:
formal education started in dega hare when the first primary school was opened
at longoro in 1944.the school came as a result of a request that koro yaw dagwi and his methodist missionary friend, samuel kwaw akesson, made in 1942. the first head
teacher was mr. kwabi, a methodist teacher-catechist from agona nsabaa in the central
region of ghana. he had to go round to plead with parents to send their children to
school. among the few children who pioneered the school were s.k. pambo who is now
the chief of jama, john manu, peter kojo and james kagbaah. recounting his
experience, nnaa pambo if had this to say;i started my primary school education in 1944 when i was about 8 years at old longoro. it was by sheer luck for me to get this rare opportunity to enter into classroom among the first few children in the whole mo to study. one teacher kwabi had to solicit me seriously from my father.
things were not easy for my father to look after me in school, but i
managed to complete my middle school education in 1952 at wenchi
according to archival records, in the 1938/39 annual education report on wenchi the
ordained european methodist superintendent minister in wenchi reported that “during
the year under review the mission had four teacher-catechists at wenchi, kintampo,
longoro and techiman . it is likely that the teacher-catechist referred to was s.k.
akesson for he was at longoro around 1937 but the school was opened in 1944.
the longoro school was later relocated to another village, ayorya, for a number
of reasons. the area suffered from an acute water shortage in the dry season. it took great efforts to fetch water and a swarm of bees competed for the iittle that was avai lable.
according to doni-kwame; the longoro school did not live to see the light of day because of poverty, depravity and remoteness of the place. the school children had to
walk three miles twice a day to fetch water from the black volta for domestic use. hunger and disease was the lot of both teachers and pupils. there was no food and there was no market from where they could buy anything. the nearest town kintampo, was 18 miles to be walked on foot. parents gave little support to the school because education was seen as allegiance to christianity. some parents perceived it as a means of taking away their children from allegiance to the local deity.
namoa kwasi briama of carpenter was one of the pioneers of the longoro school. during an interview with him and the jogboikoro, he testified that he left the
school after primary two because of hunger and other hardships. however, hareti kwame adjei of longoro and his elders gave a different reason why the school was
moved to ayorya. according to them, the colonial district commissioner asked that the
school be moved to ayorya which was more accessible. koro yaw dagwi refused but after his death, koro kwasi addae acceded to the demand of the district administration.
additional schools were established later in other parts of dega hare. the first
primary school in north mo was opened at bamboi in 1948 and jama had one in 1956.
currently, dega people are making good efforts to encourage education and literacy
the mo students union (mosu) was initiated by the mo students at the
university of cape coast in 1998. they have as their motto: “ir nyu ne to a pera
bigro”, meaning “wake up from your sleep for the day is far spent”. this has grown to
embrace mo students in other tertiary institutions in ghana and there is now the national mo students association (namosa). the aims and objectives of namosa include
promotion of peace, education and the general development of mo traditional area.
another means to help develop education in dega hare is the jama koro foundation for
deg child education which was founded in august 2002 by dega like nana kojo pambo ii and rt rev felix doni-kwame. the vision of the foundation is to produce educated
youth who can read and write, and to develop the requisite skills for socio-economic
development of the area.
genetic language relationships and language use:
the languages of africa are grouped into four families namely, afro-asiatic,
nilo-saharan, khoisan, and niger-congo.the niger-congo linguistic area comprises
most of the african continent south of the sahara. the kwa languages are found in a strip along the west coast of africa from south-eastern nigeria to liberia. north of the kwa language region, extending from western nigeria into much of cote d’lvoire and burkina faso, are the languages of the gur branch including mossi, bariba, and gurma. the name “gur” was first used in 1889 as this syllable occurs in a number of linguistic and ethnic names from the area such as gurma, gurenne and gurunsi. deg belongs to the gur language family and is a member of the grushi subgroup. together with vagla, it forms a separate branch of south-western grushi cluster which includes tampulma, chakali and sisaala, all in ghana. according to m.e. kropp
dakubu, “vagla (abbreviation vg) is reasonably similar to chakali, deg, tampulma and
the southeastern and northwestern sisaala languages; sisaala of tumu is not too different, but kassem (ks) and the southeastern grusi languages chala and delo are rather less similar.
there are two mutually intelligible dialects in deg, namely longoro and mangom. the former is the main dialect spoken in most communities south of the black volta river, with the exception of villages like nyambwe, sabule and chaara where mangom is spoken. the latter is spoken in the north except chebrenuyoa and nipui (carpenter) that also speak longoro. there are three dega villages in the cote d’ivoire and another three in the jaman district in brong ahafo that speak a variation of mangom. the majority of dega speak the longoro deg and the bible has been translated into that dialect, primers for adult literacy programs are published both in longoro and mangom deg. however, as far as language use is concerned, it is not only deg that is used in dega hare.
asante-twi is the trade or commercial language in the area and it was mostly
used in churches before the linguistic development of deg. marjoric crouch, one of the summer institute of linguistics (sil) translators seconded to the ghana institute of linguistics, literacy and bible translation (gillbt), recalled that
in contrast to vagla, where we worked earlier, there were a number of churches in the mo area already but they were using asante-twi which was the language of the church. the language that was used during any important gathening was asantee-twi.
twi is taught in the schools in south mo but not in schools in north mo, since they are under a different region that operates a different policy. during an impact assessment seminar organized in the course of this research,it came to light that even though many more churches in the dega area are using deg, esteem for the language, especially outside dega hare is still low. deg is now used extensively within the dega area but it is not uncommon to see some dega families that live in akan areas speaking asante-twi to their children. since language is the main carrier of culture, this attitude is gradually influencing dega cultural beliefs and practices.
some dega cultural practices and beliefs:
dega have cultural practices that indicate their distinctiveness and also
demonstrate their cultural beliefs.
pea dii (yam festivai):
the most important festival that is celebrated by all dega communities is the pea
dii (literally, eating of yams), the yam festival. it is celebrated at different periods by each community and the festive activities start from the middle of july and run to the end of september. traditional festivals in africa differ according to the ecology and the social structure of the ethnic groups. the dega people are mostly farmers, hunters and fishermen and they therefore depend on nature for their livelihood. their cosmological ideas are therefore linked to their occupational habits and depict dependence on nature. the dega pedia is a harvest festival. 79 the main earth deity, teo, and other deities are given the honour of being the first to eat of the new yams and appreciation is expressed to korowii (god) and the voga (earth deities) in dega hare.there are two main rituals to the festival and the first part is called gbandawu.
items like ashes of burnt tree roots and some spices are mixed with yam and meat and
boiled into porridge form. some is offered to afafu, an earth deity and the rest is eaten by those who are believed to be spiritually powerful. the food is eaten while still boiling on fire and people eat it to demonstrate the potency of their spiritual powers.
the second ritual is the saga, (hanging of yams). traditionally, dega people can
only eat the new yams after these rites have been performed. those who break this rule are banned from coming to the premises of the deities until this rite is performed. in dega hare, longoro teo is the highest deity under korowii. the vogti (traditional priest) of longoro teo follows the deg calendar strictly and on one longo yawa (a day in deg) in the month of july he will go to his farm and dig a tuber of yam. the vogti in longoro usually performs th is rite on behalf of dega before they formerly now eat the new yams.
the vogti seeks permission from teo by sacrificing a chicken to assess whether
the communities can go ahead and celebrate pedia. teo is said to have given approval if the chicken lies on its back with the chest facing the sky. individual communities can now fix dates for their celebrations. farmers are given permission to harvest new yams from their farms after the hanging ritual. usually, children will follow those bringing new yams home shouting, tuuru! tuuru! tuuru! it is believed that as children shout and give appellations to the new yams, there will be better yield.
members of the community ensure that they have harvested enough yams. at
dawn the chiefs drummer will beat the talking drums to invoke the spirits of the
ancestors to join in the celebration. the drum also wakes up the women as early as 5:30 in the morning to prepare mashed yam. while the chiefs pour libation and sprinkle mashed yam on the community deities, individual clan heads do the same to family deities. chickens, goats or sheep are sacrificed to the deities.
gifts of yams and pieces of meat are sent to friends, the needy and strangers in the
community. the chief in each community will sit in state to receive homage and gifts
from his subjects in the midst of drumming and dancing. the festival continues into the night with dancing and sharing of food. the youth go round doing what is known as
kabidage (tasting). they help households to pound their fufu (yam) and they will be given some to eat. an added element to the festival is that communities now use it as an opportunity to discuss development programs, settle cases and contract marriages.
culture is said to be dynamic rather than static and this is true of the dega marital
procedure which has changed over the years. traditionally, the dega process for
contracting marriage involved the parents looking for wives for their sons. sometimes
this can begin when the prospective couple are even babies. when parents see a beautiful baby girl from a “good” home, they wi 11 express interest in her becoming the future wife of their son. a good home from the dega perspective is a family free from such stigmas as communicable diseases, murder, theft, laziness and barrenness. if the girl’s parents agree, she will be betrothed. occasionally, the boy’s family would give a stipulated amount of money and about 50 tubers of yams, corn and some fish to the girl’s family.
when the prospective couple is old enough to stay together as husband and wife,
the boy’s parents will send the stipulated amount to announce their intention to formally ask for the hand of their daughter. at this point, the girl’s parents will seek her consent before collecting the money. the actual customary marriage rites are performed and according to the tradition, the girl becomes the son’s wife. the girl does not go to the husband’s home right after the customary rites but waits for a period of time during which the boy’s family perform the lamanda. on a determined day, the girl and her friends will go to the husband’s farm to collect yams and the husband wi ii usually add some meat. this is known as kwaa kpoe,meaning taking of food. then the girl is taken to the new husband’s home by elopement to begin a three week period of hamfalidia, confinement. during this period, she is taught how to spin silk-cotton and she makes a traditional cloth called deg yal (deg cloth) for
her husband. if she is found to be a virgin, the husband announces her virginity to his family and the bride will be dressed in white and smeared with white clay. she and her family are hailed and honoured with gun shots. 83 she is given pieces of cloth and some beads for staying a virgin. the hamfali tradition encouraged a young woman to remain a virgin, therefore, preventing teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
the bride returns to her parents’ house after a period and the husband sends her
money non chona (help) to buy the items that she will need for her marital home. the
bride finally prepares for dia kora, which is where she now goes to start a home with the new husband. she goes to her marital home with friends and relatives who will help her to cook food and distribute them to the new community. this is to announce her presence and the acceptance of the food signifies the community’s recognition of the marriage.
people will usually return the bowls with some gift to the bride. the extensive marriage procedure of gifts made divorce very difficult and rare in dega hare.
mooga (first pregnancy) ritual:
mooga is done mainly to protect the first pregnancy of a woman. mooga is a
traditional means to make the newly pregnant wife aware of her new state and to offer her ante-natal and post-natal education. it is worth noting that the kasena from whom dega migrated to sisaala, also have a similar ritual for first pregnancy. the husband will go and divine to find out the food that the baby in the womb likes best. then it will be given to the pregnant woman’s best friend to prepare for her. after she has taken the first two bites, the friend knocks her hand away during the third attempt to eat and announces to her, “you are pregnant”. usually the newly pregnant wife would stop eating and start weepmg.
it is worth noting that traditionally, the fidelity of the man before marriage is not of much concern.
welcoming of babies:
there is a belief in dega hare that a baby takes the character of the first woman
who receives it during childbirth. careful choice is therefore made as to the woman who performs this important duty. the newly born is first bathed and water is thrown on the grass roof three times if the baby is a boy, and four times if it is a girl. some of the water is collected as it is dropping from the roof and given to the baby to drink. a drop is put on the tongue of the baby and it is welcomed into the family. opanin kwaku seidu explained that this is not a naming ceremony but it is a means of welcoming the child and wishing it long life. it is also believed that once this is done, the child will always want to return home no matter where he or she goes as an adult.
the dega only perform naming ceremonies when a baby cries abnormally. the
parents wi ii divine to find out the cause of the crying. often it means that an ancestor has reincarnated and wants the child to be named after him or her. under normal circumstances, parents wi11 name the child without any ceremony. the leera clan that migrated from among the gonja shaves off the first hair on the head of the newly born baby.
lwejena (big funerals):
lwejena is a dega joint or mass funeral that is celebrated for a number of people
who might have died within a year. any person who died within the year is buried shortly after death and the actual funeral is celebrated after the major harvesting season which falls between september and november. it is preceded with adequate preparation and hunters are mobilized to go and find game for the funeral. the night that the hunters return, kpaana, a type of drumming and dancing is performed. each hunter dances to display the game that he has brought home. when the one with the biggest game rises up to dance, all the others sit down and watch.
on a thursday all the bereaved relatives gather at the chiefs palace, including the
warriors and old women. the chief opens the ceremonies with a solemn speech as a tribute to the dead. a sheep is slaughtered for the dead who were advanced in age and a goat or chicken for the young who died. the chief leads the crowd to the houses of all the bereaved and animals are slaughtered again in each house. meanwhile traditional musical instruments like gbonjen and tinpane are beaten and people will either be dancing or wailing. the dancing and wailing go on the whole day and the people reassemble in the palace on the friday morning.
the hareti (the land owner) performs a ritual called chee to bring all the spirits of
those who died to the place where lwejena is being performed. the chee comprise soil
from the grave of the dead, feet of chicken sacrificed and old pieces of cloth that
belonged to the dead persons. the haret; ties them together and a young girl carries it to the village where the lwejena is to be performed. a messenger is sent ahead to inform the village of their arrival when they get to the outskirts. the entire viliage meets the chee to hail the spirits of the dead and the girl walks briskly into the houses of the successors to all the dead. at some point the chee is forcefully taken from her head and placed on the ground.
the hareti mixes corn or guinea-corn flour with water and pours it on the chee,
thus offering water to the spirits and welcoming them to their ancestral home. he
sacrifices another chicken to open the way for the dead to join the old ancestors. after this ritual all the men in the community move to the chiefs palace with their guns. the obrafo (chief executioner) leads them to the outskirts of the village where they open fire.
while they are firing, the women will be shouting ‘woo,woo, wooo,woooo’, to boost the
shooters’ moral. the gunmen are instructed by the obrafo to go round the village to hunt for death. meanwhile, the chief and his elders will be waiting in the palace anxiously for the outcome of their search.
on their return, the chief sends someone to meet them with pi/o, a local fermented
guinea corn drink, and they will narrate their achievement by telling the chief that, “we found that wicked death and fought a fierce battle and killed him”. on hearing this good news, the women will shout, ‘woo,wooo,wooooo,woooooo’. local drums like gbonjen, kpaana and jingo are beaten and people dance to celebrate the victory over death. this victory dance brings the lwejena to the end.
the hunting for death seems to be peculiar to the mongom in north mo.
the widowhood rites for widowers are different from those for widows. as long
as the wife is not buried, the man is not allowed to come to the house where the corpse is laid. after burial the man is shaved, sits on a funeral mat and then a day is set for the final funeral rites. all the things belonging to the dead wife ought to be taken to her father’s home and later given to the sister who succeeds her. she can decide to share the items with the children of the deceased. she has the responsibility to bring up the young daughters of the deceased sister. the man has the liberty to remarry after about a one year period. usually, the man is encouraged to remarry early in order to prevent the spirit of the deceased wife from tormenting him.
the rites that a widow goes through are more rigorous. she sits by the corpse and
places her right hand on it while wailing. this is to demonstrate her love for the deceased husband. she is not expected to accompany the corpse during burial. after burial, some elderly women in the community bath her and she is sent back into a room. her hair is shaved and white cloth is tied round the head. she is expected to sit in the room until after the final funeral rites and this could be as long as a month or more. if she has to go out, she is accompanied by some women who usually sit by her, one in front, and another behind. she is not supposed to look back when walking about. she walks about with a small piece of cloth around her waist, her left arm on the right shoulder and the right arm on her stomach. she is expected to wear this small cloth irrespective of the weather.
according to the hareti of longoro, all these rituals are done to protect her from being hunted by the spirit of the deceased husband. in time past, funerals of chiefs could be postponed for about seven years and for all those years, the wives were not expected to work.
within one year after the final funeral rites, the widow is returned to her father’s
home on a friday with only her own property. there is the traditional fear that if she continues to stay in her marital home or inherit any property of the deceased husband, she will die. the property of the deceased husband usually goes to his family. the children remain in the marital home and will inherit the father’s property if they are old enough. if they are still young, then the deceased’s brother from the maternal family inherits from him and he is expected to take care of the children but this rarely happens.
hare kwaara (ritual to redeem the land):
annually, a cow is sacrificed by the hareti (the land owner) to teo for a bumper harvest. this is done around april before the main farming activities of the year are
started. the land has to be redeemed from any curses and blessings asked from korowii
and the dega deities. the community normally contributes money to purchase a cow,
sheep or goat.
som too (sheanut collection) ritual:
another communal ritual that is done annually is the som too, the sheanut
collection ritual. before women go to collect sheanuts at the beginning of the season, the hareti and the han-koro (the head woman) are required to make a sacrifice to the hare (the land) and seek protection particularly from snake bites, for the women who will go to the bush to collect the nuts. the hareti and the hankoro pay for the pledges made the previous year and then make new pledges.
if the chicken sacrificed falls flat on its back with its chest facing the sky, then the sacrifices have been accepted and this is a sign that there will be no trouble. if it falls on its chest with its back facing the sky, then a vogre (diviner) will have to be consulted for divine interpretation. the vogre will then determine what steps to be taken next. the above rites and rituals give insight into the dega cosmology and worldview.
dega cosmology and worldview:
as i moved through dega hare during the research, i observed that the dega
people are very religious. their ancestors migrated with the earth deity, teo and they added other deities to it as they encountered them. teo and afafu are located in (old) longoro, kosorowei at bewele and jabuni who is a deity of war, is found in many dega villages. apart from these, there are many other clan deities that families keep. dega seek permission often from these deities before undertaking farming activities. they believe that failure to do this will result in drought, poor yield, pest infestations or even outbreak of sickness. these deities provide babies to women who ask and so children are named
after them. there are dega with names like kwaku teo, yaw ampara, kwabene firi,yaw bwe and kofi jabuni.
even before christianity or islam came to dega hare, they acknowledged the
existence of god, the supernatural being, who is called nnaa korowii jen, the great
ancestor who is the chief of all spirits. god’s name in deg also depicts the fact that he is greater than their great ancestors and is considered to be the king of all the supernatural beings and spirits. tt is worth noting that in dega cosmology, god is seen as spirit.
however, korowii as the chief of all spirits is too far away from humankind and can only be reached through ancestors, deities and other spirits. voga, the local deities, are seen as representatives of god. traditionally, dega believe that humankind come from korowii and return to ‘lalabwee’, the home of the dead. the dead still live among the living and want to be fed, so sacrifices are made for them or food is kept for them on special occasions. the dead reincarnate into the world. such babies are named after the dead who are believed to have reincarnated. they acknowledge that power is vested in their ancestors and the dead and so pray to god through them. therefore any venture or journey they make in life is usually preceded by divination. the dead are in a spiritual world and interact with the living. when a person dies, he or she joins the ancestors and so the dead are buried with items that they will use in the next world.
the living give items like deg yal and a mat to the newly dead to send to a father
who has died long ago. because of the belief that the dead go into a spiritual world,
traditional leaders like chiefs are buried with other people like wives and servants so that they can continue life as chiefs in the next world. david mensah writes,
the number of heads brought in by my great grandfather to bury a chief depended on the chiefs age. if the chief was young, perhaps in his fifties,he would need only a few companions since he was still strong. but should the chief be in his eighties then, he must have several people to accompany him on his celestial journey. he would need some young men to carry him in case he became tired of walking. his wives usually were the first to be beheaded. i am told that the senior wife usually considered it a privilege to go with her husband.
the dega paramount chief, who was a roman catholic, died in 1999 and people i
interviewed could not tell whether or not he was buried with other human heads. this is usually done in secrecy but others said they saw old human skulls displayed. dega
maintain interaction with their ancestors as depicted in their primal religious prayers.
a piece of cola nut is put into a calabash full of water and a prayer like the
following may be said: “my ancestor (name), this is your cola and water. come for water and let my problem be as cool as this water”. then a chicken is slaughtered and when it lies flat on its back with its chest facing the sky, then it is believed that the ancestors have accepted the plea. on the other hand, if the chicken lies on its stomach with its back facing the sky, then the plea has not been accepted. 100 an elderly deg man explained how traditional prayers were made.
our ancestors made local drink from nora (millet) and used it to pour libation. the drink was used to pray to korowii. the one pouring the libation will either be in white cloth or his body would be smeared with white clay. he will then pray a prayer like this: ‘nnaa korowii jen, this is your drink. you created heaven and earth and you are the king of all. you gave birth to the voga (local deities). we are going to give water or drink to our vog. please help us to succeed’. the prayer is first directed to nnaa korowii jen and whatever is to be offered is first given to him. so,
worshippers of vog know that they are essentially worshipping nnaa korowii jen through the vog. our ancestors believed that korowii gave vog to man to serve as his messenger and representative.
the drink is first given to nnaa korowii, then to hare (the land) and then to the vogti (local deities). this attests to the fact that the dega acknowledged god in their prechristian beliefs and practices and saw him as superior to their local deities. therefore,local deities like teo and afafu are not seen as ends in themselves but as messengers of korowii.
h.w. turner’s six-feature analysis of primal worldview:
harold turner’s six-feature analysis of the primal worldview provides a useful
framework for understanding the dega worldview.
kinship with nature:
turner looks at the ecological aspect of primal religions and touches on the
profound sense in many primal societies that humankind is akin to nature. human beings are children of mother earth and brother or sister to plants and animals which have their own spiritual existence and place in the universe. this is usually seen in the way the environment is used and at the same time revered. plants and animals are in totemic spiritual relationship with people and some become tutelary and guardian spirits. in a technologically oriented society, nature is exploited for human ends while in most primal oriented societies, people live in a relationship of mutual obligation with nature. kwesi dickson describes this as “the fellow-feeling that the african has with nature, which has led sometimes to the description of african religion as ‘nature religion’. western society may label and distinguish the animate from the inanimate, the physical from the metaphysical, the sacred from the secular, and the natural from· the supernatural.
however, to the deg such distinctions are not meaningful as far as his or her cultural worldview is concerned. for example, even though the black volta river is exploited for economic gains, it is also served as a deity.
there is the deep sense that human beings are finite, weak and impure or sinful
and stand in need of a power not his or her own. turner observes that this is not a sense: it is significant to note that a drink made from local grains was used to pour libation instead of imported drink as done today.that is found only among people of developing countries who live in abject poverty but an authentic religious sensibility coupled with a realistic assessment of the human condition. this sensibility and assessment have always been hidden from people from industrialised countries but it is present with them. turner underscores the universal needs of human beings for reliance on a more powerful spiritual being. however, this is more pronounced in a primal society like dega hare where the local deity, tea, is readily
available to be consulted. aware of his or her weakness, the deg depends on the
ancestors and deities through constant divination. every year, the hareti and the
haankoro make sacrifices to ask for protection for women that will go through the bush looking for sheanuts.
“man” is not alone:
turner sees the third feature as complementary to the second, which is the
conviction that humans are not alone in the universe for there is a spiritual world of powers or beings more powerful and ultimate than him. the primal world is therefore a personalised one and has a sense of causation. there should be a reason behind every event and the question to ask is, who caused it rather than what caused it. kwesi dickson has also observed that “the african predominantly interprets his world theologically, rather than in scientific terms, in terms of final rather than material causes”. this does not mean that africans do not believe in and appropriate scientific methods. dega will divine to determine why a child is crying unusually and will also perform lalalee to ascertain the cause of death of a deceased person.
relations with transcendent powers:
there is the belief that humans can enter into a relationship with the benevolent
spirit world and so share in its powers and blessings and receive protection from evil forces by these more-than-human helpers. turner adds that anything less than a
transcendent helper would be inadequate, so that the last thing the primal peoples want is a merely “man-made” religion with gods of a human dimension. in the primal world, “there seems to be a longing for the true iife of man that is not yet achieved and that can come only from the gods”. this longing is evident in dega hare. communities have representative shrines from the main reo. it is no offence to have as many deities as one can afford. so apart from reo, there are afafu, sonya kipo, abrewa, kosorobwe, bofo and other clan deities. no important venture is taken without first consulting the deities and ancestors.
turner sees the fifth feature as the extension of the fourth which relates to the
pervasive sense that life is shared with the powers also after death. this sense is very prevalent in the dega cosmological thought. members of the royal clans are buried in common graves in specific rooms and locations so that they can join their ancestors. the deg stands by the dead body and gives messages for ancestors who have died long ago.
the physical as sacramental of the spiritual:
the sixth feature is “the conviction that the ‘physical’ acts as the vehicle for
‘spiritual’ power. in order words, men live in a sacramental universe where there is no sharp dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual”.109 this belief underpins the significance of the rituals such as hare kwaara (ritual to redeem the land) and harvest festivals in dega hare.
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