At this low point in Dagbon's history when we await the whims and caprices of the powers that be to determine its fate, it might be useful to recall how the ancient kingdom made contact with European colonisers, particularly the Germans.
There is a popular date in the history of Dagbon that every Dagbana knows. It is recalled by Dagbon drum historians as Adibo Dal'la (The Day of Adibo). This was the day over a century ago in September 1896 when Dagbon fought a battle with German colonizers at Adibo, a village 10 kilometres south of Yendi. At the time the king who reigned was Yaan Naa Andani II (popularly called Andan' Naanigoo) and he said that his kingdom, Dagbon, would not be taken over by the white-man and that he would protect it at all cost. But his kingdom was threatened by the Europeans from all directions - from the south by the Germans, from the West by the British and from the North by the French. In all Dagbon resisted colonialism for seven long years.
Andan' Naanigoo's reign was a long and in his youth he led and personally commanded the Dagbon army to score many victories. He had warded off the invading Zambaramas who had come conquering from afar; he also subdued the notorious slave raider Babatu and permitted to him to settle in Yendi were his grave is now a tourist attraction. He had also undertaken the unpleasant duty of disciplining recalcitrant sub-chiefs who had become bullies in their areas or had become treacherous. Unfortunately all these exploits were in his youth and when the threat from the white-man became a reality, Naa Andani was very old and nearly blind. Nevertheless a hurriedly assembled army fought a heroic battle under the leadership of many divisional chiefs from Sang, Miong, Sunsong, Dimong and Gbungbaliga.
Rumours had been rife in Dagbon of the coming of the white-man. News filtered from the Atlantic coast about them into Dagbon and various descriptions of what they looked like had been narrated. Some said the white-men were like monkeys because they had long noses like those of monkeys; others said that they looked like human beings but came from the sea. And what else could be coming from the sea other than fish? It is recounted that the people of Sunsong, north of Yendi, laughed at how easy it would be for them to catch this human-fish; since these white-men were coming from the sea they could be captured with the help of fishing nets!
During the last quarter of 1896, the rumours intensified about the imminent arrival of the white-man. On 27th November they had reached Kpandai and by 30th November they overrun Bimbilla and were now at Pusuga 30 miles south of Yendi. The Bimbilla Na sent a messenger to inform the Ya Naa of the fall of Bimbilla to the white-man, whose advance had been too swift and without notice. The long awaited clash with the white-man had come but the Dagbon army had not been assembled.
Stop the Germans: When news of the capture and burning down of Bimbilla reached Yendi, it was ordered that the big war drum be beaten to signify that the Ya Naa had declared Dagbon at war and that an attack on Yendi was almost at hand. The section elders of Gagbini, Balogu and Zohi rushed to the palace, hotfoot, and despatched messengers to all corners of the kingdom to tell chiefs, whom they represented in court at the palace, that all the armed might of Dagbon should rally to Yendi to repel an invader - the white-man.
But as this move was too late, the German advance was too swift and only a handful of chiefs were able to rally. The important and powerful chiefs of Kumbungu, Savelugu, Tolon, Tampiong, etc. all in western Dagbon, and also the great armies of the paramount chiefs of Karaga, Gusheigu and Yelizoli (Zabzugu) had not got the news and were not in Yendi nor did they even have the time to prepare to come to the defence of Yendi. The Ya Naa, who was very old, after consulting his oracles advised his lieutenants to negotiate but Kanbon-nakpem Ziblim will have none of this; the white-man would not enter Yendi while he remained alive.
From Dagbon's point of view, one man whose name comes out for his bravery on the battle days of 3rd and 4th December 1896 was the chief of Gbungbaliga, Kanbon-nakpem Ziblim. He had promised the Ya Naa that he would apprehend any white-man who would step foot in Dagbon. This chief warrior was indeed a remarkable soldier and fighter, well built, brave and an inspiration to his troops. He was affectionately called Kanbon-nakpem Wohu and rode a white stallion horse, carried two guns and a sword to match his status. Kanbon-nakpema means chief warrior, and Wohu means snake. He was likened to a snake because he said that to kill him the combined effort many people wielding truncheons was needed, as is done with snakes. He was also known as the-one-who-sweeps-all that stands in his way. He fortified himself wearing his powers, a gbogno, which is his version of a bullet-proof vest and believed that no metal in the form of a bullet or knife could penetrate his body. Several Dagbani poems and accolades are dedicated to the memory of this great son of Dagbon.
The kanbonsi (the warriors of Dagbon) dress like southerners preferring to wear cloths (however cumbersome) instead of the smock that is identified with northerners. They jokingly refer to any king or chief of Dagbon as Mmaambia; and referring to the Ya Naa as Mmaambii Naanigoo, they asked him to wait patiently; that they would capture and bring white-men to him alive! (The gbogno, a simple smock decorated with talismans and soaked in concoctions, is still abound in Dagbon today. It is the gbogno that is worn by southern kings and chiefs as 'batakarikesie', something obviously bequeathed to them from Dagbon).
By the time the five divisional chiefs reached Yendi on Wednesday 2nd December the Germans were already at Laginja, only fifteen miles from Yendi and in the afternoon Kanbon-nakpema Wohu marched his troops southward in a bid to halt them. All day Thursday 3rd December 1896 the Dagbon army was encamped on a hill at Adibo. They waited and watched, and by afternoon horsemen were sent to search and scan through the thickly wooded bushes below them. It was harvest time and the guinea-corn crop used for brewing pito, a local beer, had grown tall. Nothing was observed for the day.
Historians have relayed that “accounts from persons who were actually present in this battle agree in accessing the numbers of the Dagbon army at about 2500 gunmen, 130 horsemen, and about 2000 archers.” The German expedition was led by a Dr Gruner and consisted of 368 soldiers armed with rifles and commanded by a certain von Massow.
Next morning Friday 4th December, they took up positions again and Kanbon-nakpema Wohu drew up his war formation; he would be at the centre at the head of the Yendi force of gunmen. On his right wing he put the Chirifo and backed him with the chiefs of Miong and Sang who were also leading a group of gunmen. To his left he placed the Damankung who had behind him the chiefs of Dimong, Kunkon and Sunsong with their powers. Between the three divisions, and to the front, were mounted spearmen and an elite group of Konkomba archers who accompanied the Dimong-na.
This is how the battle lines were drawn on that Friday morning which also happened to be a special Yendi market day, Alizumma-koofe-dali. (To be continued)
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