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April 9, 2014 | Academic Article

Indigenous Mechanisms Of Dispute Resolution Among The People Of Adaboya Traditional Area

JULY, 2012.


Lead Author:



I am highly indebted to the Almighty God for giving as protection, energy and wisdom before, during and after this research work. I also acknowledge the efforts of the Authorities, Lecturers and staff of University for Development Studies, most particular, Aasoglenang Thaddeus Arkum, for his academic guidance and suggestions of new insights throughout this work. Without his efforts we could not have boost of conducting a successful research of this kind. We say thank you very much and may the good Lord bless you.

Beginning from the 1980s, Ghana and the Northern regions in particular have witnessed the worse forms of intra/inter-ethnic violence. Efforts of resolving contemporary Ghanaian conflicts are proving futile. This is because, the efforts are largely top-down and conventional in nature. The applications of locally traditional knowledge and procedures in conflict resolution have been very minimal as many prefer the modern law court system. The study investigated in to the indigenous mechanisms of dispute resolution and how relevant they are in modern times among the Gurunis in Adaboya.

The study adopted qualitative methodological approach in obtaining data from the field. The study found that conflicts such as dispute over land, marital disputes and witch-craft accusations exist in Adaboya and the mechanisms of resolving these disputes are mainly two: Kima and Posiga systems.

The study also found that indigenous practices of dispute settlement are cultural and community specific and are viable mechanisms of promoting peace in such societies. The study concluded that indigenous mechanisms are still relevant and should be mainstreamed in all processes of conflict management, but this should be done in accordance with the value system of the specific community/people in question.

ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution
ATA – Adaboya Traditional Area
CHRAJ- Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice
CR – Conflict Resolution
EC – Electoral Commission
KVIP- Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pits
IMs – Indigenous Mechanisms
MDAs – Ministries Departments and Agencies
MMDAs- Metropolitan Municipal District Assemblies
NADMO- National Disaster Management Organisation
NGOs – Non- Governmental Organisations
NPC – National Peace Council
NORPAC-Northern Region Peace Advisory Council
PAC - Peace Advisory Councils
PASW- Predictive Analytical Software
SPSS- Statistical Package for Social Scientists
TEPCON- Tamale Ecclesiastical Province Pastoral Conference
UN – United Nations
UNDP – United Nations Development Program
WANEP- West African Network for Peace

Conflict has been the most severe form of social canker that engulfed many nations including Ghana. This social phenomenon has been continually gaining grounds in every aspect of our social lives which made people to conclude that conflict is an inevitable social phenomenon. For instance, Coser (1956) cited in Sulemana (2010). believes that conflict can never be excluded from social interactions and it is an expression of social tension and struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power, and resources in which the aim of the opponents are to neutralize, injure or eliminate their rivals

Ghana has been seen as a regional and continental beacon of democracy, peace and stability in African sub-region, yet societies in the northern and other parts of Ghana are divided and polarized along traditional hierarchic and ethno political lines. Few of these conflicts include the 1994-1995 civil war between Konkomba and Nanumba, the 1995 clash between the Konkomba and Dagomba, the Dagbon dispute between the Abudu and Andani in 2002 and the Bawku conflict between the Kusasi and Mamprusi which dates back to 1930s (Sulemana, 2010).

All these conflicts have not only succeeded in posting a bad image about the area but also widened the development gap between the north and south, increased in poverty levels and slow down of investment in the area. Sulemana (2010) believes that the major predisposing factors that contribute to the escalation of these conflicts are yet to be fully established, though many of which can be attributed to the struggle for autonomy, ownership and control of land, perception of threat by another, socialization and 'inferiority' syndrome, and modern political/government interference.

In the case of Adaboya traditional area, the community has experienced a skin vacancy for the period 2002 to 2010. During this period, members of the contending royal families were living in fears even though the conflict was non-violent. The community also experiences conflicts relating to land ownership, property inheritance, family and marital disputes

The purpose of the research was to assess the indigenous mechanisms of dispute in Adaboya traditional area and find out their relevance in terms of application in contemporary conflict resolution processes

This study was based on field research into the indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution in Adaboya traditional area. The purpose of the field research was to observe and to sample views and perceptions on the indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution. For the purpose of this research, we used both primary and secondary data. The principal method of collecting the primary data was collected through in-depth interviews, the administration of questionnaires and observation.

The type of method used was qualitative unlike. Unlike its quantitative opposite, the qualitative method avoids statistical techniques (Silverman, 2005). Qualitative research refers to any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedure or other means of quantification (Strauss and Corbin, 1990; cited in Hoepfl, 1997). The qualitative data are mainly those categorical measurements expressed by means of natural language descriptive statements, perceptions, attitudes, and practices. However, qualitative research suffers from one defect; it has been argued that the research might select only those fragments of data which support his argument (Holiday, 2002).

On the other hand, Silverman (2006) has suggested that some quantitative data could be incorporated into the qualitative research to prevent the researcher from selecting only those fragments of data which support his argument. The quantitative which were mainly of numbers, percentages and other statistical variables were added to buttress the qualitative data. Also, quantitative data were obtained from the demographic issues and population characteristics which are more of numerical and statistical measurements expressed in terms of numbers, for example, data collected on the age of respondents during the study.

In the study, persons with specialized knowledge on the field of conflict were identified and contacted for interview. Such key informants were selected using such criteria as age range, experience, position/status (example, royal status, etc.) and special characteristics. By these criteria, the Assemblyman, the Naba (chief) and elders, Pognaba (Queen Mother), Kana (Chief Linguist) and some opinion leaders were identified, contacted and interviewed.


3.1 Analysis of Demographic Background of Respondents.

The research obtained 110 responses from; questionnaires administration, three (3) structured interviews were conducted with key informants, and one focus group discussion was organized consisting of two unit committee members and three sectional heads whiles two semi-structured interviews were held with particular individuals. Out the 110 respondents, 59.1% of the respondents were males whiles 40.9% were females. The tables below summarize the distribution of respondents in terms of age, sex, religious and educational background.

3.2 Nature and Types of Conflicts in Adaboya Traditional Area.

An interview with the elders shows that Adaboya has been and is still a relatively peaceful area and has not experienced any form of violent or communal conflicts for decades now. Yet, field observation indicates that there various forms of disputes including land disputes, accusation of witch craft, and family conflicts. Most of the conflicts in the area are interpersonal and intra-family in nature. Here are extracts from field interview with one elder Nyaaba Nsoh:

“In Adaboya here, we have never witness any serious dispute that resulted in loss of people's lives and we thank our ancestors and the gods for that. But, people in one way or the other still confront each other due to misunderstanding especially during rainy season when people look for land to farm on. Cattle owners are often send to the Naba's palace for allowing their cattle to grace on the crops. Children too usually fight over certain petty things, but the elders are able to resolve them”. (Source: field survey, 2012).

Land disputes exist in the form of ownership and usage. An interview with the elders revealed that, lands that were given to individuals and families for farming in the past are now in disputes because, 'the current occupiers of such lands do not know the history behind the land they are occupying and turn to claim ownership rights'.

Naba Ayolga (Chief of Adaboya) indicated that 'many of the disputes brought to him for redress relates to land user/farmers and pastoralist/cattle owners'.

Family or marital conflicts as a result of failure to perform or fulfil marital obligations and responsibilities, example, incident of buhi (adultery), attempt of divorce, and when a girl elopes as a process of marriage. Field survey also found that some marital disputes occur due to excessive drinking, sheer arrogance by one party and difficulty in childbearing.

An interview with the Pognaba, (Queen mother) reveals that most disputes between men and women especially husbands and wives in the family relates to accusation of adultery. She explain, 'When the incident of adultery happens, it implies the bride's diary has to return to the family of the bridegroom and payment of compensation, otherwise a ritual has to be formed to cleanse the woman of the act'. She added that 'sometimes victims of adultery mainly women are made to go through painful rituals, physical molestation, or even banishment in the past'.

Naba Ayolga (Chief of Adaboya) attested that 'people sometimes accuse each other of bewitchment especially when a misfortune such as prolong illness, strange disease, expected/premature death or failure to succeed occurs. In many of such cases old women and people assumed to have rude behaviour are often accuse of bewitchment. These cases when brought to him for settlement sometimes has to go through ritual performance or refer them to the Tindana for further resolution since the Tindana is their spiritual leader'.

3.3 Indigenous Institutions in Conflict Resolution in Adaboya

The interview conducted shows that Adaboya has several indigenous institutions including traditional political and religious institutions. The traditional political institutions (chieftaincy) is headed by the Naba (chief), Pog-naba(Queen mother), sub-sectional heads, and the family/clan heads respectively. The religious institution encompasses the Tendana, fetish priest, diviners as well as ancestral bodies. The survey indicates that, these institutions are instrumental to the facilitation of peace and harmony in the Adaboya traditional society. The found that not only does the Chieftaincy institution handle disputes, but it also enable individuals in the community to understand and interpret the norms which brought about the peace and harmony in the area.

3.4 The Mechanisms of Resolving Conflicts in Adaboya Traditional Area

From the study conducted, it was found that the indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution in Adaboya are mainly two: the Kima system and the Posiga system of dispute settlement.

3.4.1 The Kima System of Dispute Resolution

Field interview revealed that the elders constitute the dominant component of the customary mechanisms of conflict resolution in Adaboya. From the interview, the Kima system is a hierarchical system made of old people that bear economic, political, and socio-cultural responsibilities within the community and this system foresees a peaceful and mutual settlement of disputes between individuals and groups. For instances, in an interview with the chief (Naba Ayolga) on the mechanisms of resolving disputes, this was what he has to say:

“When two persons fight or confront each other violently, they are normally summoned by the kima, that is, either the Yidana or the Naba for settlement”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

An interview with the elders indicates that, the Kima encompasses three sub-divisions of selected elders that oversee a peaceful resolution of conflict. These divisions include the Yidanduma (landlords), Kinduma and the Naba (Chief). Depending on what form of conflict, the Yidanduma starts the resolution process, and if they are unable to settle the dispute, it then moves to the Kinduma for settlement. The Naba is the last and final authority to settle the dispute when the Kinduma fails to address it. One elder named Adongo indicated that 'Adaboya has a chief who administer justice and reins over the land. Also, the family heads are very important and it is when they failed to resolve family/clan level conflicts that the chief comes in'.

The Chief's Linguist Kana Amooro stated that 'before I was made linguist the chief and elders interviewed me on the customary laws, the history of Adaboya and rules and norms governing the chieftaincy institution. If was unable to answer appropriately, I would not have be made Kana. They also consulted the gods to find out spiritual and customarily I qualify. Same way apply to every elderly person who want to be member of the Kima'.

The study found that these elders have authority limits and must report to the Naba (highest political leader and authority) any difficulty encountered during dispute resolution. In an interview with the Assemblyman (Hon. Apuko Aduko), this was what he has to say:

“In Adaboya here, when people fight, we first separate them before sending them to the kima for settlement. Usually,we first call on the Yidanduma or Kinduma to mediate the dispute, but when they could not resolve it, then, we move the case to the Naba for final settlement. At times, land and witch craft conflicts are being sent to the Tindana place for settlement”.
(Source: Field Survey, 2012).

From Field interview, the process of resolving disputes begins with the Yindanduma (landlords/family heads) at the bottom, and then it moves to the Kinduma in the middle of affairs and finally reaches the highest authority, that is, the Naba (Chief). In an interview with Amooro the Chief's Linguist, he said 'the kima is made up of the family and clan heads, sectional heads, and the chief, all of which are of moral and social standing'. The diagram below shows the hierarchy of the Kima system of conflict resolution in Adaboya.

Here is another excerpt from field interview with one Elder Allolga:

“When people go to resolve their problems in the Naba's Palace, they are often ask to share their grievances. Those who are found guilty sometimes are asked to pay nothing, and to apologize and allow the matter to end. Also, some offenders who are poor and cannot pay for compensation are sometimes set to go home free”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

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3.3.2 Steps in Resolving Disputes in Adaboya Traditional Area.

In an interview with the chief linguist Kana Amooro, this was what he said about the process of settling disputes in the palace.

“When people fight over land, or family issue, they are often brought to the Naba Palace. We first ask the two parties to tell their story of what happens, and then we listen to them carefully and discuss the matter accordingly. The Naba will then decide who is right or wrong and then pass judgment. Sometimes, the party that losses the case is ask to pay some money or animals to be sacrificed to the gods and ask them (gods) for forgiveness. We then give cola or drink to the two parties to share and this indicates re-union and acceptance of the chief's verdict not to fight again”. (Source: Field survey. 2012).

An interview with the elders indicates that the process of settling disputes begins with the separation and reporting of the conflict to the Kima. Kana Amooro (chief's Linguist) said, 'when the conflict involves physical confrontation, the parties involved are separated and then the case reported. The reportage can be done by the parties themselves, a witness or any person who have knowledge on the conflict'. The matter can be reported to any side of the Kima grades: Yidanduma, Kinduma or Naba. However, most conflicts are usually reported to the Yidanduma at the initial stage, especially cases of marital or family disputes'. (Source: Field Survey, 2012)

The second step is to summon the conflict parties before the Kima. The Kima usually formally sends for the parties to appear. A venue conducive to both parties and appropriate date are set for the parties to appear before the Kima. Elder Anaba Nyaaba stated that 'the Kima normally have a messenger whose duty is to spread information and summon the parties before the Kima'. (Source: Field Survey, 2012)

According Naba Ayulga 'When parties are summoned, each party is asked to give his or her account of what happen before I and elders decide on the resolution process. If we don't allow them to tell the story we would know who is at fault or right and the resolution may be unfair. So we always do diligent work'. The conflict parties are usually asked to give a vivid, precise and exact narrative of what led to the conflict. Once each side gives account of what happens and the conflict occurs, the Kima will usually pay attention and listen with keen interest to enable them comprehend the issues very well. The parties tell the story in accordance with the guiding principles.

After the account of the matter, the Kima then review the issues and deliberate on them. The Kima does this by re-examining important issues raised while asking the parties relevant questions. The purpose of this is to enable the Kima to know and understand appropriately the root causes of the conflict, the extent of damage and the way forward.

Deciding appropriate judgment was another stage of conflict resolution identified during the interview process. The elders indicated that once the issues are well understood, they then make appropriate decisions regarding who is wrong and who is right. Most importantly, the final judgment depends largely on the nature of the conflict and the parties involved. The research team found from field observation that whiles the Kima seeks to follow the truth, they also tries to protect the integrity of both parties. They therefore make judgment which at the end brings understanding, happiness and unity among all parties. The judgment is normally based on mutual accountability and communal interest as testified by Naba Ayulga, that 'when we decide the solution to the dispute, depending of the type of dispute or depth of injury that may cause, we try as much as possible to ensure that the judgement satisfy everybody including the general public. If We give a verdict that majority of people feel that we cheated for one party or another, it becomes a societal issue and we elders may lose the confidence and trust that we have in adjudicating disputes'. (Source: Field Survey, 2012).

The respondents indicated that, depending on the case, compensation is normally determined after the verdict has been decided. The wrong doer or loser of the case is normally charge to pay some amount of “money” and in some instances animals, such as goat, sheep, cattle or guinea fowl. The compensation is used to pay for the losses caused to the defended or victim. According to Naba Ayulga, 'When the case involves an elder and youngster and the youngster found guilty, we usually ask he or she to pay something to the elder called “Luia” in our tradition'.

Finally, field interview indicates that after the compensation has been decided, then the Kima reconciles the two parties. At this stage, the parties confess, forgive, sympathize and reconcile with each other. Also some customary practice is normally carried out. This involves the sharing of drinks, cola or tobacco between the two parties to be consumed together. At times a traditional musician would be invited to perform to enable the two parties dance and play together. This ceremony brings pupeelum (happiness), and suma'asum (peace) among all parties involved in the dispute as indicated by Kana Amooro, 'when the Kima finished settlement the dispute and compensation is being paid, we sometime organise a dina event either in the family or Kima's palace so that libation is poured to the gods to ask them for unity and understanding whiles the disputing parties are made to eat in one bowl and dance together as a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness'. (Source: Field Survey, 2012)

3.3.3 The Posiga System of Conflict Resolution.
Field interview shows that, Posiga is a spiritual mechanism that serves as an alternative and a partner to dispute settlement. According to the respondents, Posiga is used only when disputants refused to obey the verdict of the Kima particularly the Naba or in cases concerning witch-craft. This system involves the invocation of ancestral or supernatural forces in the dispute resolution process. See extract from one elderly woman called Asampoka in an interview with the research team:

“When people fight over Soya (witch craft accusation), and in these case women are often the parties involved, and the Kima rules and they refused, they are usually sent to Posiga or what is called soko'omi (spiritual water). The parties are either asked to bath or drink the water. This is to ascertain the truth and it often works”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

Field findings show that, Posiga as a mechanism of dispute settlement involves a variety of ways including; Nupore which involves the swearing of an oath by the disputants by mentioning the name of the ancestor or any other powerful god and then making a statement. The respondents indicate that, a misfortune such as sickness, madness or death is expected to visit the side of the initiator or loser of the conflict who refused the initial true ruling of the case; Lungre which is mostly used to settle dispute involving accusations of Sonya (witch craft) and other spiritually related confrontations. In the Lungre process, disputants are made to undergo or perform rituals such as swallowing a stone, drinking anointed water from river or stream, swallowing or breaking an egg, drinking of concoctions, among others.

3.4 The Relevance of the Kima and Posiga systems of Conflict Resolution

Field interview shows that, the indigenous mechanisms of resolving disputes were the best and still remain the most effective mechanisms of handling interpersonal and communal conflicts in the area. Most respondents believe that the Kima which embodies the Yidanduma (family/clan heads), Kinduma (sectional heads) and the Naba (chief) still play a vital role in the maintenance of peace and harmony in the area.

Some interviewees indicated that the traditional process of dispute settlement allows parties to participate and cooperate in the resolution process as well as deciding appropriate compensation and this often creates mutual responsibility and building of mutual respect. The table below shows the views of sampled respondents on the relenace of the Kima and Posiga systems of dispute resolution.

Table 4.4: Views of respondents of the relevance of the Kima and Posiga systems of conflict resolution

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However, very few of the respondents remain sceptical about the relevance of traditional mechanisms of dispute resolution in contemporary times. These respondents noted that the Kima system of resolving disputes is corrupt and discriminatory; the personalities in charge of these systems no longer have adequate knowledge in the customs of the society and often misjudge cases.

On whether the Kima and Posiga systems of dispute settlement have a future, one Peter Azungo have this to say

“We modern youth no longer value the traditional ways of life because they are boring and restrict us from doing what we want to do. When we fight, the kima will come in to resolve it, but before you know they will take side. As for the Posiga, they will let you drink concoctions and even when you're not the culprit, you will fall sick at the end. Because of this, we prefer dialing with our issues in court, after all we're in modern era and so the traditional ways no longer functions”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

On his part Naba Ayoliga have this to say;

“It has been a challenging moment for us the elders of today in the protection of our cultural heritage. The youth of Adaboya in recent times no longer respect the views of the elders, the taboos are flouted, and immorality is rampant. Their minds are polluted and they do not value our traditional way of life, describing our beliefs as primitive and outmoded. The cause of this is the Western education and religion that influence the lifestyle of our youth. We the elders of Adaboya are battling with it”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

Another elder Asampandoo states that:
“Nowadays, the youth migrate to other areas of the globe and came back with different lifestyles that are totally detrimental to our indigenous practices. Many people now prefer settling their disputes in court rather than at the Naba's place. Family heads are not able to control their children due to education. They watch films and all forms of immoral photographical images on TVs and other machines and when we talk, we are seen as enemies”. (Source: Field survey, 2012).

Below is a chart showing the sampled views of respondents on whether traditional mechanisms of dispute resolution have a future.

Source: Field survey, 2012Source: Field survey, 2012

To some respondents, the chiefs and elders have to review some of the indigenous methods such as the posiga system. The respondents suggested that indigenous practices that are detrimental to “human rights” need to be re-examined and if possible abolished in order to attract the appreciation of the modern people so as to engender indigenous ideas of conflict resolution in modern conflict resolution processes.

3.5 Conclusions
The study finds indigenous system of dispute settlement such as the rule of Kima and the use of Posiga as viable means of resolving interpersonal and communal conflicts.

a. The Kima consists of a hierarchical system of conflict resolution made of old-grade people that performs and foresees a peaceful settlement of disputes.

b. The Posiga system of conflict resolution is a spiritual mechanism that serves as an alternative and a partner to dispute settlement.

The relevance of the indigenous mechanisms, the research identified is:

i. Traditional mechanisms of dispute settlement are inexpensive and flexible. They are participatory and conflicting parties participate actively in deciding appropriate judgment.

ii. Because indigenous mechanisms of conflict are based on the very values and tenets of the people, they maintain and protect the customs and traditions of the society. This, they are able to solve long standing disputes and promotes durable peace.

iii. Indigenous mechanisms dispute resolution is based on truthfulness, trustworthiness, fairness and Impartiality. This enhances transparency, mutual accountability and collective justice.

The challenges of indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution as the study found are that:

 Sometimes there are evidence of biases and discrimination especially when the disputes is between; a poor person and rich person, a royal and commoner, young man and elderly.

 The indigenous dispute resolution processes are sometimes based on superstition and divinity

 The Naba and his elders are no longer respected and their role in conflict resolution and development is relegated to the background as disputants prefer the modern law courts.

Given the fact that traditional societies have undergone some form of change and disintegration, the potentials of indigenous mechanisms of conflict settlement are limited and are only applicable in specific situations and societies. Though traditional approaches are not a panacea to all societal problems, their potentials can be maximized for conflict transformation processes in modern times.

Traditional mechanisms of managing disputes have to be mainstreamed in all processes of peace building and societal development if the purpose and objective of achieving a society of peace and free of violent conflicts would be accomplished.

The traditional ways of settling disputes are context, community and ethnic specific and as such, they are only applicable in that society and cannot be transferred to another society. As in the case of Adaboya, the Kima and Posiga systems of dispute settlement are only used and applied among the Frafras of Adaboya. In this sense:

i. The re-introduction of cultural education in the educational institutions especially at the basic level curriculum activities so that the youth will be educated on values, heritage, as well as traditional ways of managing conflicts.

ii. A comprehensive assessment and review of indigenous mechanisms of conflict resolution should be done to identify their limitations and potentials so as to improve traditional ways of dispute resolution.

iii. Traditional value systems (examples, inter-marriages, festivals, music and dance, joking relationships) that encourages unity, solidarity and peace needs to be promoted in all spheres of life.

iv. Traditional conflict resolutions systems need to be formalize and documented as a way of complementing modern systems of conflict resolution and peace building.

v. A specific policy formation on traditional methods of conflict resolution will facilitate the understanding and application of traditional knowledge on resolving modern day complex conflicts.

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Interview with Nyaaba Nsoh, Field interview, 2012
Interview with Naba Ayolga, Field interview, 2012
Interview with Apuko Aduko Field interview, 2012
Interview with Amooro Field interview, 2012

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