The Dogamba People


The Dogamba, also called Dagomba or Dagbamba, speak Dagbani or Dagbane, which belongs to the More-Dagbanli group of Gur languages of the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. They are one of the main ethnic groups in Ghana and num-ber over 650,000, according to the official Ghana Web site; but according to the Joshua Project (Christian site), the Dogamba num-ber over 836,000 in Ghana and in Togo. The majority of Dogamba are Muslims, over 90 percent, with a very small minority of only 3 percent Christians.

The Dogamba state arose in the 15th and 16th centuries following the collapse of the Songhai after the Moroccan inva-sion in 1591–1592. The numerous depen-dent states such as the Gonja, Mossi, Wolof, Serer, and Dogamba were able to survive and took advantage to develop fur-ther trade with the Europeans on the Atlantic coast. The Dogamba capital was first located at Tamale, but in the 1600s, the Gonja forced them to abandon the western part of their kingdom. They built a new capital called Yendi closer to the border of Togo.

In the early 1700s, the Dogamba rallied, pushing the Gonja back and remaining the strongest state in the north of Ghana until the British defeated them in the early 20th century. The Dogamba were in turn forced to pay tribute to the growing power of the Asante (Akans) and were tributary to them until the British defeated the Asante in 1874. In 1884, the Germans conquered Togo and forced most of the Dogamba out of what became their colony of Togo in 1914, and most sought protection in British Ghana. Following the German defeat in World War I, some Dogamba have returned to Togo, where they form a minority living mainly in the northern regions.

The Dogamba are small farmers and raise millet, sorghum, beans, and yams. The traditional monarch, whose position still exists today, is called the Ya-Na, and he holds court in Yendi. Under the Ya-Na, other ethnic groups have lived for centuries with the Dogamba and have, historically, shared the same rights with them. The throne of the Ya-Na is a pile of animal skins and is often referred to as the Yendi Skin.

Most of Dogamba culture and litera-ture is oral; despite conversion to Islam, they did not produce a large corpus of written material in Arabic or in local language using Arabic script. Drummers played the role of oral historians, and drumming today is both an integral part of the oral culture and of recounting the political history of the Dogamba in the legend of Tohazie or the Red Hunter.The Dogamba follow a patrilineal descent pattern, which goes well with the legal rights in Islam. Older forms of matrilineal descent still exist in that a person’s social status also includes the status of the mother. Kinship groups are important as political positions, such as that of the king, are inherited.

In addition to the two main feasts of Islam, the Dogamba also celebrate several of their own feasts, of which the most important are Damba and Bugum.The Dogamba king, the Ya-Na, still exists, though the northern region of Ghana is divided into seven administrative districts. Rights of traditional monarchs and recognition of traditional law were allowed, though with the central government being supreme and overriding local, traditional systems of rule. Despite internal conflict in Ghana and the extension of government rule in the country, traditional monarchies are recognized as are their rights to apply common or traditional law.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Collins, Robert O. Africa: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2008.

“Dagbon and Its People.” .php (accessed May 10, 2010).

Olson, James. The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

“People-in-Country Profile: Dagomba of Ghana.” (accessed May 10, 2010).

Salm, Steven J., and Toyin Falola. Culture and Customs of Ghana. Westport, CT: Green-wood Press, 2002.