Lab Project

Guabuliga – Well by the Thorn Tree

Chief Salifu Mahama Tampuri, Baerbel Mueller

CH: My name is Chief Salifu Mahama Tampuri, with the king title “Solongna”, the fourth chief of Guabuliga. The Guabuliga community is located in the West Mamprusi district in the Northern Region of Ghana. It is predominantly a farming community with a population of about 6000 people. Most of the people here are farmers. The community – in my estimation – is about 120 years old. I am the fourth chief. My grandfather was the first chief, and then the position went to my father and my brother, and now I am the occupant of the skin. My position is a divisional status within the Mamprugu Kingdom in Northern Ghana. My king is Denajiri. I was in-skinned chief five years ago. I have two satellite communities, Gaaŋbini and Tunsungu, which are also under me. I rule along with a number of elders, whom I can even call my parents. They are far older than me and they give me good advice as a chief on how the community should be run.

My interest right now is to assist the community in what they do best, which is farming, and to assist the women in what they do best, which is supporting their husbands on their farms, and making the Shea butter extraction. They pick Shea nuts and make a Shea butter extraction and they do a bit of trade. I intend to look into this area and see how best we can perfect the production.

The other area is school education. An infrastructure was built by the Catholic Church who came as missionaries in 1958. The first primary school was named after Saint Michael. As time passed, the community grew in numbers and the infrastructure that was put there was then inadequate for housing all the school pupils. So we called on the government to aid the community by expanding the facility, which now takes care of the lower and upper primary up to the junior high school level. We are lucky to have that facility. Before, the majority of the children were under trees just around the school. We hope that in the near future, government will still come and assist with the junior high school. So that is the situation in the school now.

The other challenging issue in this growing community is that the orientation of our buildings is only cultural. You can find families, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren all in one compound. We live with the extended family system. But when a particular house grows to the extent that there is the need to separate, the first son of the house might be given the permission to move out again to start a house. And that is an extension of the first house. So that is the situation, that we are actually living the extended family system.

BM: If the eldest son moves out and starts to build a new compound, how is it regulated in terms of land ownership? Does he have to approach the elders? Or you? Is it family farming land around the compound, so then he can build wherever he wants to?

CH: In the case of the Guabuliga community, the chief is the main landlord of the community. The land is more or less decided over by the community, and the chief is part of the Mamprusi kingdom. I have been selected to occupy the royal skin within that community. I hold that land there in the name of the king, but it is in my hands. We have new settlers who come in and want a place to settle. It’s the duty of the chief to give him a portion of the town to settle in. But like I said, if you are a chief and you apportion some part of the land there to a family member or any settler within the community, as time grows, the whole area within his environment becomes part of his compound. So the space just immediately around his environment, if he wants an elderly son to move out and settle there, he only has to to come and ask for the blessing of the chief. ”My son is now of age and I intend to move him out, I want him to start in this location. So could you come and give your ancestral blessing to the land for us to start erecting the building?” So when I look at it and if it is the right thing to do, I go there I give my blessings and the first foundation block is given to me and I lay and I bless the foundations and the entire project and tell them to go ahead. That is what happens right now. So before you construct any structure in the community, if I can’t go myself as a chief, either a brother or a son will have to go and do that for them, lay the foundation block for them to start. But as it develops, over time, that portion of the land becomes his because it has been given to him with the blessing of the chief. If you look at it traditionally, the chief is like the landlord and all the natural resources are invested in him, but of course you are also holding it there in the name of the whole community and for the king of the state. That is what happens. Once in a while, a particular family can have issues regarding who should farm where. As a main landlord and a key owner of the land, I then go to the farmland and decide that, well, for peace to prevail, this member of that family should take that part of the land and so and so and then it’s settled. Once I see that it’s fine, they go ahead and then they start. Before you can acquire any land, there is a need for the chief to collect that land for maybe somebody who wants to do a project there for the entire community. Then it is my duty to resettle the person who is making his livelihood from that land on another piece of land.  I have the power to take it from him for the entire good of the community. But of course, knowing very well that that is where his livelihood is, it is my duty to get another portion of land for him or her. Then he continues to do his farming activities or is adequately compensated. If you are in the community as a settler and you decide to leave, naturally the land goes back to the chief who was the person who gave the land to you to settle in in the first place. I can choose to give it to another person who wants the services of that piece of land. Currently, we don’t even sell land. Culturally, we don’t sell land. We allow you to come to use it for the period of time you want to. When you are finished with whatever, it returns to the owner of the land. Traditionally, we don’t sell land. But things are changing of late and anything could happen.

BM: For me it’s difficult to understand how it works when there are bigger families, let’s say one father has five sons and they all grow up in Guabuliga and then they all go into farming. Then the land is split among the five, or do they get additional land? And is there enough land left for growth?

CH: As you look at the community, currently there is enough land for farming activities, but as we grow, obviously that limitation could come. Right now we don’t have any land issues. Sometimes it’s human nature that people will want more and more and more. Sometimes you take it and you are not putting it into use. Another member of the family wants to use it, then you block it, just because you want it to be known as yours. When that situation arises, then I intervene. I go in there and say: “My friend, you cannot do this, this person needs the land for his livelihood, so you have to pass it over to him”. You cannot challenge that. Usually it is just between families. Every family knows where their ancestors started the farming activities. All that is known in the community. If you are from a different area, you can’t crisscross to another family’s land to try to do farming there unless it is with their blessing. And even with that, the chief has to be in the know just for future reference. After about ten years, you will be claiming that that is your territory and you even realise that you are the only person farming there, you don’t belong to the family that is occupying that piece of land. Once the situation is brought to the palace, we need to actually address the issues as they are and you are told where you are supposed to farm. That is just how we manage the land. For now we don’t have any land issues or land pressures. We have problems with the land only when the same family members have problems with the distribution of their family land. If we have to solve big problems, I go to the field myself, I try to listen to them on the field and give them boundaries as to where they should farm and stop. Here we are not practicing that much of a scientific approach to farming. You want to farm, leave the land, move to another piece of land, and allow this one to rest for a year or two. Because of that, you are moving from plot to plot. You acquire a lot of land that is just lying there. Sometimes somebody has the capital to buy fertilizer. So those are the issues that we have. But they are normally being addressed.

BM: What about trees, cutting trees? Is it a topic?

CH: It is a major problem in the community, the felling of trees. In the past, it wasn’t an issue because the population wasn’t that big. And like I said, the population is made up predominantly of a farming community. We have one farming season in the year, the rainy season, which lasts about four months there and so then we do the farming activities. Afterwards, we use the remaining two months for the harvesting. For the rest of the year, which is six months, there are no jobs. They have to depend on their harvest over the last season, the past six months, to survive the next six months, to start the season again. If you look at that situation, the off-season, some of them venture--this is a recent development-- to fell a few trees for charcoal. Some of them also do their local building and they want to use the branches of trees for rafters, the roof, the building. I have also realized that they are now getting too much into the charcoal burning. That is why I have agreed in principal with all my elders that we have put a stop to it. When you are caught by a community member, we set up a committee, you are fined at the palace. We have certain economic tools like the Shea tree, the Dawadawa tree, and a few others. We don’t actually mess with those trees because they are the trees from which our women get their livelihood--the Shea-nut picking. So we are strict about those. If you fell such a tree you are brought to the palace, you are fined seriously, it serves as a deterrent to others. It might be your family land, it might be your own farm, but if you fell a tree, particularly an economically viable tree from that piece of land, then you’ll be disciplined.

BM: I would like to know about the districts of Guabuliga. If you come there as a foreigner you don’t have the impression that there are districts. I would like to know what their responsibility is and what makes a neighbourhood or a district.

CH: The community of Guabuliga itself has six parts. The first part is called the section of the chief. The royal section. My father was the chief of the community. So he is there in charge of that section. The royal section, I am the leader there. We have another part which is under the leadership of an elder we call Nachina.

That part we call Gbandana foŋŋu. You have Noruloabi, you have Samari, who is there as a leader. The orphanage is currently located in Nouri loabi, the leader there is Samari. Samari is junior to Nachinaba, but the two work closely as elders, and they preside over completely different sections. Then we have another section which is Wudana foŋŋu. If I am not there, Wudana presides over cases with all the elders. Then he has his own section. There is another section in the community known as Kambonaba foŋŋu. Kambonaba is the chief warrior of the community. The community, as we have settled upon, has a defense system, and the commander of the defence system is the Kambonaba. Then we have another area we call Masufong, you can also call it Bangola. The Masu is one of my key elders. So you have the Nayiri foŋŋu, which is the royal section, you have Gbandana foŋŋu, you have Nouri loabi, you have Wudana foŋŋu, you have Kambonaba foŋŋu, and you have Mossi foŋŋu or Bangola. Those are the six sections. All those people are elders who take care of those sections. If there is a problem that doesn’t need to go to the palace, he who sits in his house presides over such minimalities and it’s solved within that section. In addition, we also have women leaders who also address women issues. The most senior person among the women leaders is Mangasia, an elderly person who has lived in the community for a long time, who knows the history of the community, who knows the legal parties of the community, and who knows the problems of the women. So she leads it with the chief and with the other elders. Besides Mangasia, you have Madugi, then you have Saranaba, you have Sarachie, Turinaba, and a few others. They take care of the needs of the community. When we have funerals, the women are more of the moaners there than even we men. So there must be an elderly woman, one of them will be in charge of taking care of them so there is peace and harmony within the funeral ground. If it is a celebration of a wedding, they will be there. Incidentally, there are positions that are respected. When we have major cases that have to do with women, we have to assemble them so they can give their input. As a chief you listen to what happened in the past, how this was solved. The elders are mainly old people. They will guide you and finally you will take an informed decision. When we saw the wisdom of some of you who had been in the community and we felt that now you had become a part of us, we invited you to hold a position as Saranaba, that’s exactly what we did with you and you are now a major part of the community. When there are major issues in decision taking concerning the women and the environmental needs of the community and you are within, naturally we have to invite you and hear what you have to say.

BM: For me it is quite interesting that there is the chieftaincy, then there is the government, but there is also religion. It would be interesting if you could talk a little bit about Muslims, Christians, Traditionalists, and the importance of the churches and how they developed.

CH: When the community was started, there were predominantly traditional people and then of course Muslims. I think sometime around 1958, the Catholic Church was the first to come in. The Catholic Church is the oldest in the Guabuliga community. They built the school for us in 1958, but In fact, they were there much earlier. At that time I wasn’t even born. Yes, the Catholic Church was the first religious institution in terms of Christianity to come in. Before the advent of the Catholic Church in the community, there were traditional people and Muslims. Now religion is evolving in a way that in addition to the Catholic Church, we have several other churches, up to six or even more. I don’t know how many Muslim ones there are, but they have their own attendants. So we are all living together. W,e are all there and you can have all these religions within one compound.  If you choose that this is your faith you go by that slot, it is not compulsory for you to be this or that. Maybe as you are a kid and you are growing, your parents might prevail on you to practice their religion. But as you reach a certain age and you feel that you want to go this way, you go. That is it. As you see in the community, in the big compounds, we are all relatives but you have all these religions being practiced.

BM: The majority is still Muslim in Guabuliga?

CH: Well, I would say yes, but if you look at the number of churches as opposed to the number of mosques, you might think that Christianity is now dominating. Some people just come and establish a church within a week and they always have a following anyway. Once they come and they start, they get their following. In terms of mosques, we have one big mosque and a few others like the sections, the six sections that I mentioned. Every section has an area where they pray. Sometimes it is not even a mosque. They just demarcate a certain area where they go to pray. The community started as a traditional community and Islamic community. Most of the naming there is Islamic. All the names that we bear are Islamic names. As you join your church and you grow into it, you begin to name in the Christian way. Yes, Muslims are still in the majority in a way, but if you look at it the churches, they too are growing quite fast.

BM: Could you list communal facilities?

CH: In the community right now, the communal facilities such as schools and marketplaces, we actually have very few. I have told you that the women are predominantly farmers and traders, so we have a very small market where they meet to sell their wares and trade. But it is not an organized place. In the off-season, they try to gather there during the day every three days to sell their trade. When we get to the rainy season, they prefer to meet at the market area after five, after they have gone to the farm, done their work, they come. It is an area that is not organized and I think that we may need to get somebody to plan. In fact, the current location of the market for me is not good. I intend to give them a new site. Or the community looking at this orientation should collectively agree that “Yes, this is a better site for where the market should be”. That is what I intend to do. We will get somebody who can advise us adequately, who knows the community so well that they can say: “Yes, this is where the site should be. I have identified three locations.”

Right now, if you look at our culture, we live with our dead. When somebody dies within your family, you bury the person within the compound. I think that this was acceptable when it was a very small community, but now that we have grown and reached this level with a population no less than six thousand, I think there is a need for us to also demarcate a portion of the land and use it as a cemetery, which we don’t have yet.

There are communal facilities that I think that we should be thinking about where to locate in the future: to site the market, to site the communal facility, and even a common entertainment ground or playground for our youth. Right now, when there is a social gathering, we have to look for a big house that has a well-floored yard. That is where we meet to do our recreational activities. But I think that in future there is a need for us to have maybe a town hall where we can all meet when there is such social gathering. So when the youth have their entertainment and whatever meetings they have, organizational meetings, they go there. We have a number of NGOs coming to the community. So when you have such a communal facility, their target group can meet them there. When they come, mostly they invite their target groups to shady areas under trees, where they can sit and talk with them.

I think that we could use a town hall, a well-organized market, a cemetery, and our dying need right now is a clinic, because the closest clinic to the community, as big as it is, is in the district capital Walewale. And we are farmers: around this time, the rainy season, we are faced with the reptiles in the bush. When there is a snake bite or scorpions, you have to struggle to get the person to the district hospital on a bicycle, which is ten miles away. So we think that, in planning the community, there is a need for us to identify a site for a clinic which hopefully in my view could even develop into a hospital. So we are looking at all that, but we need somebody with the expertise to come and assist the community to demarcate and actually site all these facilities that I’m talking about. We have challenges in those areas. The way we are building, there is the need to plan the community. So we know, let’s leave this site for a clinic, let’s leave this site for a market, let’s leave this site for a cemetery, let’s use this site for a town hall, and sites for many other communal facilities that we envisage in the future. So we need somebody with expertise in development planning to look at it in that direction and advise the community so that we know what these areas have been demarcated for. And even looking at our infrastructure, we realise that we do not really plan the buildings that we put up according to a particular pattern so to speak, so if we are able to map the community and leave settlement plots where you could develop them as designed plots, it’s good, rather than telling your first son, my friend, my compound is big and you are also of age, so you move to this area and settle. It’s just like the immediate space in front of your house or to the side of it or to the left of it or even to the back of it. But we think that as we are growing and developing, we should plan the community. So we know that this is the size for houses, these are for communal facilities, and on this side you pass. That is what I think should happen in future.

BM: Do you see Guabuliga growing in all directions?

CH: You know Guabuliga is surrounded by mountains. When I get to the king’s palace, they refer to me as Solongna, the chief of the mountainous town. Guabuliga is virtually surrounded by nice mountains, so when I’m approaching the king’s palace, they drum that Solongna is arriving. If you look towards the east, the mountain is more pronounced. So for me, progress in that direction might become limited with time. As you develop and you get as far as the mountain, you have to stop. That is why if you look at it towards the North, we have reserved that area for the school. That can now develop up until the mountain and then they have to stop there. So for me the most likely direction would be towards the Walewale main road. So it will be more towards the South, towards Dimia. If you look at the orientation, now I’m thinking in terms of infrastructure, it will be towards Dimia, towards the main road of Walewale and then probably towards Manga for those who want a quiet, peaceful area. People don’t even seem to want to develop in that direction now, towards Wulugu, but of course we also want a quiet town. Who knows, maybe in future we could even climb the mountains and build something with a complete view of the township. Even though you see them as mountains like that, once you get to the top it’s flat, very flat and beautiful. I have gone there a number of times. So it’s just with time. As we plan, we will know where to put what. That will help.

BM: Very interesting. Could you say something about migration? Are there many people from Guabuliga who have gone somewhere else and are many coming back? How is it related to other cities or to other parts of Ghana, internationally? And could you explain why Guabuliga is named “Little London”?

CH: If you look at the youth of Guabuliga, a number of them after junior high school—we don’t have a secondary school—go to bigger secondary schools in other communities like Tamale, Bolgatanga, they’re in a different region. Tamale is the regional capital, the big schools are there. Most of the youth go to bigger schools. From there many go to universities and some are able to leave the country and then when they leave and come back, they see the living patterns of the youth and some are even influenced by them when they come back. So a number of Guabuliga citizens live outside this country. We have a number of them in America, we have a number of them in the UK. As they come and go, it adds to the idea that Guabuliga is their “Little London”. There are also Guabuliga citizens in London. They are working there, but they come back seasonally. Sometimes after four, five years they come with their families, they visit, and they go back. The same thing with America. My brother Baba Seidu has been in America for over 30 years. He is even married to a Brit and they are in America. Recently, he came home. So yes, we have people from the community moving out of Guabuliga to settle in other communities within the country because their work has sent them there. Some of them are teachers, some of them are nurses, but as they approach retirement, a few come back. Others settle over there but they still visit. All have funerals, they all come, they perform, then they go back. For instance, we have a number of them in the district capital, Walewale. Some have even come to work and they are staying there. Some went to Accra, struggled for jobs, and eventually realised that they are settling there. When they get there they are farmers. But when they start to work there, they get better and they settle. That is how I think they are making their incomes. They come home when we have celebrations, funerals, they come. So quite a number of citizens are outside.

BM: So it is not a remote village? It is very connected.

CH: Yes, it is very connected. In fact in the South, a lot of our people who were born there work on cocoa farms and as they eventually establish their own farms and settle, they come home when there is an occasion to. But they belong to certain farms. When the farming is ready to be done, all their citizens come or all the family relations come from the South. Only the ones who are outside Ghana don’t come of course, they send some monetary assistance for the performances. So yes, we migrate, but we come back. Others stay, but we are aware of them. When they come and you see there is change in their lives, some have attempted to find opportunities to live in the big towns. Those of us in the royal family have a branch of the family in Nalerigu where the king is. We hold the title of the spokesperson. We call it “linguist”. That title in Nalerigu is held by my senior brother. A bigger part of the family is there. Anytime we have a problem and it is a royal problem, the family there will naturally have to come to Guabuliga, we all sit down and perform and resolve. We also visit. And besides, our daughters marry men from outside Guabuliga. Some marry within Guabuliga, but some also marry outside Guabuliga. So there is an extension and linkage if you look at all the neighbouring villages, our daughters and sisters are married to them. So we share common problems. When there is a problem, they will all come and naturally their husbands will accompany them. Their children who are not part of Guabuliga will come to Uncle Home.

So there is natural migration by way of marriage, by way of searching for jobs for which you have left the community, by way of education for which you have left the community—there are those problems that we have. But they always know that this is where they belong and they come back from time to time.

GUABULIG-RANA SALIFU MAHAMA TAMPURIE (“owner of Guabuliga”). *22 April 1962. Zolong-Naa the 4th – the fourth chief since 2006, BSc in Agriculture, University of Cape Coast, Diploma in Education, studied at the Egypt International Center for Agriculture, 18 years field operation manager of a private Ghana cotton company, now private farmer.