The history of Northern Region as part of the modern state of Ghana started with the push by British soldiers garrisoned in the coastal forts and castles into the interior to conquer and colonise the land carved out by the European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884 for the British. By 1900 that task had been accomplished.
The eastern boundary of the British colony then called the Gold Coast, shared with the German colony Togoland, was marked by the Volta River in the south and extended north along the Daka River. This was part of German possessions until the Germans lost the World War and all their African possessions in 1919. The whole of the upper half of the country was one big region called the Northern Territories.
At independence the name changed to Northern Region. In 1960 the Upper Region was carved out of the Northern Region but the latter still remains the largest region covering one third of the land surface of Ghana.
Northern Region is the largest of the country’s 238,540-km² landmass. It stretches across one third or 31% of Ghana (70,384 sq. km.). It shares boundaries with the Upper East and the Upper West Regions to the north, the Brong Ahafo and the Volta Regions to the south, and two neighbouring countries, the Republic of Togo to the east, and La Cote d’ Ivoire to the west. Nature and culture appears to have teamed up to divide Ghana into two very distinct parts, north and south.
A visit to the North is therefore a must if you want a complete, stereoscopic view of this beautiful country. As you travel towards the North from the Coast, changes unfold before you. From the middle section of the country, the vegetation becomes sparse as the guinea savannah of the north takes over the tropical rainforest of the south.
The land features are also low- lying and flat and the climate slightly hotter. Alongside this transformation of the natural environment, a visitor would also observe a marked difference in the cultural patterns, the most obvious being the design of the traditional houses. The physical features of the region consist of flat lands 500 feet in elevation apart from Small portions of the western area and North Eastern corner where the Gambaga/Napkanduri scarp appears like outcrops in the surrounding flatland of the Voltaian basin.
The Northern Region is part of the Greater Voltaian drainage system, which drains into the Volta Lake through White Volta, Black Volta, River Oti, Nasia River, Kulpawn and Daka, which are fairly big rivers but are hardly used as a mode of transportation. Our tropical climate means there is sunshine 12 months of the year.
It only varies in intensity depending on the two seasons, rainy and dry, which alternate from April to October and November to April respectively. In spite of the wide difference in rainfall levels between the seasons, the annual rainfall is enough to make the region the breadbasket of Ghana.
Maximum temperature level of 31 degrees Celsius occur towards the end of the dry season while night minimum temperature of 18 degrees Celsius occur in January at the height of the dry hammattan winds which blow in from the Sahara desert. The Region’s natural vegetation is Guinea Savannah Woodland characterized by grassland, clusters of shrubs, short trees and a few species of big tall trees such as baobab, kapok and mahogany.
21 forest reserves scattered across the Region protect 373,000 hectares of the Region’s vegetation together with 4,000 hectares of plantations forest. The 2,468,557 million population (2010 pop. census) of the Region are made up of non- indigenous people (Mole-Dagbon extraction about 55.2%) including expatriates; but more than 95% belong to the almost 50 indigenous tribes.
Prominent among them being the Dagombas, Gonjas, Mamprusi, Nanumba, Vaglas, Lobis, Nchummurus, Bimobas and Konkombas, Basaris, Nawuris etc. The population of Tamale, the Regional Capital is 537,986 (2010 pop. census).
About 72% of the population is engaged in agriculture, the predominant sector of the Region’s economy. The second largest employment group is composed of traders followed by small- scale manufacturers and processors. The Region is a breadbasket of the country feeding Ghanaians with the abundant harvest of cereal; rice, maize, millet, yam and livestock.
Cash crops such as cashew, cotton and especially shea butter are very important agricultural produce. The hospitality industry is expanding very rapidly especially in the Tamale Metropolis and Walewale township with a number of mid to up-market hotels with conference facilities. There are restaurants, car rentals, travel and tours and other tourism and hospitality facilities to meet the pockets of all kinds of visitors and travellers to the region as well as make their stay worthy and experiential.
The potential for mineral production is very high. The region has a wide range of mineral deposits, which could be commercially exploited. Limestone, dolomite, iron ore and gold have proven commercial quantities, but are yet to be exploited. Also important is the rock salt formation especially in Daboya.
Since 1992, Ghana has pursued constitutional rule, which prescribes an Executive Presidential system of government. All the regions have Regional Ministers as the political heads who administer the regions with the help of Regional Co-coordinating Councils. The ten Regions of the country are sub-divided into a total of 216 District Assemblies for effective Administration.
Twenty Six of these are in the Northern Region.
Below are the District Assemblies and their capitals:
District Capital Bole/Bamboi Bole North Gonja Daboya West Gonja District Damongo Sawla/Tuna/Kalba Sawla Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo Bunkpurugu East Mamprusi District Gambaga West Mamprusi District Walewale Central Gonja Buipe Chereponi Chereponi Saboba Saboba Gushegu Gushegu Karaga Karaga District Capital Kpandai Kpandai Nanumba North Bimbilla East Gonja Salaga Nanumba South Wulensi Savelugu-Nanton Savelugu Tamale Metro Tamale Tolon Tolon Sagnarigu Sagnarigu Kumbungu Kumbungu Yendi Municipal Yendi Tatale / Sanguli Tatale Zabzugu Zabzugu Mion Mion Mankarigu/ Moagduri Yagaba
All the district capitals are connected to the national electricity power grid. They have water supply even though not all have pipe borne system and are linked to a national telecommunication network. The region also has a teaching hospital in Tamale, other hospitals in the districts as well as Polyclinics, health Centres and CHPS compounds all over the region.
There is therefore adequate health coverage at all tourist sites to cater for the health and emergency needs of tourists and visitors to the region. The region is one of the safest places for tourists and visitors as it has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
TAMALE Tamale the regional capital, is the 4th largest regional capital and reputed to be fastest growing city in West Africa.
It is the transport hub and commercial nerve centre of the whole Northern Ghana. The Central business district has been transformed into a bustling, modern commercial centre. Bicycle lanes (the only one in the country) street lights, pedestrian walkways, traffic lights and other public utilities have attracted more private businesses such as supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, nightclubs, internet cafes and others into the Metropolis.
The rest of the region especially the district capitals all have their share of improved infrastructure. However, most roads in-between towns are not tarred but mostly accessible.
ACCESS TO THE NORTHERN REGION AIR
Air access is also available to the region from Accra. At present, the airport handles a number of domestic flights. International Air flight landings cannot be made there. However, the Tamale airport is being upgraded currently to handle international flights which will greatly improve commercial and business activities not only within the region and the country but also the sub-region as a whole.
An airstrip in good condition exists at Mole National Park. Antrak Air, Starbow and Africa World Airlines (AWA) are some of the main air transport companies operating in the Northern Region.
Access to the Northern Region is provided on the major highway routes to Tamale from the south and north. One can get to Tamale from the south using the Accra- Kumasi- Kintampo road or the Accra- Hohoe-Jasikan to Bimbilla road (Eastern corridor).
The region has a total road network of 2,458kms of which about 700kms are tarred and 1,181kms have a gravel surfacing. About 25% of the roads are considered to be in good condition, 23% in fair condition and 52% in poor condition. The route which serves Mole National Park is currently tarred and in very good shape. Fufulso-Sawla Road (popularly called the Damongo/Mole road)Bicycles and motor bikes are widely used in the Northern Region.
VOLTA LAKE TRANSPORT
The navigable waterway of Lake Volta extends about 224 nautical miles or 415 kilometers from Akosombo to Buipe with stops at Yeji and other places along the river. The Volta lake Transport Company (VLTC) is responsible for the development and operation of transportation on the lake.
From the Volta region in the south, one can get to the northern region by ferrying from Akosombo to Yeji and then to Makango before traveling by Metro Transit bus from Makango to Tamale.
AN ADVENTURE’S DREAM DESTINATION
There are three reasons to visit Northern Region.
• Rich historical, natural and cultural attractions
• The circuits in one region
• Hospitable people, tropical climate and open country
NORTHERN REGION – A DIFFERENT GHANA
The uniqueness of the attractions in the Northern Region has been the main draw for tourists who are streaming to the capital, Tamale in numbers. The young and the adventurous have found a different and unique destination yet to be discovered by mass tourists.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF THE NORTHERN REGION
The Komas were probably the earliest known inhabitants of the area now known as the Northern Region. Even though the Komas have disappeared as a distinct tribe they have left behind a treasure trove from their period. Archaeological diggings in West Mamprusi have unearthed terra cotta figurines, pottery and dress accessories from the first half of the last millennium.
Some of these can be viewed at the Museum showroom in Bolgatanga. The Gonjas are also reputed to have been among one of the earliest indigenous tribes to settle in present day Northern Region just like the Nchummurus of Brong Ahafo and the Lartehs, and Efutus of the Eastern and Central regions respectively.
In the early 1600s one of the greatest kings of ancient Ghana, Ndewura Jakpa created the Gonja kingdom, which is still one of the largest kingdoms in Ghana today. His reign from 1622 to 1667 saw one of the strongest kingdoms in Ghana.
The Dagombas call their kingdom Dagbon. The overlord or king of Dagbon is called the Yaa Naa and the seat of his Paramouncy is Yendi. They trace their ancestry to Zamfara in present day Nigeria from where their common ancestor, Tohazie or the ‘Red Hunter’ traveled to Biung. Gbewa, Tohazie’s grandson settled in Pusiga in Upper East Region from where his sons Sitobu, Tohagu and Mantambu migrated southwards and founded Dagbon, Mamprusi and Nanumba kingdoms respectively.
And from this colourful and proud history we have inherited a basketful of historical attractions. The Northern Region is a place for lovers of nature. Its natural features of scenic and beautiful vegetation contain some exotic species of flora and fauna and offer a different experience of adventure in nature and wildlife.
The savannah vegetation enhances the fantastic panoramic view from the Gambaga/ Nakpanduri escarpment and Karimenga hills while offering opportunities for hiking, trekking and canoeing. Nothing however, compares to the Region’s rich nature reserves. The Mole National Park for example is one of the largest and best developed National Parks in West Africa.
Bui National Park, the other National Park in the region, does not boast of such services, but the variety of wild life especially the resident Hippos makes it a place to be for adventure. The variety of birds at the Zongchagni oxbow lake, Daboya, Sabari, Nasia and the nature reserves are beginning to attract ardent bird watchers to these sites.
Forest reserves and tree plantations have been created by the Forestry Department in Tamale, Yendi, Damongo and Bole, and they add a touch of tropical forest to the natural savannah vegetation of this region. The sacred groves are traditional nature reserves created around shrines. These groves shelter medicinal herbs, rare and near extinct plants among many exotic plants.
The Jaagbo shrine and the Kalvogu sacred groves are the best known of sacred groves in the Northern Region, which have attracted the attention of UNESCO.
Legacies of the region’s historic past are also on offer for visitors with special interest. For the African in the Diaspora searching for his roots, castles on the coast may serve as the remaining reference points of departure for their ancestors, but the Northern Region is the most likely place to trace his ancestry.
Nowhere in the country can you find more ancient slave markets and relics than in the Northern Region. The cultural features of the people in the North are as unique as they are diverse and so different from any other in and around the country. These include festivals and religion. Salaga for example was described as the emporium of West African trade at the height of its glory.
By the main north-south highway from the national capital through Kumasi you cross the Black Volta into the Northern Region at Buipe which is also the terminal port of the Volta Lake Transport Service from Akosombo in the south to the north.
In Buipe (Gbipe) precisely at its old site is located the tomb of the Great NdewuraJakpa the Gonja King who conquered, founded and consolidated Gonjaland. This tomb has now been redeveloped into a major tourist attraction.
A visit to the site will involve extensive interpretation on the design and rational for the tomb and its historical and heritage significance.
The northwest journey brings the visitor to Damongo, the District Capital of West Gonja and the traditional capital of the paramount chief of the Gonjas with the title Yagbon Wura. Two very important stops or detours can be made before getting to Damongo. DABOYA: This town across the White Volta off the main road to Damongo is perhaps one of the most unique craft villages in West Africa.
It is a town synonymous with Fugu (smock) the hand- woven striped cloth worn mainly by the people of the northern part of Ghana. From the spinning of the yarn to the weaving strips, every stage is done by hand and it is the main occupation of the majority of the inhabitants. Daboya is also accessible from Tamale through Tolon
The ancient mosque and mystery stone have featured in every tourist guidebook. The people of this village, known as the kamaras, are descendants of the Muslim cleric who gave NdewuraJakpa spiritual protection during wars.
Legend has it that he threw a spear and where it landed was where he built the mosque some 400 years ago. He also left behind a Quran just as old as the mosque reputed to have been sent down by an angel.
This trio of mystics is completed by a stone, which cannot be moved. Thus the road from Larabanga toward the Upper West Region had to be constructed around the stone leading to sharp meandering bends around the stone.
Larabanga Mystic Stone
Slave raiders mainly from the Sahel Region of Mali and Niger raided and terrorized tribes in Gonjaland. One of the most notorious was Samori. In 1896 a dispute over the succession to the Gonja Paramountcy between the Kong and Bole Divisions of the Gonjaland turned into a war.
The Kong people then sought the help of two infamous slave raiders – Samori from Guinea and Babatu from Côte d’Ivoire. These two mercenary groups massacred a large number of people before they themselves were defeated at the Battle of Jentilpe where a mass grave still exists. The Bole division eventually won the war when the remnants of the Gonjas retreated to Busunu where they made a standoff and defeated the mercenaries.
If you want adventure away from the well-beaten track then the northern region is the ideal destination for you. The combination of the variety of eco- tourism assets, relics of the slave trade against the background of diverse and very different culture is providing the draw for the increasing number of the energetic and courageous finding their way to Tamale.
MOLE NATIONAL PARK
Mole National Park is the country’s premier park for game viewing and perhaps the most important single attraction in the northern region. It was established in 1958 and re- designated as a National Park in 1971.
Covering about 4577kmsq of undulating terrain with steep scarps, pristine guinea savannah vegetation and gallery forest along the rivers and streams, the park is home to almost 90 animal species notable among them being elephants, buffalo, roan, kob, hartebeest, waterbucks, warthogs, and 4 primate species. Lions, leopard and hyenas also occur and over 300 bird species have been recorded.
The park is largely located in the West Gonja district, about 143km (96miles) west of Tamale, on the Tamale-Wa trunk road. How to get there: A Metro Transit Bus runs a daily trip to the Park, Wa and Damongo. The Wa bus leaves in the morning about 5:30am daily (alight in Larabanga and charter a taxi); while the Damongo bus leaves in the morning daily at 6am (taxis abound to charter to the Park).
A private transport operator A.Y. Transport runs daily trips from Tamale to the park at 1pm – the station is located behind the Kaladan Park on the Picorna Hotel road’. You can also drive there with your private vehicle. One could also rent vehicles Tamale. GPRTU buses also run daily services on the road to Damongo and Wa.
The park has a 33-room hotel, which has a total of 87 beds. All rooms are en suite. There is also a restaurant offering local and continental cuisine. You can also relax after the morning safari by the poolside. Game viewing (safari) at the park is at 6:30am and 3:30pm. Visitors are provided with armed guides.
However, visitors may be taken on safari at any time between the 6:30am and 3:30pm on request Visitors to Mole also have the opportunity of exploring an eco- village at Mognori, which undoubtedly offers a true eco-village experience in tune with nature. Located 15 km on the south eastern boundary of the Mole National Park, the “Eco–Village experience” involves experiencing culture and traditions.
Major activities one can enjoy include:
• Day and overnight canoe safaris; for adventurous minded visitors
• Mognori village walk; you will learn about and participate in the traditional healing methods, shea butter processing and many more. Buffaloes in Mole National Park
KPARIA WATERFALLS AND COMMUNITY TOURISM:
Kparia is a community located to the north of the Mole National Park in the overseas area of the North Gonja District. There is a perennial waterfall located very close to the community but within the Park. Accessibility is currently difficult except for explorers and drifters. However, it holds great potential to attract tourists to the community and the waterfall.
Kparia tourism circuit has diverse tourism products which makes the attraction very appealing and fulfilling to both eco tourist and cultural tourists. These include the waterfalls (Kparia and Polzen within Mole Park), caves, bird watching, game viewing, historical settlement and community cultural heritage.
Another site visitors to the Northern Region cannot afford to miss is the Sonyo Community, showcasing “Traditional lifestyle and architecture”. Located 15km east of the district capital, Bole, on the Bole Secondary School road, Sonyo has a unique traditional architecture built in the ancient times to protect the community from their enemies.
Interestingly, most of the households do not have entry points at the base of their houses. They are only accessible to each other by walking on top of the roof using traditionally manufactured ladder to ascend and descend into the households. A Journey westwards takes the tourist some 100km from Larabanga to Bole.
The journey passes through Jentilpe and Nyange, the original capital of the Gonjas. Some interesting historical and heritage sites to be seen are three ancient mosques at Bole, Banda Nkwanta which are built in the same architectural style as the Larabanga mosque and the Royal Mausoleum at Makuma. It is also the best opportunity to see the famous Lobi culture in any of the Lobi villages, their architecture, pottery and other crafts.
The bold and curious can consult the powerful Kipo shrine at Sonyo. The star attraction in the Bole district remains the Hippo Sanctuary within the Bui National Park. A journey in a 4×4 vehicle takes 45min to the banks of the Volta River at Ntereso.
With the help of a guide and a hired canoe you can paddle to the grazing hippos some 5km downstream. However, with construction of the Bui Dam, this is likely to affect the hippo sanctuary and other flora and fauna located in the area. Kulmasa is also noted for its traditional myths and beliefs.
It is located in the Sawla-Tuna-Kalba district 55km from Sawla, on the Wa-Kumasi highway. Kulmasa’s traditional myths and beliefs are centered on crocodiles. Visitors to kulmasa would experience how the locals co-exist in harmony with the crocodiles.
BIRD WATCHING The Northern Region attracts a lot of birds because of certain favourable conditions.
The abundant grains produced here together with the wild grains of the savannah grass, water bodies such as the wetlands behind irrigation dams, the ponds and rivers are feeding grounds while protected areas like forest reserves and nature parks give them sanctuary.
Also areas around the Mole and Bui, the wetland around the Nasia, River Oti at Sabari and the Zonchagni ox-bow lake near Savelugu are fertile feeding grounds for birds. Between Nasia, Karimenga and Daboya bird watching is popular. HOW TO GET HERE: A flight from Accra to Tamale takes just about one hour.
The journey by road through Buipe continues to Tamale on one of the best highways in Ghana. The coaches of the intercity STC and other private transport companies take nine hours. The experience starts with the Ancient Slave Trade relics in the Salaga.
Another route to Salaga is through Makango where a ferry carts goods, vehicles and passengers from Yeji on the Brong Ahafo side of the Volta Lake to Makango. These are either coming from Kumasi by road or from Yeji by Volta Lake Transport Company passenger vessels originating from Akosombo.
THE SLAVE TRADE HERITAGE
Anyone of African descent domiciled abroad who is looking for his roots needs to go beyond the castles on the coast. They have to come to the northern region specifically to Salaga where the biggest of the slave markets of the 17th to 19th century was located.
Some of the relics of that period, which remain virtually intact in Salaga, are the hundreds of wells, which supplied water to the millions of merchants, slaves and beasts of burden; the market place, the bath troughs and the warehouses. Other towns with remnants of the slave trade include Yendi, where the tomb of Babatu, one of the notorious slave raiders can be found near his house.
His descendants still have his arms and amulets as heirloom. The Dagombas have a truly turbulent history and this is reflected in sites to be seen around Yendi. At the outskirts of the town is a hollowed tree with a rock nearby. The Dagombas fought several wars defending themselves or expanding their territories.
In the centre of the town are cemeteries for Germans and British who colonized that part of Ghana during the scramble for Africa. The cemeteries are an indication that they did not have it easy. At Adibo Dali, near Yendi is the field of a battle fought by the Dagombas against the Germans in 1890. Slave well site at Saakpuli in the Savelugu District.
The graves of the Dagomba warriors are close by the field where they fell and a tree on top of which their General directed their strategies. Side attractions in the south eastern trail are the Greenwich Meridian line in Yendi and the bird watching site at Sabari on the Oti River.
SITES IN AND AROUND TAMALE
Tamale is a relatively new town which at the turn of the last century was just a cluster of villages known mainly for the numerous shea butter trees- the ‘tama’ – from which it got the name Tamale. In 1907 it became the capital of the Northern Province of the British colony of the Gold Coast. The north played a very important role in the 2nd world war.
Two of the vestiges of the period are the old barracks and the old airport, which were built for military purposes. In addition to these is the monument to the royal wedding between King George V and Queen Elizabeth I located in the Gardens opposite the Jubilee Park.
The regional capital is also the commercial hub with virtually all the financial institutions operating and offering the services required by the travelling public. Some of the major banks include Standard Chartered Bank,Barclays Bank, GCB Bank, Agricultural Development Bank, National Investment Bank, Bank of Africa, Fidelity bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, Stanbic Bank, HFC Bank, EcoBank Ghana, UniBank, Access bank, Zenith Bank including the Bank of Ghana to mention a few.
All the insurance companies are also operating here to cater for your needs. All the banks also offer foreign exchange services. Even though the region is not a main stream shopping centre, there are shopping malls and outlets that can cater for the shopping needs of travellers and tourists alike.
For the cultural tourist, Jakarayili and Kukuo, suburbs of Tamale will be rewarding, as they are centres for traditional weaving and pottery and other community life style encounters. Weaving can also be observed at the Tamale and Aboabo Markets and recently along the major roads in town. Some Vernacular architecture in the northern region
Traditional Architecture of the North The north is noted for leather ware and the place to see the complete chain of activities involved from tanning raw cowhide to finished sandals, bags, belts or boots is Zongoni along the Buipela road. The artisanal blacksmiths who make simple tools, musical instruments and bangles can be found at Sabongida.
Shea butter is the raw material for body creams. Production of this important cream from the shea fruit is undertaken in villages around Tamale and all districts. All these traditional crafts and products can be bought in all the markets around the town but the best places to see these crafts are the Centre for National Culture and Aboabo Market.
In spite of its status as the fastest growing city in West Africa and the fourth-largest regional capital, Tamale is unique in the coexistence of centuries’ old traditional culture and modernity, typified by the modern office blocks standing side by side with old round huts with conical thatch along the major roads. Other cultural features to be observed in Tamale are the numerous shrines spread in all major traditional quarters such as Choggu, Nyohini and Vittin.
The “Pulipuon” tree at the Tamale Teaching Hospital lends credence to the power of shrines as recounted by adherents. However, to get a more practical benefit of shrines, which are usually only used for divination you have to travel some 24km to Tali near Tolon where a sacred grove has been used to create centuries old virgin vegetation around a shrine, the Jaagbo shrine, which serves as a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. A mystery tree near the Jaagbo shrine is reputed to have been climbed by a warrior on a horseback.
The hoof prints of a horse are still visible on the tree. To get a better insight into our culture groups can arrange to pay courtesy calls on any traditional chief, such as the chief of Tamale, the Dakpema; the Yaa Naa’s representative, the Gulkpe Naa, the Lamashegu Naa or the Sagnarigu Naa. Better still get lessons in culture and dance at the Centre for National Culture or at the Youth Home in Tamale. Research into the culture of the people can also be done at the Tamale Institute for Cross Culture Studies (TICCS).
It is not by any means all tradition and culture in Tamale. The central business district is a modern avenue of shops lined along carriageways and so you have the choice to shop for all your needs or sit in a bar for a cold drink or eat in a restaurant or a ‘chopbar’- traditional catering outlets where you can savour the local delicacies like TZ, Wasawasa, Tuugbani etc.
There are a few swimming pools and tennis courts where one can cool down from the heat and exercise if need be. Savelugu District is located 24km north of Tamale. It is accessible by a first class road and it offers cultural, natural and historical attractions for travelers. This is the district from which the cradle of Dagbon kingdom had its first capital at YeniDabari. The shrine of NaaSitobu, A welcome visit to our traditional palaces, founder of Dagbon can be found here.
Other important names associated with the Dagbon kingdom include NaaNyagse who conquered most of present day Dagbon and NaaLuro who consolidated the kingdom. Diare in the Savelugu District is the cradle of the Dagbon Kingdom. The founders of the Dagbon kingdom, NaaSitobu and NaaNyagse made YeniDabari the first capital of the Dagbon kingdom. Some relics of the founders, the shrine, NaaNyagse’s grave, his hoe and some of his arms of war can be found in the district.
There is an ox-bow lake located in an idyllic setting near the White Volta at a place called Zongchagni. There is also a rapid, cascade and an island with sandy beaches surrounded by beautiful trees. The water bodies and grain-laden fields attract some of the most exotic birds to the district. It therefore provides a scene for bird watching.
Tolon and Kumbungu Districts are located to the southern part of the region and are about 24km from Tamale respectively. The districts pride themselves in natural, historic and cultural attractions. The scenic beauty of the savannah vegetation is best seen in the flat low lying landscape of these districts and a shea butter plantation provides beautiful afforestation near Kumbungu.
The Bontanga Irrigation Dam provides water for rice cultivation and fishing. The Chirifoyili dam is home to crocodiles and is also used for small scale dry season irrigation. Cultural attractions in the district include the palace of the Chief of Tolon (Tolon-Naa) which is a splendid combination of traditional and modern architecture. Farmers use raw materials such as guinea corn stalks and other stalks to make strong and handy baskets. Weaving of smocks (Fugu) and pottery is done by the village folk and sold in Tamale.
The Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), the University for Development Studies (UDS) at Nyankpala and the Ghana Danish Community Programme (GDCP) at Dalon are major institutions of learning and research in the district. The main campus of the only University in the North – University for Development Studies is located in Tamale, with other campuses in Nyankpala, Navrongo and Wa. The school offers undergraduate, graduate and PhD programmes to both local and international students.
Other institutions include the Tamale Polytechnic, Teacher Training Colleges and the technical University College of Tamale. Main Administration Building of UDS in Tamale
SAAKPULI SLAVE SITE
Saakpauli is a village 7km off the Tamale- Bolgatanga trunk road at Disiga. This village was one of the several slave markets in the northern region. The market took place under a large baobab tree, which still stands today. Other relics are the old wells used by the people and slave merchants for cooking and drinking. Others include the remains of the stone foundation of ancient Saakpuli settlements. Traders from the north mostly Muslims exchanged tobacco and slaves for kola nuts and other merchandised goods from the south.
In the 19th century, Babatu and Samori the notorious slave raiders were known to have sold slaves at the market when they raided communities in the north, south and upper territories of Ghana and Burkina Faso.
WEST MAMPRUSI DISTRICT (WALEWALE)
The hilly, physical features coupled with the rolling savannah vegetation make the Karimenga area one of the most scenic landscapes. Trekking in this environment with boat rides on the White Volta and Nasia is a treat for the Nature lover.
West Mamprusi District is famous for its ‘overseas’ area. This is an area crisscrossed by many rivers, which over flow their banks and create a vast lake-like feature. Nasia River also creates a similar Wetland during the rainy season.
This has made the whole of West Mamprusi a thriving sanctuary for both indigenous and migratory birds. There is also spring water at Jaringa near Kpasenkpe which cascades down rocks like a waterfall. A Forest Reserve created as a sacred grove in Duu, harbour wild life.
EAST MAMPRUSI AND BUNKPURUGU/YUNYO DISTRICT Gambaga Escarpment is the highest point in the northern region.
It has breath-taking views and offers opportunities for hiking on nature trails especially at Nakpanduri where there is a beautiful small seasonal waterfall and a garden around what used to be a rest house for the first president of Ghana Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah.
The Nakpanduri end of the scarp has some amazing steep cliff surfaces which could be potential sites for paragliding and abseiling, while the rolling hills and forest cover provides opportunities for hiking and camping. The White Volta separates the Mamprusi land from the Upper East Region. It provides avenue for trekking and boat cruises.
Naa Jaringa Wall. Naa Jaringa was a powerful Mamprusi chief who built a mighty wall around Nalerigu as his own memorial. It was built in the 15th century allegedly with honey, milk and sometimes human blood.
Only about 50 meters of the 10ft tall wall still remains.
Naa Atabia’s Grave. The great king fought and expanded the Mamprusi kingdom. He was the greatest king of the Mamprusi.
The region has the distinction of having one major festival celebrated by all the major tribal groups Dagomba, Gonja, Mamprusi and Nanumba.
The fire festival is called ‘Jintigi’ by the Gonjas and ‘Bugum’ by the Dagombas and Mamprusis.
Jintigi Fire Festival The chiefs and people of Gonjaland celebrate it in April every year. The capital of Gonjaland Traditional Area-Damongo-serves as the epicentre of the entire celebration. Among activities undertaken to mark the festival are the procession at night with torches of fire to the outskirts of towns and villages within Gonjaland. There is Quranic recitation to forecast events in the coming year.
Special Jintigi Festival It is celebrated ahead of the main Jintigi festival. This festival is held mainly by the ethnic Kamaras whose main town is Larabanga. The main activity is the annual consultation of a Quran by the Chief Imam to predict what will happen in the coming year. The said Quran is reputed to have been sent there by an angel.
The ethnic Kamaras are descendants of a powerful Imam called Yidana Braimah. Bugum Fire Festival The Bugum Chugu (festival) is celebrated by the Dagombas, the Nanumbas, and the Mamprusi. It is held in the lunar calendar. The main activity is the procession of celebrants with torches at night amidst music and dancing. The significance of Bugum is to commemorate the search for the lost son of an ancient king.
SONYOR DENG FESTIVAL
It is thanksgiving festival to pay homage to the Sonyo (Kipo) fetish shrine at Sonyo in the Bole District. The festival is held among the Gonja worshippers of Sonyo (Kipo) shrine. It is held in the lunar calendar. The main activity is the presentation of a live bush animal usually a rabbit to the shrine. It is similar to the ‘Aboagyir’ festival of the Efutu people in the Central Region.
However, whereas with Aboagyir an antelope is caught, the Sonyo festival uses a rabbit. The high point of the festival involves the mobilization of the youth into groups like the ‘Asafo’ who enter the forest for the catch of a wild rabbit. The first group that makes the catch brings it to the high priest of the Sonyo shrine amidst singing and dancing. The animal is then slaughtered and offered as sacrifice to the gods after some rituals have been performed.
THE DAMBA FESTIVAL
The Damba is categorized into three main festivals, namely:
The Damba Festival is a traditional festival with its origin from Islam. It is the celebration of the birth of the prophet Mohammed. The festival falls annually on the twelfth day of Rabi-ul-Awwal, the month in which the Prophet was born. ‘Somo-Damba’ also called ‘’Moulidi Nabiyu’’ which marks the birth of the holy Prophet and ‘Naa-Damba’ also known as the Chief Damba marks the naming of the Prophet.
The countdown starts with the appearance of the new moon of Rabi-ulAwwal also known as the Damba Moon. The ‘’Somo-Damba’’ is celebrated on the tenth day of the Damba moon with traditional music and dancing in front of the chief’s palace with women of every quarter of the town organizing their own singing and dancing. On the morning of the ninth day, the rice that will be cooked on the ‘Somo-Damba’ is spread amid singing praises to Allah.
Another important activity is in the evening where there are prayer sessions and sermons about the festival and a talk on Islam are held. Naa-Damba which is celebrated by the Chiefs falls on the seventeenth day of the Damba moon and is marked by colourful display of traditional costume, dances and many other activities, which includes the slaughtering of a bull provided by the chief.
In the afternoon the drummers and the people in their colourful dresses, go to the chief’s house to pay homage. During this period the Imam and the chief’s linguist lead the drummers into the palace to lead the chief and wives out in a procession. When they appear they are met with joy and jubilation.
As soon as the chief is seated, the drummers start the ‘Damba beat’. Whilst the Damba beat is being performed, the chief occasionally takes the floor to dance and people rush to present money to show appreciation. There is firing of muskets. This continues till 6:00pm when the chief retires to his palace, which gives an indication, that all is over for the time being. The next day there is the display of horsemanship to see the Damba off.
On this day anybody who owns a horse including the chief decorates it and then they ride on them to the town to greet friends and important personalities. In the evening amidst drumming and dancing, a long procession starts from the chief’s house to the outskirts of the town where the festival is rounded off.
One thing that stands out on all such occasions are the traditional clothes, the hand woven smock called Fugu. The best Fugu is made in Daboya, Yendi, Gushegu and Tamale.
KONYURI CHUGU (EID-IL-FITR) FESTIVAL
All Moslems observe this festival throughout the Northern Region. It is marked through prayers, fasting and general merry making. It symbolizes the end of the Ramadan fast.
CHIMSI CHUGU (ED-IL-ADHA) FESTIVAL
All Moslems hold it in the lunar calendar. There are general prayers, feasting and slaughtering of animals especially rams, cows, camels etc, to commemorate the sacrifice made by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to Allah.
GOBANDAWU (YAM) FESTIVAL
Gobandawu marks the beginning of the new yam harvest season by all traditional areas in the Northern Region. The main activity is the sacrificial offer of yams and guinea fowls to in-laws. The significance of this festival is to give thanks to the gods for a good harvest.
PLACES OF INTEREST
CENTRE FOR NATIONAL CULTURE
Popularly called the Cultural Centre or CNC, it is located near the jubilee park in the centre of town. The Centre is the main cultural hub of the northern region where the various traditions can be learned. The Centre organizes cultural performances as well as lessons in drumming and dancing for tourists/visitors.
There is also model traditional Dagomba architecture on display. Behind the centre is a crafts market where leather and other products are on display and for sale.
TAMALE CENTRAL AND ABOABO MARKETS
The markets in Tamale sell everything from groceries to motorbikes. Visitors will find this colourful market full of hustle and bustle.
Traditional Fetish Shrines Since religion is an integral part of man’s life, worshipping the supreme deity comes in different forms ranging from contemporary religions like Islam, Christianity etc, and indigenous forms of worshipping through fetish shrines dotted across the length and breadth of the Northern Region.
Notable among them are the Jaagbo Sacred Grove and Shrine at Tale, Kpalyugu shrine at Katariga, Kuntuli shrine at Yiwogu and Sonyor Kipo in the Bole district.
Kpalyugu Shrine It is located at Katariga on the Tamale- Kumbungu road. As with all sacred groves in Ghana, it is a sacred place where the gods and ancestral spirits of the people reside and yearly rituals are performed to pacify the gods and ancestral spirits.
Kuntunli Shrine It is the grave of Naa-Sitobu and located off the Savelugu-Kumbungu road.
The Yaa Naa and other Dagbon natives patronize this shrine. UNESCO adopted it years ago for preservation under its bio-diversity programme called CIPSEG.
Zin-Nyebo Shrine It is located in Tampion in Savelugu district. The shrine is known for not tolerating the collection of tolls in the Tampion market. It is situated in the market of the town. Notorious toll collectors are often chased away by swarms of bees.
Sonyor Kipo Shrine It is located at a village called Sonyor in the Bole district about 16km from Bole town.
It’s the supreme god among the gods in the Bole area. It is believed that the famous Tigari shrine derives its powers from the Sonyo Kipo shrine.
The architectural structure and design in the Northern Region and indeed the entire northern Ghana is unique. The compound of each household is clustered with round huts built with local materials like sand and roofed with thatch and dry straw in a conical shape. The hall in the compound is often the biggest hut in the house, which is used to house visitors and guests.
Most often, the chief’s palace is the biggest compound in the village with the tallest and most pointed roof in the village. Tourists can gain immense experience when explanation of their layouts, building functions and construction techniques are given. Even more interesting is the layout of the chief’s compound.
The Northern Region has an array of indigenous cuisine, which are the staples of almost all the major ethnic groups in the region. Notable among them are ‘TuoZaafi’ (TZ), which is called ‘kude’ by the Gonjas, ‘Saam’ by the Dagombas, ‘Saamu’ by the Mamprusi. Other notable cuisines are rice balls or ‘tuoshinkafkpulla’ (Dagomba), ‘tuubani’, rice and beans known as ‘waakye’ locally, yam and ‘adua’ (beans). Most of the dishes are accompanied with soups like groundnut, dry okra, green leafy vegetables like ‘aleefu’ and ‘ayoyo’ etc. the local drink is Pito, which is brewed from guinea corn.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Music and dance depict the culture of the people. Music and dance are performed on different occasions such as festivals, installation of chiefs, marriages, funerals, and holidays and even during ordinary days for entertainment. The popular dances are ‘takai’, ‘Bamaaya’, ‘Tora’, ‘Jera’, ‘Simpa’ for the Dagombas and Kpana, ‘Goobi’, Asie, etc for the Gonjas.
The Centre for National Culture has a dance ensemble, which offers music and dance lessons to people. There are other cultural troupes such as the Youth Home Cultural Troupe that offer lessons as well.
Traditional crafts are well developed in the northern region and are an attraction for tourists and also a source of income and employment for the local artisans.
Handicrafts The main traditional textile in the north is Fugu. The main centres for its production are Yendi, Tamale, Gushegu, Tatale, Saboba, Bimbilla and Daboya. However, Daboya which produces the batakari-style textile is the best known of the traditionally textile villages. It is located about 61km west of Tamale.
A visit there would include a boat ride, fishing on White Volta, salt mining, bird watching and a stopover at Jaagbo shrine, UDS and SARI. Leather tanning and leather ware can be found at Zongoni in the Tamale, Bimbilla, Gushegu and Tatale. Pottery can also be found at Jakarayilli and Kukuo in Tamale as well as Bimbilla, Saboba, Tatale and Gushegu. Xylophone making can be found in Gilsiya near Bimbilla. Other crafts that are popular in the northern region are Mat weaving, Hut décor, Woodcarving and Cotton spinning.
SHEA BUTTER EXTRACTION
Shea butter is obtained from the shea tree, which grows in the wild in the north. The butter is the base material for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The production of the butter, which is mainly done by women, can be seen, observed or learned in all the villages in the region.
ROAD DISTANCES FROM TAMALE TO DISTRICT CAPITALS AND TOURIST SITES IN THE NORTHERN REGION AND SOME REGIONAL CAPITALS FROM TO KM Tamale
Accra 611 Bawku 238 Bolga 160 Bole 241 Bimbilla 167 Buipe 96 Cape Coast 582 Daboya 61 Damongo 122 Gambaga 165 Gushiegu 104 Ho 477 Koforidua 547 Kumasi 484 Kintampo 191 Larabanga 138 Makango 142 Mole National Park 164 Nalerigu 170 Nakpanduri 193 Nyankpala 16 Saboba 148 Salaga 115 Savelugu 24 Sekondi 654 Sunyani 288 Wa 310 Walewale 109 Yendi 96 Zabzugu 154 Takoradi 769