Franz Kröger


                                             Colonial Officers and Bulsa Chiefs (with Special Consideration of Elections)


Introductory Note: 

The quotations from archival materials must be taken with a grain of salt. The handwriting in many documents, especially where the signatures of the authors are concerned, is often very difficult to read. Quite a lot of texts are fragmentary and without any punctuation marks. It is not always evident whether a date refers to the day of the event or the day of the entry. This becomes even more confusing when old events are repeated in recent reports under different headlines.

In the following edition, square brackets in quoted passages contain additions or explanations of the editor (F.K.) or modern and more suitable spellings of Buli proper names. A dotted line means either less relevant passages have been left out or that they are unreadable.

Abbreviations: N.A.G.: National Archives of Ghana (Accra); for more abbreviations see “Who was this Atuga?” (Buluk 7).


1. Succession to Office

Many educated Bulsa are of the opinion that before the British colonial government there were no elections of chiefs conducted according to the democratic principle of majority. Although I had always championed this view, too, after studying archival documents, I had some doubts regarding my previous opinion.

Most British officers of the early colonial time were apparently sure that the succession of Bulsa chiefs was regulated by strict rules of succession. When, on April 9th, 1907, the British commissioner of the Navrongo District heard that Amachenna, the late Chief of Chuchuliga, was succeeded by his grandson, Atteche, despite the fact that his son Timbeya was alive and "apparently passed over," he was confused about the Bulsa rules of succession. A question concludes his short report: "The townspeople elect their chief regardless of succession?"

Even in later sources, the British authors only hesitatingly accept the idea that before the arrival of the colonialists, the Bulsa elected their chiefs by elections without regarding strict succession rights:

N.A.G. 1932 [Azantinlow’s election] There is apparently no hereditary right of succession I was told by the old men present, their chiefs had always been elected by the majority of votes before the coming of the Europeans.

Nevertheless, the colonial officers adhered to the idea that chiefs can be elected only from a chiefly family. At the election of a new Wiesi chief [N.A.G. 20/21.5.1939] one of the claimants was excluded: "Aywenkegli of Ipala Section wished to stand but was ruled out, not being of the chief’s family".

Looking at the most recent history of Bulsa chieftaincy, we find many examples where candidates, not only from two different families but even from different lineages or clan-sections, competed for the office of chief, and sometimes the outsider was even successful.

In the last elections of Wiaga, candidates of the present chiefly family dynasty originating from Yisobsa competed with contestants from Wiaga-Yimonsa, which had provided chiefs before the arrival of the British.

In Kunkwa, two lineages compete for the chiefly office at every election, and the seat of chieftaincy moves between the two houses according to the majorities achieved.

In Gbedema chieftaincy was established in the house of Nakpakyeri (lit. "old chief’s house," Gbedema Goluk), but the last three chiefs hailed from Gbedema-Gbinaansa (cf. also Ghanatta Ayaric, Buluk 6).


2. The Electors

If there were no strict rules of succession or inheritance, other means of becoming chief were imperative. Probably elections by majority existed even before the first arrival of the British.

Moreover, the question of who was permitted to elect a chief must be tackled. Today all compound heads of a village are entitled to elect the village chief.

It is possible that in olden times only the section heads were electors, as I was told by one informant. The documents are not clear about this phenomenon. The election of Chief Asaponing of Kunkwa is described as follows: "A meeting of all the headmen was held here today for the purpose of electing a new chief. One Asapoining was unanimously elected" (26.5.1906). Subsequently the names of the four headmen (of Yalbilinsa, Kunsesa, Iwiesiensa and Gandema) are listed.

N.A.G.: Sandema, 8.4.1927, Election of new Chief viu Afawko dec[eased].

Electors -   Chiefs: Wiaga, Siniessi, Doninga, Kanjarga, Kadema, Bedema, Uasi, Fambisi, Wiasi, Bachansi, Chuchulliga and Godemblisi. 12 in all

Headmen of all Sections of Sandema except Pungsa.

Sandema 9.12.1932: election of new chief [Azantinlow];

Electors: All headmen of sections of Sandema, 19 in all. The following chiefs were also present: Wiaga, Kadema Siniessi, Doninga, Gwedema, Kanjarga, Fambisi, Yunwesi [?, below: Yawassi], Kunkwa, Wiassi, Chuchuliga and Bechaunsi

But in documents of the early colonial period, we also find notes that all the compound heads were allowed to vote. The archival documents do not provide unambiguous data about the role of the sections heads who participated in such an election. In some documents, however, they appear as a separate body in the electoral procedure. Only in one of the studied documents is it evident that their votes were counted separately, namely in the report about a "palaver" in Kanjaga on March 27th, 1913, which should explore the proportion of followers of the suspended Chief Adachuro and his challenger Ankanaba.

... those who desired his [the chief’s] removal, and these consisted of ten sectional Headmen and their followers, together with the compound holders of the section whose Headmen only followed the Chief. The exact proportion was [that] one section followed the Chief - one neutral - and eleven who did not. Individually the numbers were about the same, namely ten to one against him.

In several documents it is mentioned that, apart from the compound owners and section heads, other male adults were allowed to vote.

N.A.G. Kanjarga April 25th, 1913 (election of Ankanaba):

"All Headmen of section, together with compound holders and followers, were present and Akanaba was unanimously elected Chief.

Kanjarga August, 20th, 1926: "[Ayomkom] had a following [of] over 200 compound owners and 350 men" [italics mine].

Who are these “followers” and “men” who are not included in the number of compound owners? I could not find any exact answer to this question in the archival files. And if all male adults of a village had a right to vote, why do the documents differentiate between compound holders and "followers"? A thorough study of documents, also of those concerning other ethnic groups of the Northern Territories, may help clarifying these questions.


3. Vacancy and Regency

The British were usually very keen at shortening the time of vacancy between two terms of office. The period of time varied from one day to many years. In Kanjaga the election of the new chief, Ampanta, took place one day after Chief Anatiu’s death (21.1.1934). This exceptionally quick election was certainly due to the fact that the D.C. happened to be in Kanjarga when Anatiu died, and perhaps he did not want to come again after a certain time to oversee the election of the successor.

Between the reign of the two Sandema chiefs, Anaakum and Ayieta, there was a vacancy of five years and after the death of chief Azantinlow on November 14th, 2007, nearly six years passed before a new chief was elected (July 17th, 2012).

The Kunkwa chief Asaponing was elected on May 26th, 1906. He succeeded Abile who "died from the wounds received whilst fighting with Babatu and his raiders." As Babatu was finally defeated in 1897, this means that Kunkwa had no chief for at least nine years.

Most commissioners respected the custom of the mourners to celebrate the funerals of the deceased chief before a new election took place because an omission of the funeral might possibly lead to non-recognition of the new chief. When I asked the Kunkwa regent in 2011 for the names of all Kunkwa chiefs, he mentioned that his family does not recognise a certain chief because the predecessor’s funeral had not been performed before his election.

N.A.G.: Bachonsa 18.11.1920: ...met by the chief’s sons; they say they have not finished the funeral custom yet and will not do so until all the corn is in. Told them they must be ready for an election on the next visit by a D.C.

           N.A.G.: ... S.D. Nash (D.C.) reports about a similar situation at Kunkwa on August 9th, 1909:

The chief of Kunkwa is reported to have died this day. The people want a new Chief as soon as the funeral customs are completed.

For the time between two terms of chiefly offices, an acting chief or regent (nansiung naab, literally "chief of the gate") takes over the administration.

In Sandema the section of Suarinsa seems to have some influence on appointing the regent or regents, as it is reported for the time after Ayieta’s death in 1912:

N.A.G.: 26.6.1912: On the advice of Abelladem of Soo wor [Suarinsa?] section it is decided that chief son Affoka and the above Aieparo look after the town till the election of new chief. (S.D. Nash, D.C.)

Affoka (Afoko) and Aieparo were the most promising candidates for the position of new chief.

After Paramount Chief Azantinlow’s death in 2005, Mr. Alexis, his eldest son, became regent. I was told that Azantinlow, while still alive, had designated this person. I heard, however, also some critical voices claiming that not the eldest son of Azantilow, but the most senior descendant of Ayieta (Azantilow's father) should have become regent. As far as I know, Alexis, a teacher who had spent most of his life in Southern Ghana, did not aspire to the high office of the paramount chief. However, unlike the customs in some other societies of Northern Ghana, a Bulsa regent is not forbidden to be a candidate for the office of the new chief:

N.A.G.: 22.7.1939: Election of a Chief [Abunturu] of Wiassi. Nephew of the late Chief obtained three more votes than the next candidate, the brother of former chief, and so he was elected. This man, Abunturu has been acting Chief for the last 15 months.


4. Candidates

In the archives I could not find any methods of finding candidates or means of registration for those who were willing to stand for election, as it is the custom today.

C. Lentz (1989:187) describes one method of finding candidates for the north-west of the Northern Territories:

In Lawra zum Beispiel forderte District Commissioner Eyre-Smith den auf seinen Druck hin im März 1927 zurückgetretenen alten Häuptling Nanweni auf, Kandidaten für seine Nachfolge zu benennen, und bat auf einer Versammlung, alle am Amt interessierten sollten aufstehen.

(Translation F.K.) In Lawra, for example, Eyre-Smith, the District Commissioner, called upon the old Chief Nanweni, whom he had urged to abdicate, to name candidates for his succession, and in a meeting Chief Nanweni asked all interested in this office to stand up.

After a Bulsa chief’s death, the British officers often looked for potential successors in the chiefly family, and they were normally clear about who was their favourite.

In some cases a relative of a deceased chief would report the death in Navrongo, and in this way became known to the officers as a potential candidate.

N.A.G.: 2.1.1906: Kardima [Kadema]: ...Akonga, the elder brother of the Chief has come in to Navoro to report. As far as can be ascertained there are no further claims by applicants for the stool.


5. The preliminary assembly or "palaver" with test votes

Rarely do we read about a meeting called a "palaver,” which probably means a non-decision-taking assembly before the election meeting. Perhaps it is preferably done when the deposition of a chief and the installation of a new one were considered, as it happened in both cases known to me. In both of them there was a kind of test-vote. In this way the opinions of people and the chances of potential challengers or candidates can be explored.

The way in which the polls were conducted is vividly described in the Provincial Commissioner’s (Warden) report about the Kanjaga palaver of 1913:

N.A.G.: 9-4-1913, visit: 27-3-1913 ...The Chief Adachuro and his following occupied one side, and those who desired his removal sat on the other. The Chief’s party consisted solely of members of his own family and section, together with one other sectional Headman, but not his compound holders; and in order to make a great show, he had included all the available women and children...

As described above there followed a vote according to section heads, compound holders and followers. This was not the ordinary election, which took place only on April 25th, 1913.

A palaver, similar in its cause and performance, was held in Chuchuliga in the same year, 1913. After the old chief had been suspended, many people were in favour of Aperiga, who had been chief around 1900 and was removed by Bagao, a "slave-seller":

N.A.G.: 19.11.1913: Chuchuliga palaver continued. 705 people attended, of whom 552 are in favour of Perugha being reinstalled. Attecheng has now only 153 followers.


6.The election meeting

6.1 Disqualifying ("weeding down") candidates by the D.C. (after 1911 in cooperation with the Sandemnab)

If the number of candidates was especially high, some of them were excluded from the list by the D.C. and, after the establishment of the Bulsa Paramountcy, by the D.C. in co-operation with the Sandemnaab. Reasons for exclusion might be physical or mental handicaps (leprosy, elephantiasis, "lack of intelligence," being too young, too old, too weak, etc.).

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga, 18.5.1923: ...The eldest son was disqualified as deaf, dumb and leprous. Most of the old men were contented, too.

22.1.1934 (Kanjaga): Elder son alive but not suitable owing to lack of intelligence

A chief was supposed to be a healthy and strong man. Also troublemakers or those who did not willingly follow the orders of the British administration might be "weeded down".

Before the elections in Kanjaga (1934) and Kunkwa (1927), the Sandemnab and the D.C. were not exactly of the same opinion with regard to which candidates should be disqualified.

N.A.G.: Kanjaga, 21.1.1934 Chief Anatiu died to-day.

22.1.1934: Stayed two nights for the election of a new chief. Chief of Sandema with me. Originally 15 claimants to the skin, these were weeded down to two by [the Chief of] Sandema. I, however, insisted on a candidate from the late chief’s family being put up - he was ... excluded by Sandema...

N.A.G.: 8.8.1927 (Kunkwa): ... election of new chief... The following is the list of candidates [12 names]...

The chief of Sandema objected to the following: Agang, because he is the younger brother of Akwabil [the deposed predecessor], Anatoma, because his father was destooled for refusing to follow Sandema; Agi, Ana and Atong, because they are close relatives of Akwabil and being all very young likely to be under his thumb.

The last four objections were upheld, but Agang [regent] was allowed to stand as candidate as there is nothing against him and he is old enough and apparently strong enough to stand against Akwabil in his election.

In modern elections which I [F.K.] attended, there were no election speeches made by the candidates, and it was probably the same with former elections. Nowadays, however, even weeks before voting day, the candidates, along with their entourages, visit compounds, give presents and try to influence the compound owners in their leanings. Several groups, e.g. youth associations and lineage elders, meet to discuss for whom they should vote.


6.2 The election by the "people"

Usually, and also after some unsuitable candidates had been disqualified, the D.C. had his favourite candidate as well as others whom he did not wish to win the election.

Although I did not find a description of the exact procedure of an election by the people, there are some passages that permit the assumption that it was not quite different from the modern one, i.e. on election day the candidates took their position, e.g. under a big tree, and all his followers, as far as they were compound heads, stood behind them. Then their numbers were counted.

A slightly different procedure is described by C. Lentz (1998:187) for Lawra (1927):

Nach einer kurzen Pause [in der Versammlung] sollten die anwesenden sub-chiefs und headmen aufstehen, die bereit seien, Binni Lobi [dem einzigen Kandidaten] Gefolgschaft zu leisten - was dann alle taten.

...Meist lief eine solche "Wahl" ... auf bloße Akklamation hinaus. Manchmal präsentierten sich aber tatsächliche Konkurrenten, und die Versammlung wurde zur öffentlichen Demonstration, wer über mehr Gefolgschaft verfügte.

(Translation F.K.:) After a short pause [in the assembly] the present sub-chiefs and headmen who were ready to give allegiance to Binni Lobi [the only candidate] should get up - which was done by all of them.

... Usually such an "election" amounted to a mere acclamation. Sometimes genuine competitors represented themselves and the assembly became a demonstration of which of them had the larger number of followers.

Generally the influence of the British supervisor was so great that in many cases he could influence the electors to vote for his favourite. But in at least two cases his preference was not respected.

N.A.G.: 25.11.1920: To Kunkwa with chief of Sandema and held election of the new chief. Four candidates put up, but only two were in it. Natama, the chief’s son, and Akwabil... The latter won by 55 votes: 292 against 237. I was sorry for this as Natama looked for the better man.

N.A.G.: Wiesi, 20/21.5.1934, Question of chief still in abeyance. I am now rather in favour of Akamba, the Ag. [Acting] Chief, being appointed by govt. It would be the best way-out unless we are prepared to let the Chiefdom go out of the people

Chief Abotempo [Abolimpo] enstooled 16.12.1935


6.3 Appointment by the D.C.

In the reports on elections we usually find a remark that the new chief was appointed by the D.C. I suppose that this was done immediately after the election if the D.C. was present.

It is possible that in early colonial times chiefs were either appointed by a British officer without an election by the people – at least compound holders or followers were not mentioned in early documents – or the appointment preceded a "recognition" by the people as described in the following passage.

N.A.G.: Sandema 1905: Ieta [Ayieta] was made Chief of Sandema when the town was visited [by] Major R.A. Irvine... Ieta was formally recognized by the people as their chief in November 1905...


7. Rituals after the election

In modern elections of village chiefs, immediately after the winner has been determined by counting the votes, the elected candidate goes to the Paramount Chief and is crowned by him with a red cap. I could not find any passages describing or hinting at this ceremony.

As concerns rituals following Ayieta’s election, the archive documents mention only his seclusion in a dark room, while all rites following Agaasa’s election are described in detail. They correspond to the descriptions I received from Sandema informants. After the Sandemnaab’s election of 2012, but not after those of the Wiaga and Kadema chiefs, white powder (possibly kaolin?) was applied to the winner’s face. Carrying an elected chief on the shoulders of some young men, as mentioned for Chief Azantinlow, is practised today immediately after the "coronation" with the red cap and some official speeches.

N.A.G.: Sandema 1932 [Azantinlow’s election]: ... he [Azantinlow] was... carried away shoulder high amidst cheers and drumming, which continued for the rest of the day.

I (F.K.) could not watch the ritual of seclusion in modern times, but all of my Bulsa informants told me that it is still practised in a similar way as described in the documents of the archives:

N.A.G.: Sandema 1905: Ieta [Ayieta] was formally recognized by the people in November 1905, going through the ceremony, part of which consists in being locked up in a dark room without being allowed to come out for 7 days.

N.A.G.: Sandema 1930 (?) [Agaasa] ... final step... ceremony of being closed up to 7 days in a room during which period he may not emerge; at the end of this period he kills cattle as a sacrifice to his fetish and a dance is held in the market place... When in the house for the 7 days, he is accompanied by his oldest wife and on their liberation the Chief’s hair is cut and the two of them are carried to the market place for the dance. At the sacrifice, as far as I can ascertain, two cows are killed; one is given to the "horn-master," i.e. the guardian of the fetish horn, which at this ceremony is filled with earth from the earliest settlement made by the chief’s ancestors; the other cow is for the chief himself and it is traditionally on the skin of this cow that he sits when finding cases ... The custom of always sitting on the skin appears to have lapsed in favour of a chair in these more enlightened times - which is a pity.

It is significant that a period of 3 years has elapsed since this chief was elected and he is only now contemplating going through this ceremony. The reason for this is, I am told, that he has only just "satisfied” the keepers of the fetish with sufficient presents. I presume, had he been sufficiently wealthy to have "satisfied" them on the day of his election, he could have performed this ceremony 3 years ago.

On the last occasion that this ceremony was performed, some trouble arose and as a consequence the present Chief was unwilling to advertise the fact that he intended to go through with the ceremony shortly and come alone, with only a few of his immediate entourage to tell me of it. G.N. Nuna (?), Ag. D.C.


8. Approval of the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories (C.C.N.T.) after one year’s probation

Every newly elected chief reigns only on probation during his first year in office, i.e. the C.C.N.T. can depose him within this time without the consent of the people.

N.A.G.: Fumbisi, 14.5.1915: I approve of the election of Ampusuba to the stool of Fambisi subject to the usual period of one year’s probation (Sgd. Armitage, C.C.N.T.)


9. Influence of the Colonial Administration on the chiefs after their approbation

9.1 Compliments, rewards and lockets/medallions

If we consider the means by which the native chiefs were induced to follow British orders and to co-operate with them, measures like warnings, punishment, fines and deposition will appear to be the most obvious measures. For the raison d’état, however, it was likewise necessary to reward obedient chiefs who took good care of the village rest house (R.H. in the files), who had roads repaired, who reported every epidemic among men or cattle to the D.C., who paid the necessary visits to Navrongo and who provided many recruits for the Gold Coast Regiment or native labour for carrying logs and firewood to Navrongo.

The weakest form of reward was praising a chief (sometimes in front of his people).

N.A.G.: Siniensi February 1920: I complimented the chief on the excellent condition of the R.H. [rest house].

N.A.G.: Sandema 1.12.1927: Akansugasa, Chief of Sandema, was informed that since his election he has done work and was shaping well.

Compliments like these were sometimes accompanied by presents in cash or kind.

N.A.G.: 27.9.1916: Presents to Chiefs: Sandema [Afoko]: piece of figured silk for gown

N.A.G.: Bachonsa 9.3.1917: Chief given a present of 10/- for upkeep R.H.

N.A.G.: 23.9.1919: In the evening I took the chief of Sandema [Afoko] to see my garden. He was very struck... and asked me for seed. I told him I would get him some for next year’s planting... He also admired my eucalyptus and took away a lot of the leaves...

A particular means of appreciating the merits of a chief over a longer period of time was to bestow a locket or medallion upon him.

C. Lentz (1998: 197) renders a detailed description of these medals:

Die an einer Kette um den Hals zu tragenden runden Silbermedaillen zeigen auf der Vorderseite das Portrait des englischen Königs mit der Inschrift: "Georgius V Rex et Imp" und auf der Rückseite das Emblem der Goldküste, Elephant und Kokospalme, eingerahmt von den Worten "Northern Territories of the Gold Coast". Die Medaillen hatten zwei, drei oder vier Inch Durchmesser, die unterschiedliche Gewichtigkeit der chiefs symbolisierend, und sie waren numeriert.

(Translation F. K.) The round silver medallions were worn on a chain around the neck and on their obverse they show the portrait of the English King with the inscription: "Georgius V Rex et Imp". On the reverse they show the emblem of the Gold Coast, an elephant and a coconut tree, all framed by the words "Northern Territories of the Gold Coast". The diameters of the medallions were two, three or four inches, symbolising the different importance of the chiefs, and they were numbered.

According to Benedict G. Der (2001: 52), "The lockets had been instituted by Northcott in 1899 for distribution among the chiefs to indicate to them that they were now under British rule... the lockets, and later, medallions, transformed the position of chiefs and created a hierarchy of chiefs in the noncentralized areas".

Based on my archival data, I agree with C. Lentz (1998: 197) that the medallions were not only given as symbols of rank but also for particular merits of chiefs.

The idea of a hierarchy of Bulsa chiefs cannot be made out clearly in the studied material, but it is true that different types of medallions were given to Bulsa chiefs. It was the small type that was given to meritorious village chiefs, while Afoko, the paramount chief, received at first a small medallion and later the middle-sized one. I found one note detailing that, after the death of a chief [here Afoko] or when he received a bigger medallion, the old medallion had to be returned to the D.C.

N.A.G.: Fumbisi 11.12.1916: The chief was presented with a small medallion and a piece of stuff from the C.C.N.T. to make a gown.

N.A.G.: 26.1.1917, The chief, Apasube, was this day presented with one of the new small medallions at Fumbisi, in the presence of the Chiefs of Sandema, Fambisi and Doninga.

N.A.G.: Sandema 5.7.1917: Afawko was this day presented with a medium-sized Medallion by the C.C.N.T. at Navarro. He handed back the small one that he received on 11/12/16.

            N.A.G.: Wiaga 22.5.1925: Chief Azinaba... Presented with 2" [inch] Medallion

N.A.G.: Sandema 20.3.27: The Chief Afawko died this day... His 3" medallion was returned to the Ag. C.N.P. [Commissioner of the Northern Province]

N.A.G.: Sandema 10.4.1928: Akansugasa confirmed in his appointment, C.C.N.T. Presented with medallion No 4 by Ag. C.N.P.

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga 12.2.1940: ...The chief, I think, is of a very strong go-ahead type, he has well earned his medallion. He is building a magnificent two-story house [R.H.?] like that of the Chianapio [Chief of Chiana].

Some chiefs were also given a British flag, but the criteria for this present did not become obvious in the archival documents available to me.

N.A.G.: Wiaga 2.6.1920: Chief Azinaba. He has been Chief for about 11 years. He is an excellent man and has control over his people. He has a flag but it is worn out.


9.2 Rebukes and warnings

Some warnings are more or less polite while others are combined with threats to depose a chief. They are sometimes expressed in a paternalizing, or even sarcastic tone. It is quite obvious that the D.C. did not regard a native chief as his equal.

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga 10.12.1916: Chief made false accusation against one Aiyama, who he stated, had not brought grass and sticks when ordered to do so. Aiyama produced witnesses who stated that he had. Chief warned.

N.A.G.: Wiesi 12.1.1917: Chief has no complaints and produced no recruits. His excuse was that he never saw any of his people unless the White Man came along. I was here in December and saw him at Fambisi in January, he promised to try and get me some men there. I told him I should be very disappointed if he did not do so.

N.A.G.: 1.3.1917 Chief of Sandema [Afoko] came in and I asked him if he had got any recruits. He said "No". I told him that I did not come all the way to Kanjarga and tell all the chiefs that I wanted recruits for nothing.

N.A.G.: Kunkwa 5.6.1920 [text difficult to read]: The Chief of Sandema came and complained that the old [Kunkwa] Chief’s son had not [come?] to pay his respects. I warned him to do so at once. The old chief is hopeless and useless and had undoubtedly told his son to do so. I wish such useless old people could be destooled; his son, I think, will carry out the C.D’s instructions...

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga, 16.8.1928: Achangelsa [Asangelisa] the Chief is "suspect", [and] is warned that if anything else goes wrong he will be removed. Whittall, C. N. Prov. N.T.


9.3 Fines

Fines were imposed on a chief who clearly did not execute an order.

N.A.G.: Kategra 10.3.1917: The Chief of Katigiri was this day fined £ 2 for not sending in sticks to Navarro when ordered to do so by the Chief of Sandema. He complained that his headmen would not do as he told them.  L. Castellain, D.C.

N.A.G.: Bachonsa, 23.12.1917 The chief, who is very old and blind, did not send a representation to Sandema to meet the C.N.E.P. [Commissioner of the North Eastern Province] and as he failed in the same way last July, he is fined £10.1.9 [;] £ 5 for each occasion. -- 26.12.1917: Fine paid, L. Castellain

Fines are usually imposed on a chief, but sometimes on a whole village as is shown in the following passage:

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga, 16.8.1928: This town is a den of thieves. They have stolen a lot of sawn timber being brought to Navrongo. The Town is fined 500 bundles of firewood (which for brick burning) + the Chief will remain in H.Q. until this is brought in. Whittall, C. N. Prov. N.T.


9.4 Detention

It is not quite clear what is exactly meant by detention.

C. Lentz relates for the North-West of the Northern Territories that disobedient chiefs were imprisoned (inhaftiert) in Lawra or Tamale for a few months.

The documents of the archives use phrases which play down the term “detention” by stating that the chief will remain for some time in Navrongo.

As concerns the detention of Bulsa chiefs, the archive documents make the reader believe that their main purpose was to isolate one man from his home village and his followers so that he could not influence them in a way harmful to the British. In this meaning it might be a kind of exile. In the above case (Chuchuliga 16.8.1929, see last quote of 9.3) the chief is kept in Navrongo as a kind of pawn until the villagers have paid a fine.

In the Facebook discussion-group BMY (Bulubisa Meina Yeri) a young Bulsa from Kanjaga accounts that chief Adachoruk (Adachuro) was taken prisoner in Kanjaga and, tied to a horse, he had to walk alle the way to Navrongo, where he was imprisoned until his death.

The descriptions of the archive documents are different:

N.A.G.: April 1913: ....I [Capt. Nash] have brought him [Adachuro] to Navrongo and have had land allotted to him on which he can build his compound and make his farms.

27.7.1914 Adachuro, the ex-Chief of Kanjaga, who was deposed and detained in Navrongo in April 1913, died today at Navarro from dysentery.

Usually the time of detention was restricted to a few months, especially if the chief was expected to continue his reign as a chief thereafter:

           N.A.G.: 29.10.1927: Akwabil late chief allowed to return to his country after his six months detention here.

N.A.G.: 20.11.1928: Akwabil warned about not reporting death of cow, and eating flesh, told next step wrong = another spell in Navrongo


9.5 Suspension and abdication

Suspension, like deposition, was usually carried out by the D.C. with the agreement of the C.C.N.T., but without any vote of the people. One exception (Kanjarga p. 93, no. 5) has been described above.

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga, 7.11.1913: The Chief [Attecheng] suspended and Aperiga to act temporarily

N.A.G.: Kanjaga, July 1922: Ankanabas is a very old man and beyond work [;] he abdicates

N.A.G.: Kunkwa April 1927: Akwabil suspended pending decision of CC. re removal


9.6 Deposition /Removal

Deposition, often combined with a temporary or life-long detention, was the hardest punishment for a chief.

N.A.G.: Chuchuliga, 1.1.1914: Attechi (son of Amachenna) is deposed and Perrigah, the man who was chief before Amachenna, is put back again on the stool.

(Sgd. Warden, C.N.E.P.)

N.A.G.: Kunkwa 30.4.1927: Akwabil removed from Chiefship by order of Ag. C.C.N.T and to remain in Navrongo 6 months (P. Whittall)

The meaning of one year’s probation time does not seem to make sense when the C.C.N.T. could depose a chief at any time during his reign, again without the consent of the people.


Different reasons might cause the deposition of a chief.

Kanjaga 21-7-1926: Ampoba removed from Chiefship for failing to assist the Government over rinderpest and telling lies with movement of cattle (Whittall).

N.A.G.: Kanjaga 19-1-1927: Ayamkom destooled on being sentenced for failing to report an outbreak [of] "Rinderpest".

In the described deposition of Adachoruk (Kanjaga), the initiative started with the people and the D.C. agreed to their wishes.





For many years there have been discussions among Ghanaian and European historians and anthropologists about the question of whether there had been chiefs in Northern Ghana before the first arrival of the British or whether chieftaincy had been introduced by the colonialists.

Among the Dagara intellectuals, this question has been discussed intensively since the 1970s regarding their own tribal group (Cf. C. Lentz 2003: 129-156). While B. Der (1977) and others have tried to prove that, before the first invasion of the British, "each village was governed by its own chief, who was subject to the paramount chief of Nandom" (Lentz 2003: 130), G.B.L. Silo, Bozi Somé and others have come to the conclusion that the Dagara, before the arrival of the British, can correctly be described as a ‘stateless people’ (Lentz 2003:130). Adherents of the latter view argue that societies without centralised political institutions are not "primitive and uncivilized." On the contrary, most authors of this view stress the democratic, egalitarian character of stateless societies and the great amount of freedom of the individual which is only restricted by the authority of the family head and, in a religious sphere, by the earth priest.

As regards the Bulsa, I generally subscribe to Benedict Der’s opinion that chieftaincy existed before the first invaders arrived. Certainly, though, it was different from the modern one in many aspects. The power of a chief was based on his own personality and charisma, his capacity to win the sympathies and obedience of the elders and the "big men of the village" and certainly also on his wealth. However, there was no backing of a superior power as it was the case with the British administration and, with certain reservations, with the post-colonial government.

To my knowledge, chiefs before 1900 were not only just "big men" with a certain influence over part of the villagers. It is true that the British installed many chiefs when they took hold of a certain area in Northern Ghana, but in the cases known to me they usually had to depose an old chief. In Wiaga, for example, they put an end to the dynasty of chiefs from the Yimonsa section and, after installing Ateng as the first Yisobsa chief, all the following chiefs until the present time have belonged to Ateng’s family.

Moreover, we hear about many chiefs in the times of Babatu’s slave raids, when the British had not yet taken hold of the country. Anaankum had certainly a chief-like position in Sandema, and by becoming the leading head in the resistance against Babatu, he was respected by all the Bulsa as a great leader, though not as a paramount chief.

The Bulsa themselves make a difference between "big men" or "leaders" and chiefs. When Mr. Richard, the regent of Kunkwa, gave me a list of his village chiefs, he stressed that the very first "rulers" had not been chiefs but only leaders, while others - also before the arrival of the British - held the title of a chief. Further research of historical sources makes me believe that chieftaincy did not exist among the Bulsa and other so-called segmentary societies in very ancient times, but its introduction certainly occurred before the first arrival of the British.

The Bulsa also know that, in contrast to the great majority, some villages had no chiefs in the pre-colonial time. In Gbedembilisi I was told that they had big men at that time, but no chiefs.

Olivier, the Navrongo D.C., who, unlike most other British officers, also collected notes on the history of Bulsa villages, remarks, "They (people of Doninga) have had no dealings with Mamprusi and had no chiefs before the Whiteman came" (N.A.G.: 25.10.1932).


There is not doubt that the Bulsa did not know a paramountcy among their chiefs before the British arrived. Why did the British nevertheless introduce an office that had had no tradition in the past? Although the system of indirect rule asserted itself in the N.T. only in the late 1920s and 1930s, the idea of conferring certain duties and giving them power "to rule their people... under the watchful eye of the District Commissioner" (Mendonsa 2001, p. 62) was carried out earlier because it gave the British administration the chance to save money and personnel (ibid. p. 61). After the establishment of a paramountcy among the Bulsa in 1911, the paramount chief gave orders, received from the D.C., to the 14 and more village chiefs, and he reported about irregularities and disobedience to the British headquarters at Navrongo. Some activities, as for example the sorting out of unqualified or unpleasant candidates before an election, were done in co-operation with the D.C. Nevertheless, there was not doubt who was the ruler and who was the subject. Also, a paramount chief could be blamed, warned or fined, although there was no deposition in this office among the Bulsa. On the contrary, most D.C. are full of praise for the Sandema chief.

According to Benedict Der (2001, p. 52) and others, the British did not introduce chieftaincy, but they created a hierarchy of chiefs. While in other ethnic groups (e.g. among the Mamprusi) there was the status of a divisional chief between the paramount and village chief, the Bulsa village chief was directly under the paramount. On the other hand, he could give orders to the section heads or sub-chiefs. The Buli name kambonnaab for this office suggests its adoption from outside the Bulsa society: The term Kambonsa (pl.) is used for the Ashanti and for the Whites and has also the meaning "warrior." The chiefly position of the kambonnaab is expressed by the syllable naab, meaning chief.

Before the British created the paramountcy, they tried to find out whether certain hierarchical structures existed in the traditional system of the Bulsa. The village chiefs were asked which villages or chiefs are "under them" and which chief they "follow." There is no explanation of what they mean by "follow" or being "under" somebody. Some chiefs answered the first question by giving the names of some village sections. Another misunderstanding may be illustrated by the following two quotations:

N.A.G.: November 1905, There are no towns under the Chief of Sandema except Wia (Wiaga) + Seniesse [Siniensi]. Sgd. P.I. Partridge Lt. 20/X/05

N.A.G.: 24.5.1906 From information derived from the Chiefs of Wia + Sania [Sandema] it would appear that the Chief of Sania is not paramount over the towns of Wia + Seniessa...

In 1911 the first paramount chief was elected, i.e. the assembled chiefs decided which Bulsa town should hitherto provide this dignitary.

N.A.G.: 23.9.11 [election of paramount chief] The following Chiefs present, 1. Chief of Kanjarga, 2. Chief of Saniessa [Siniensi], 3. Chief of Wiaga, 4. Chief of Kardima, 5. Chief of Sandema, 6. Chief of Fambisi, 7. Chief of Wiasi (Mamprusi), 8. Chief of Doninga, 9. Chief of Uassie.
After Babatu raided the land, all towns were broken up, with the exception of [the] Sandema [Chief], who repulsed him. Most of the people of the other Kanjarga towns fled to Sandema. No one followed the Chief of Kanjarga after.

The following Chiefs vote for Sandema
Sandema, Kardima, Siniessi, Wiaga
[votes for Kanjarga] Kanjarga, Fumbisi
Neutral: Doninga, Bedemma, Uassi: willing to follow anyone appointed.

According to Schott (1977: 155) the installation of the Paramount Chief took place on October 15th, 1911. On April 4th, 1912, the election was approved by the Chief Commissioner, C.H. Armitage.

To all outward appearances, the election was held according to the principle of majority: three chiefs voted for Sandema, 1 for Kanjaga and 3 were neutral. It was, however, quite obvious that the D.C. was in favour of Sandema. In the document (see above) he stressed the importance of the Sandema-chief [Anaankum] in the fights against Babatu and the passive role Kanjaga had played in these wars. He probably did not withhold these arguments in a speech before the election, although all the present chiefs already knew about this fact anyway.

Today the Bulsa distinguish between Southern and Northern Bulsa, and since July of 2012 both of them have their own districts. The Northern Bulsa, consisting of the villages of Sandema, Siniensi, Wiaga and Kadema, are supposed to be the descendants of Atuga, the legendary prince from Mamprusiland, while the others are supposed to be descended from Atuga’s companions, from immigrants or from the indigenous population (Cf. Kröger 2012: Who was this Atuga?). It is interesting to note that the chiefs of the four Atuga-bisa-villages (bisa = children, descendants) voted for Sandema while the rest voted in favour of Kanjaga or were neutral.

About the evaluation of the election as more or less democratic, certain reservations have to be made, for without the approval of the C.C.N.T., it would not have been valid.

The election of the Sandemnaab as paramount chief of all Bulsa did not refer to only one person [Ayieta], but to the office of the chief of Sandema. Ayieta’s successors were elected in Sandema, and we do not read about any objections against the elected Sandema Chief being automatically also the Paramount Chief. The sources are, however, not clear about the role the village chiefs have played in these elections.

In the election of Azantinlow in 1932, the presence of the village chiefs but not of the compound heads is mentioned, but it is nevertheless probable, according to recent information obtained in Sandema, that only the latter were the electors.

A few days before a new Sandemnaab and Paramount Chief was elected in Sandema (July of 1912), all Bulsa chiefs assembled at Sandema and discussed the forthcoming election. Without any vote it was a matter of fact that the new Sandemnaab was regarded as their Paramount Chief. After the election they are expected to “greet” the new chief, which is regarded as a kind of recognition and homage.



It is just a coincidence that this paper was written exactly at the time when, in Sandema, all the compound heads elect a new Sandemnaab. After Ayieta, Afoko, Agaasa and Azantinlow it is the 5th time that this ceremony is taking place, but nevertheless it is an event that sets new standards. Azantinlow, the last chief, was elected in 1932, when the power of the colonial regime was still at its peak. The D.C. and the C.C.N.T. did not only guarantee a peaceful electoral procedure, but stood with all their military power behind the elected chief. Today chieftaincy is tolerated by the modern Ghanaian government, but the latter does not rule through chiefs. At every election – not only those of a Paramount Chief – governmental officers watch the procedure and policemen are ready to intervene when severe conflicts arise. In the present situation (2012), a committee, consisting of educated persons, elders, members of the chief’s family, etc., have to decide in which way the roles played by the British about 70 years ago might be substituted and adapted to modern times. Some of the D.C.’s functions will certainly be taken over by the District Chief Executive (D.C.E.), the administrative head of the Bulsa District.





Der, Benedict (2001): “The Traditional Political Systems of Northern Ghana Reconsidered.” In: Saaka, Yakubu (ed.), Regionalism and Public Policy in Northern Ghana, pp. 35-65, Frankfurt: Peter Lang.


Ayaric, Ghanatta (2012): “Chieftaincy in Gbedema.” Buluk. Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society 6, pp. 59-63.


Kröger, Franz (2012). “Extracts from Bulsa History: Sandema Chiefs before Azantilow,” Buluk. Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society 6, pp. 47-50.


Kröger, Franz (2012). “Bulsa Chiefs,” Buluk. Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society 7 (printed issue in preparation).


Kröger, Franz (2012). “Who was this Atuga? Facts and Theories on the Origin of the Bulsa” Buluk. Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society 6, pp. 47-50.


Lentz, Carola (1998): Die Konstruktion von Ethnizität. Eine politische Geschichte Nord-West Ghanas 1870-1990. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.


Lentz, Carola (2003): “Stateless Societies or Chiefdoms: A Debate among Dagara Intellectuals.” In: Franz Kröger/ Barbara Meier (eds.): Ghana’s North. Research on Culture, Religion, and Politics of Societies in Transition. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang.


Mendonsa, Eugene L. (2001): Continuity and Change in a West African Society. Globalization’s Impact on the Sisala of Ghana. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.


Schott, Rüdiger (1977): “Sources for a History of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana,” Paideuma 23, 141-168.