Franz Kröger

The First Europeans in the Bulsa Area

When in the second half of the 19th century European adventurers, explorers, scientists, missionaries, political and military agents found interest in the hinterland of the Gold Coast, they followed traditional trade routes or the tracks between the bigger settlements. Although many of these early travellers have rendered impressive and informative reports on the scenery, towns and villages, the people and their culture, none of them was probably free from the idea that their experiences and written sources might be useful for the colonial plans of their European home country. Apparently there were two main South-North-routes, the eastern one by way of Salaga, Tamale (or Yendi) to Walewale and from there to Gambaga or even farther to the north into the present Burkina Faso. The western route ran via Kumasi and Bole to Wa and even further on to Léo in Burkina. The Bulsa area is lying between these two routes, and even if somebody wanted to cross the northern outskirts of the hinterland form East to West, he preferred the routes Zuarungu, Navrongo, Tumu, Lawra/Wa or Gambaga, Walewale, Yagba, Funsi (or Belele), Wa.

The first Europeans who put foot on Bulsa ground did so for purely military reasons. To my knowledge the first European to come to Buluk was Major Henderson of the British colonial army, accompanied by George Ekem Ferguson (who had a British father and a Fanti mother). Henderson left Accra on November 21, 1896 on behalf of the British interests in present Northern Ghana against the French who came from the North, and against Babatu and Samory, two notorious slave raiders. Some years before (1894?) a part of Babatu's Gurunsi captains and soldiers had rebelled against him and his Zabarima officers in their Seti camp (Burkina Faso). The leader of the mutineers was Ameria (Hameria, Amarea), probably a Bulsa1, who adopted the title of “King of the Gurunsi (Grunshi)”. This Ameria, who resided at Battionsi (Bachonsa) when, in February 1897, Henderson came to the north, seemed to be a natural ally for the British. So Henderson entered the Bulsa area from its Northwestern corner, and the Bulsa settlement that the first Europeans saw was not Sandema but the small village of Bachonsa, which, however, was then much more important than it is today.

Henderson's negotiations with Amaria were not successful. Amaria had sent two messengers to the French headquarters of Ouagadougou on March 3, 1897 who returned with the promise that the French would help him against Babatu and so Amaria probably did not want to risk this alliance. Being refused by Amaria, Henderson and his soldiers went to Babatu, who for several months had resided at Kanjaga to raid the nearby Bulsa villages for foodstuff and slaves.

Babatu received Henderson and if we may trust the testimonials2, the following conversation took place (translation from French by F. Kröger):

Babatu: I want to go to Léo, where are my captives?

Le Anglais” [Henderson]: But which captives?

Babatu: Hamaria and the Grunchi [i.e. the mutineers]

Le Anglais”: Hamaria is not your captive, for he is dependent on the French. By the way, you are a bad man, because you destroy everything that you meet on your way.

Even if this talk is not authentic in all details, we can see the main interests of the two interlocutors. After Ameria's refusal to ally with the British, Babatu had become a prospective ally of the colonial force. Babatu, however, seemed to be chiefly concerned with getting rid of Ameria, while Henderson feared an increase of French influence in the contested region. A further obstacle to the politically perhaps reasonable alliance was Henderson's moral aversion to the slave-raider.

Without any results the British group continued their expedition back to Wa, where Henderson was taken prisoner and his unarmed friend Ferguson was shot by some of Samory's men.

Only one month after Henderson's encounter with Ameria and Babatu the French officer Chanoine, coming from Ouagadougou, met Ameria in Bachonsa. and gave a French flag to the neighbouring village of Doninga, which - having been accepted - can be regarded as a symbol of recognizing French protection. But Babatu, still residing in Kanjaga, raided Doninga and burnt the flag. On March 14, 1897 Chanoine and Ameria attacked Babatu. A.M. Duperray in her book on the Gurunsi, gives a vivid description of this decisive battle (p. 101; translated from the French by Franz Kröger):

[Babatu] is surrounded by his best lieutenants Issaka and Aliou Gadiari at the head of 400 men armed with rifles and more than 200 horsemen. Babatu is severely beaten. He leaves 300 prisoners and a great part of his troups in Hamaria's hands. Gadiari's son has been killed as well as five other leaders. Babatu who was left by his newly enlisted recruits from Chiana and Nangurma flees to the South in direction of the Mamprussi. Chanoine has fired 4000 cartridges (shots). Hamaria had 10 men wounded (hors de combat).

The battle of Kanjaga decided Babatu's destiny. He fled to Yagaba, which he devastated completely, and then, driven by the British, to Dagbon. In 1907 he died in Yendi from the bite of a poisonous spider.

Only two weeks after Babatu's defeat, Captain Scal, another Frenchman, met Ameria at Kanjaga (April 3, 1897), but to my knowledge it took more than 4 years before the first European entered Sandema.

This time the felisa did not come to help the Bulsa against slave-raiders, but the inhabitants of Sandema were the aim of their attack. We know about the campaign of Lieutenant-Colonel A. Morris, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories, through his own report to Major Nathan, Governor of the Gold Coast. He spoke about some hostile tribes “who have made a practice of raiding and ill-treating their more loyal and peaceful neighbours...”. Some quotations from his report speak for themselves:

...On my arrival at Paha [Paga] I learnt that the kingdom of Sinlieh3 [Sandema] lying about six miles to the south of Tiana [Chana], was most hostile and a scourge to the whole neighbourhood: I therefore determined to visit this country...

The three kingdoms of Nafrongo, Tiana and Sinlieh are by far the most important of any that I have seen in these territories...

I was much struck with the excellent way in which the compounds in Sinlieh are built; they are circular in shape, and are made of very thick swish, smoothed and polished...

The full fighting dress worn by the people of Sinlieh is both imposing and picturesque. It consists of a headdress made of thickly plaited straw... and into it are fixed the horns of a Hartebeeste or some other large antelope. Their bodies are protected by an enormous arrow-proof shield of oxhide, which covers them from head to foot. Their weapons are bows and arrows, also a kind of “battle axe”... with an iron pick-shaped head... These axes are poisoned, being used to inflict the “coup de grâce” to their enemies...

The prestige hitherto enjoyed by these people is broken, and in a very few months I have every hope of enlisting excellent recruits from the people of Sinlieh, who are Kanjargas, one of the most warlike tribes in this Hinterland.

The military events of the expedition are described in the Chief Commissionary's diary:

March 20 [1902; in Chana] ...In the evening I held a large reception of all the chiefs of Tiana; they informed me that the people of Sinlieh were most hostile, and owing to their having defeated Barbatu on two occasions had a vast idea of their own power and importance.

March 21 ...At 7.45 a.m. the outskirts of Sinlieh were reached (6 miles), and the compounds were found abandoned. At 8.45 a.m. ...small bodies of armed men were seen in all directions, gradually massing together. A large body had taken up a position on some small rocks. ... but the fire of the Maxim and the steady volleys of the firing line drove them out...

I went on to the King's house, which we destroyed4. We returned to the camp at Tiana in the afternoon. The enemy had thirty men killed during the day's fighting... It is impossible to estimate the number of the enemy wounded, as they are always taken off by their friends.

March 24 ...Left Tiana at 5.55 a.m. to-day...; met the King of Chulchuliga..., who came to escort us through his country to Dober. We passed the King of Chulchuliga's compound at 8 a.m, and reached a very fine stream...

After the military expedition of March 1902 “the Kings of Nafrongo and Sinlieh... arrived in Gambaga to make submission and to be given the English flag” (Morris 1902).

In our written sources we do not hear anything more about military clashes between the Bulsa and the British colonialists.

In the years following 1902 Sandema was frequently visited by civil and military officers. Also in the enthronement of Chief Ayieta (1905) a British Officer (Major Twine) took part.

More than 20 years passed before the first Christian mission station in the Bulsa area was established. In 1926 catholic missionaries of the order of the White Fathers come from Navrongo to start their work in Wiaga5.

The first European anthropologists, who interviewed Bulsa people (often soldiers in the British army) were mostly civil and/or military officers. A.W. Cardinall was a District Commissioner, Captain Armitage Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories, R.S. Rattray a Captain and the Frenchman Louis Tauxier an “administrateur du cercle de Léo“.

The first professional European anthropologist who spent a whole year (1967-68) in Buluk doing only fundamental anthropological work was Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Schott6 of the University of Münster, Germany. In the following years he continued his work together with his (former) students Ingrid Heermann, Franz Kröger, Doris Blank, Barbara Meier, and Ulrike Blanc. Anthropologists from other universities worked in good co-operation with the Münster-group, e.g. Piet Konings (Leiden, Netherlands), Ulrike Wanitzek (Bayreuth), Jürgen Feldmann and Anne Schwarz, a linguist of the Humboldt University of Berlin.

They all are grateful to the Bulsa people for their hospitality and their eager and efficient help in their fieldwork.


Ahmed Bako Alhassan (1991): Babatu. Tamale (unpublished mimeo, 20 pages)

Der, Benedict G. (1998): The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana. Accra

Duperray, Anne-Marie (1984): Les Gourounsi de Haute-Volta. Conquête et colonisation 1896-1933. Stuttgart.

Holden, J.J. (1965): The Zabarima Conquest of North-West Ghana. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, Vol VII, p. 60-86.

Morris, A., Lieutenant-Colonel (1902): Report on his expedition to Sinlieh. Public Record Office, London Co 879, 78, o5939, No. 25352

Ollivant (1933): The Kassena und Builsa Tribes. Navrongo (unpublished, mimeo, 7 pages)

1Ollivant (1933, p. 6) was informed by Babatu's horse boy, Mamadi Kantosi: 'Marea... came from Kanjaga'. Holden (1965, p. 78) writes that 'Amaria was born at Santijan near Kanjaga, on the Sisala/Bulsa boundary... He maintained close links with... northern Builsa and Sisala towns where he had many relatives...'

2Duperray (1984, p. 98) quotes this dialogue from Chanoine's letter of March 13, 1897.

3The name used for the present district capital is unfamiliar. The exchange of Sin- for San- in the compound noun San-dema (people of San) is not extraordinary (cf. variation of a-i in sanyaara – sinyaara, rattle). We can, however, only speculate, why the early informants of the British exchanged dema (people) for lieh (daughter?). Fr. Alfred Agyenta surmises that there was perhaps some influence of Saniah, a term that the Kasena use for Sandema.

4In 1979 the Sandemnaab, Sir Azantinlow Ayieta, showed me a cartridge that the British had shot at the chief's compound. He even mentioned the year 1902.

5We hope to publish an article on the early Christian missionary work in one of the next issues of BULUK.

6Cf. his article about his first impressions and early visits of the Sandemnaab, p.27