Mo/Dega/Degha (also known as Aculo, Buru, Janela, or Mmfo), are yam-producing agro-fishery and Gur-speaking people that form a subset of the larger Gurune/ Gurunshi ethnic group in Ghana and Ivory Coast (Côte d ‘ Ivoire). In Ghana, the Mo/Dega live in Nkoranza in the Nkoranza Municipal Assembly of the Bono East Region and the Bole in the Bole District of the Northern Region of Ghana. The two regions in which the Mo/Dega occupy are divided by the Black Volta River which also separates the two major towns that have paramount chiefs, New Longoro (Maantukwa) and Bamboi (Gbanboi). The entire Mo/Dega area used to be within the Ashanti Territory until the British colonial government created the Northern Territory in 1908 and used the Black Volta River as a boundary without due cognizance of the fact that one ethnic group had been divided over two territories. This demarcation resulted in protracted local political tension, especially between Bamboi and New Longoro.
In tandem with earlier colonial demarcation, when the former Brong Ahafo Region was created after independence, Dega land was once again split between the Bole District in the Northern Region and the Wenchi and Kintampo districts in the Brong Ahafo Region (Atta-Akosah, 2004: 14). The Dega is surrounded by Nafaana (Banda) on the West, Bono in the South, and Gonja to the North. The entire area is estimated to be 1,700 sq km with about 46 villages comprising mainly mud and thatched houses. Some Dega migrated to the Jaman district and are in villages like Bonakire, Adadiem, and Dokachina (Atta-Akosah, 2004:14). Another group moved to settle in Cote d’Ivoire and live in villages like Dwoboi, Wireke, and Zagala and the Dega in Ghana call them Lamoolatina (the people beyond the river). Those in Ghana have various indigenous names.
The Nkoranza Municipal Assembly has two main traditional paramount systems in the Municipal. These are the Nkoranzamanhene and the Momanhene. Each of these paramountcies has divisional chiefs under them. The 2010 Population and Housing Census recorded that the Mo paramount has 19 sub-chiefs and Nkoranza has over 30 sub-chiefs. The ethnic composition of the Municipal is heterogeneous with the Mos and Nkoranzas being the indigenous custodians of the land (2010 Population & Housing Census).
The original name of the Mo ethnic group is Dega/Degha, which means “multiplying,” “spreading quickly,” or “fertility’. A person from ethnic Dega extraction is known as a Deg, their language is known as Deg and they call their land Dega Hare (Dega Land). The Akan ethnic groups in the area, however, gave the name Mo to the Dega migrants. The Mo/Dega are well-known for their expertise in making large pots and catching fish in the Black Volta. In addition, they also earned the reputation of being fierce warriors in the past.
As stated earlier, Mo/Dega speak a language called Deg which belongs to the Gur language family and is a member of the Grushi subgroup. Together with Vagla, it forms a separate branch of the south-western Grushi cluster which includes Tampulma, Chakali, and Sisaala, all in Ghana. According to M.E. Kropp Dakubu, “Vagla (abbreviation VG) is reasonably similar to Chakali, Deg, Tampulma, and the Southeastern and Northwestern Sisaala languages; Sisaala of Tumu is not too different, but Kassem (KS) and the Southeastern Grusi languages Chala and Delo are rather less similar. Anto (2014: 125) writes:
The Mo/Dega in the north speak the Mangom dialect in places such as Bamboi, Jama, Jugboi, Nepui (Kapinta), Tasilima, and a few other places, while those in the south speak the Longoro dialect in places like: Busuama, NewLongoro, Kintampo, Old Longoro, Manchala, Fignyoa (Ahenakom), Kandige, Yaara, Tarbang, Soronuasi, Babatokuma, and other places. Within the Longoro dialect is another brand of the Mangom dialect different from the northern Mangom, and it is spoken in Mansie (Nyambwe). The language is also spoken in places like Adadiem, Dokachina and Bonakire in the Jaman North District of the Brong-Ahafo Region, and Dwoboi, Wireke and Zagala in L’Cote d’Ivoire. Deg in the language means “multiply” or a person who speaks Deg and Dega is people who speak Deg.
On the meaning of the name Mo, three theories seem to underpin it. Mo and there are three theories behind the name Mo. In the first theory, Mo means “thank you.” It is said that in 1893 when Nkoranza and Abease were attacked and destroyed by the Asante, Nana Kofi Fa, the Chief of Nkoranza refused to pay a tribute of 30 males and females human beings to the Asantehene. In this war, Nana Fa called on the Dega to help him in their defence against the Asante army. Despite losing the war, Nkoranza sent a congratulatory message to Dega for their display of valour on the battlefield, saying Mo, Mo, Mo! “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!” This earned Dega a new name, Mmofoɔ/Mofoɔ meaning “The people who did well” (Atta-Akosah, 2004). Thus, Dega/Degha became Mo.
Atta-Akosah (2004) citing Doni-Kwame (2000:8) on the second theory on the origin of the name Mo contends that Mo emerged from a Nafaana-Pantera prefix monoo. It is said that Pantera women who sold large pots made by the Dega at Southern market often responded to greetings in their local dialect: Mpange, Mo Maa “You are welcome. Thank you, Madam” or Mpange, Mo no “Welcome. Thank you father”. The frequent use of the word mo made the Akan buyers to refer to their products as Mo Kukuo “Mo pots.” When the Dga it became known that the Dega people were the producers of the pots, the name was then used to describe them, hence the name, Mofoɔ.
The third theory postulates that Moh, is the name that Dega gives to is the Black Volta River which they use for fishing. When the Dega women carry their fish to markets in the surrounding towns such as Kintampo, Techiman, and Wenchi. Here, when they are asked where their fish come from, they respond Yɛdefiri Moh “We brought them from Moh.” Thus, when the Akan see the Dega women bringing their fish to the market they say Mofoɔ no de adwene reba “the Moh people are bringing fish.”
Pea Dii “Yam FestivaI”
The Mo/Dega communities celebrate the Pea Dii “eating of yams” Festival at different periods by each community. This harvest festival starts in the middle of July and runs to the end of September. The main earth deity, Teo, and other deities are given the honour of being the first to eat the new yams. Appreciation is also expressed to Korowii “the Supreme-Being/God” and the Voga “earth deities” in Dega Hare “Dega Land.” The first ritual performance of the festival is called Gbandawu, where ritual items such as ashes of burnt tree roots and some spices are mixed with yam and meat and boiled into porridge form. This is offered to Afafu, an earth deity, and the rest is eaten by those who are believed to be spiritually powerful. The food is eaten while still boiling on fire and people eat it to demonstrate the potency of their spiritual powers. The second ritual is called the Saga “hanging of yams” which enables the Mo/Dega to eat the new yam.
Origin and Migration
The oral tradition of the Mo/Dega asserts that they were an amalgamation of Gur-speaking people whose ancestors migrated to their present location from different places under different Dia Nomoa “Clan Heads” and Vogti “Spiritual Heads” as their community leaders at different periods. As a result, each group has its own story of origin and migration. Atta-Akosah (2004) contends that some of the Dega group migrated from the Sisaala “Tiwii” land in the Upper West Region of Ghana following a conflict that arose over a dog’s head which had been sacrificed to their Teo “Earth deity” in an annual rite. The Teo is a symbol of authority over a piece of land where it is erected, hence during the ritual performance, the legs and head of the sacrificial dog are left on the shrine and it is believed that whoever eats them would attain power from the deity. Thus, the legs and head were per customs and the traditions of the people were shared among all the elders.
It is said that on this particular occasion referred to earlier, some Sisaala ate the legs and the head without sharing it as the custom and tradition demands. However, the Sisaala maintained that they shared the meat but the elder who shared it cheated, thus those who felt cheated requested that the sharing must be done again to satisfy everyone (Mensah 1998). The elder who was accused of cheating in the sharing of the meat objected to the demand for re-sharing of the meat. The cheated faction seized the elder and gave him a thorough beating. This act of whipping degenerated into an inter-ethnic war causing some of the Sisaala group to migrate southward to the Black Volta enclaves of Bamboi, Nkoranza, and some parts of the Ivory Coast.
Another oral tradition contends that another group of the Mo/Dega migrated from the Sisaala village of Tiwii under the leadership of Maala and Paago. It is said that, before their settlement in Sisaala, the Mo/Dega first lived amongst the Grusi (Gurunshi) in Longoro but spoke their own Dega language (Atta-Akosah, 2004). It was from Longoro that Mo/Dega moved to settle among the Sisaala for the Grushi demanded heavy tributes from them. This underscores H. J. Hobbs, The Acting Provincial Commissioner of the British Colonial Government’ asserts when he wrote that the Mos are of Grunshi stock and migrated from Twei (Sisaala), Grunshi to Northern Ashanti, at the time Nana Osei Bonsu was the King of Ashanti Kingdom. In the Sisaala land conflict arose between the Sisaala and Mo-Dega ancestors when the Sisaala elder to the legs and the head of the dog used as a sacrifice to the Teo “Earth deity” and shared amongst the elders without permission. Hobbs recorded that the quarrel was between Maala and Dakora of Tiwii in Sisaala which developed into a fight between them and their respective supporters. It is said that Maala was not a Deg but the landlord of the Mo/Dega when they were living in the Sisaalaland. Maala offered to mediate in the conflict between Sisaala and Mo/Dega but when the ancestors of Mo/Dega insisted on leaving, Maala went along with them.
Thus Nnaa Maala led the Mo/Dega in their migration to the South with other clan leaders such as Paago, Glooma, Gbeggi, Koomo and Nandoma “I have seen my enemies”. It is not known when this migration took place, but whilst Doni-Kwame (2000: 1) speculates that Mo/Dega migration occurred in 1600 A.D. after the Vagala had moved earlier, Hobbs (1926) also avers that the migration occurred probably during the reign of the Asantehene Nana Osei Assibey Bonsu from 1800 to 1823. Despite these two dichotomous dates, others who joined the Mo/Dega migration later include Kombo who was Nnaa Maala’s executioner and a subordinate under Kooma, Nnaa Banchoona of Busuama, and Nnaa Kwanben Pete. The Nandoma clan possessed the Teo “Earth deity”, ergo they performed all the rituals whilst Nnaa Banchoona of Busuama was the first heera ti “lucky man” of Degaland. Heera ti is literary vog tua for hunting. Nnaa Pete is said to have come from a community around Bole called Jakala but not from Tiwii/Sisaala (Yantwumba 2016).
After settling on Degaland in the Black Volta, Paago was made a chief. However, some Mo/Dega Elders maintain that the first chief of the Dega was a boi nomoa called Kooro Wiripe and that Nnaa Paago was never a chief. Yantwumba (2016) contends that it was rather Nnaa Paago’s first son, Nnaa Koku Kpahah who he had with Kooro Wiiripe’s daughter became the first Paago clan chief. This explains why Paago’s descendants became the original Paramount Chiefs (Yantwumba, 2016). Maala, on the other hand, was also said to be the first chief of Degaland is disputed. He is said to have married the daughter of Boi Nomoah called Borokye, chief of Degaland. It is said that because of what Maala did during their migration and served as an elder to Paago, even Paago always took off his sandals before greeting him, as a sign of respect and appreciation (Yantwumba, 2016).
Another version of this story says that Paago was the son of Maala and he became a chief through conquest and intermarriage. Again, whilst Atta-Akosah (2016) contends that Nnaa Paago died as a clan head and the first Longorokoro was Dimpo I, Yantwumba (2016) argues to the contrary that Kooro Kekereke of Felinyoa and Kooro Takyi became Paramount Chiefs before Kooro Dimpo I. It is, however, believed that Maala did not die but he disappeared into a hole in Manchala. As a result, a room with a flat roof has been built over the hole. It has become the custom for the newly-installed Paramount chief to enter the room bare-footed to show himself to Maala (Atta-Akosah, 2016).
Another group came under the leadership of Joge and Gbage from Jefisi also in Sisaala and settled in Jogeboi and Gbanboi (Bamboi) respectively. A third group, led by Kpaah Djan, also migrated from Jefisi and settled in Jan, and later moved to their present place, Jama. It is also important to note that in Degaland, a woman called Maado from Kpali Clan also played a major role in Dega history in a display of bravery. Hence, the Hanjena “old lady” of Kpali clan is in charge of the keeping of the Dega stool (Yantwumba 2016).
According to oral history, the groups that migrated from Sisaala met the people of Kandige, Chebrenyoa, Boi-Mun, Bankanba, Beweele, and Soora who had already settled on the land (Atta-Akosah, 2004; Yantwumba, 2016). The people of Kandige say that their ancestor and founder, Weripi, came over the Black Volta in an iron boat. Those in Chebrenyoa believe that their ancestors emerged from a hole at Karampodera but moved to the present site due to lack of water. Other groups from the Nnaa Takyi and Nnaa Damkwa (Danquah) clans also joined the Mo/Dega later. Those from the Nnaa Takyi line are Gonja who became part of the Longoro paramountcy when they joined Mo/Dega. Whilst Atta-Akosah (2004) records that Nnaa Takyi and his people settled first at Bewela before moving to Longoro, Yantwumba (2016) disagrees and went on to explain that Nnaa Tekyi and his sister Wurikye came from Kosogwo in the Gonjaland to Gboyoga where they met Nnaa Tifo of Tifoboi before they continued to Longoro. In Longoro, they were first received by the Brafokoro “the Chief Executioner” (Atta-Akosah, 2016). During their stay, the Asantehene sent his emissaries to collect gold dust and slaves from Dega and they had none to give. Wurikye gave some gold dust and a slave to be paid as tribute to Asantehene. In the performance of these duties, Tekyi and Wurikye requested for position and were offered the opportunity to be part of the Longoro dynasty. They became the Leera clan of Dega.
The Damkwa (Danquah) line that came with their ancestor, Golo-Maala, from Felenyoa in the Sisaala land was also offered a place to live. They proved to be good and helpful friends and offered special assistance to the Paago dynasty. It is said that they were originally Golo-Maala’s people but because of their help to the paramountcy they were told that if anyone questions them about how they got the land they should explain that “A friend offered it to us.” This brought the name Damkwa, meaning “things for my friend” (Atta-Akosah 2004). The name Damkwa is now anglicised to Danquah (Dankwah) because of Akan and English influences. This shows that the Mo/Dega people who were given the land by both the Gonja and Nafaana were also open to embracing strangers.
After the Mo/Dega settled on the interiors of the Old Longoro, the British Colonial Officer asked the Mohene (the Chief of Mo) to move to the new site, New Longoro (Maantukwa) since the Old Longoro was away from the main road. Hence, Koro Kwaku Damkwa (Kwaku Danquah) became the first Mohene to settle in New Longoro.
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