NAMING IN DAGBANI

This piece was inspired by Akorfa Ama Akoto’s post on https://littlebigissues.com/blog/the-name-i-never-had/ in which the writer gave a discourse on some Ewe names.


Ever wondered why many Northerners bear names such as Mohammed, Alhassan, Sayibu, Haruna, and the likes and not Kwame, John, Kofi etc?
Well, let’s take a look at naming among Dagombas in the erstwhile Northern region of Ghana(Now Northern and North East region). I use Dagombas here to refer to three ethnic groups(Mamprusis, Dagombas and Nanumbas) belonging to the Mole-Dagbani group.
The Dagombas are the most populous in the erstwhile Northern region. The ethnic group is endowed with a very rich naming system. To understand how Dagombas name their children, let’s first take a look at the sources of names in Dagbani.
1. Islam/Arabic
The Dagbong area and the Northern part of Ghana for that matter came into contact with the Islamic religion very early, around the 14th Century. Islam was brought to North by Arab traders from North Africa. Historians have it that this happened during the reign of Naa Zanjina. It happened that the Dagbong kingdom was faced with challenges. And the situation was salvaged through Islamic spiritual intervention from one of the Muslim traders who came there to trade. As a result, the then King of Dagbong, Naa Zanjina became a Muslim, adopted the name Mohammed, and then urged his followers to embrace Islam. In present day Dagbong, people bearing Mohammed are nicknamed Zanjina. By embracing Islam, Dagombas adopted Islamic/Arabic names and naming henceforth. It is worthy to note that just as the way dialects of language form, the pronunciation and subsequent spelling of some of the Islamic names have been corrupted by the Dagombas. For instance names such as Fusheini, Awabu, Yirisu/Yiri, Yinusa, Suale, Imoro etc are corrupted forms of Hussein, Hawaa’u(Hawa, Eve), Iddris, Yunus, Sualihu/Saalis, Umar respectively. Very few names such as Ibrahim, Musah, Yahaya etc however still maintain their original forms. These Islamic/Arabic names are usually taken from the Quran, Sayings of Prophet Muhammad, Islamic stories, etc. For instance, my first name, Ikililu is said to be the name of a male twin born to Adam, the first man. The female twin was called Iklimah, which both have the same meaning of Tuahir(corrupted as Tahidu, meaning, pure/purity).
It is important to note that not all names mentioned in the Quran, Hadeeth or Islamic stories are actually suitable for naming children. Only names of people who are believed to have been pious, names that depict the attributes of God, names of words/places that are meaningful to Islam, etc are adopted.


2. Buɣ’yuya(idol names)
In the past, couples who had difficulty getting a child would go to a traditional priest to ‘seek’ for a child. The child so given is believed to be a product of the idol(god) and therefore must be given a specific name. Examples of such names include, Wumbei(Wumbedoo for male; God is alive), Neeina(Neeindoo for a male; a name of an idol), Pooni(Ponadoo for male; a name of an idol), Fanjima(a name of a god), Azindoo/Azimpaga(name of idol for male and female respectively), etc. However, with the spread of Islam amongst Dagombas, these names are now believed to be in conflict with Islamic teachings, as it implies that there are other gods who have power aside Allah(God). And so are frowned upon. Only in remote areas where the traditional African religion is still strong that you will find these names being given to children.


3. ŋaha yuya (proverb names)
Another source of names for Dagombas is proverbs. Children are usually named using shortened forms of proverbs. Names such as Suhuyini( literally one heart/clear heart. full form being suhu yini gari buɣili, i.e. One heart/clean heart is better than an idol), Nniŋdini( what have I done?. full form being nniŋdini n zaŋ taali?, i.e. what have I done that is offensive?), Tiyuundiba (we are watching them), Dinviela( that which is good. full form being kuliga noli din viɛli ni laɣim nyuri ba,i.e. a river that has a good bank will have people coming there to drink), Wumpini(God’s gift. full form being Wumpini libigira, i.e. God’s gift comes when you don’t expect it), Tampuli(refuse dump. full form being ‘tampuli, be chihi biɛri, i.e. refuse dump accepts all garbage, meaning accommodative), etc are examples of proverb names in Dagbani. Another names is Tikuma(dry/dead trees, full form being tihi kuma ni puhi vari n libigi dari kabiriba, i.e. dry/dead trees will shoot leaves to the surprise of firewood fetchers).


4. Festival/Month/Day Names.
Dagombas also names their children according to the month or the day in which the child is born. We usually give the name of the month or the day to the child. For instance, you will often hear, Damba(a child born during the month of Damba festival), Chimsi( a child born during Eidul Adha). Only these two months are given to children as names. Others such as Tani(Monday born) , Laaba(Wednesday born), Laamisi (Thursday born), Azima/Azumah(Friday born), Sibri(Saturday born) and Lahiri (Sunday born) are names giving according to the day the child was born.


5. Names of Aspirations
Another way Dagombas name their children is according to what aspiration the parent has about the child. Names such as Timtooni(be ahead), Suhudoo(peace), Yumzaa(love all), Simdi (friendship), Katari(fortune/opportune), Saha (luck), Kasi(pure), Chelpang(forgive), Chentiwuni(give to God), etc. These category of names were rare in the past. In recent times however, lots of parents give these names to their children.


6. Names Given through ‘Buying’ of a Child.
There’s a practice among Dagombas that when a woman records still births, or if she records at least one infant death, then she gives birth to the next child, they pretend that they are throwing away the child. On the way out, anyone who meets them would offer to ‘buy’ the child by giving a token, but doesn’t take the child home. The ‘buyer’ only acquires the right to name the child, usually according to the tribe the buyer is. It is believed that after undergoing this process, the child won’t die like the earlier brothers/sisters. Names such as Kanbondoo(Akan man), Jangbedoo(Hausa man), Modoo/Mopaga( Moshi Man/woman), Saɣ’yelidoo/Saɣ’yelipaga( Sagayeli man/woman), Kalinchedoo/Kalinchepaga( Kalinche man/woman), Laabandoo/Laabanpaga(Laabansi man/woman), Kulikulidoo/Kulikulipaga(Kotokoli man/woman), etc are examples of names gotten through ‘buying’ of a child. The parents of the child however will still give the child a name of their choice in addition to the name the child got through being ‘sold’. For instance, my father is popularly known as Jangbedoo (Hausa Man). This is because my grandmother recorded a number of infant deaths before giving birth to my father. So he was ‘sold’ and ‘bought’ by a Hausa man, and was named Jangbedoo (Hausa man). I remember during my very first day at school when I was asked my name, I told them Jangbedoo Ikililu. Then I was told to go back and ask for my father’s name. Then I was told my father’s name is Mohammed. Most people got to know my father’s name through the surname of my brothers/sisters and my self.


7. Reincarnated Names
Dagombas believe strongly in the concept of reincarnation, i.e. the reappearance of dead relatives. You will often find a parent naming his child after his father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, or other family relations. The child will bear the same name as the dead relative. However, in Dagbani culture, it is abominable to address an elderly by his first name. So reincarnated children are given additional names attached to their reincarnated names. For instance, one of my younger brothers was named after our grandfather, Abubakar. This way, everyone consider him as our late grandfather who has come back. Since we couldn’t address our late grandfather by his first name, we equally can’t address my younger brother as Abubakar. So we have to address him the way we used to address my grandfather, i.e. Baba, Zemoli, etc. My father, uncle’s and aunties all have to address him as Baba(Daddy). They cannot call him Abubakar whatsoever.etc.
Next time someone tells you his name is Baba or someone has Baba in his names, it means it was named after his grandfather, and so his father named him Baba. Another example is Nantogmah/Natogmah, this popular name among the Dagombas. T literally means “The chief’s name sake” This name mostly not a main name. It is given to someone as a nickname if the person shares the same name as the chief of the locality or Traditional area, whether dead or alive. Because it is abominable to address the chief by the first name, addressing the child by the first name. That would look like you are calling the chief by his first name. Variations of this practice is the practice of addressing people who bear the same ame as one’s parents as ‘Mbatɔɣima’ (my father’s name sake) or Mmatɔɣima(my mother’s name sake). These are usually not assigned to people, but serves as a form of address by people whose parents share the same name as those they are addressing. For instance, I am supposed to address anyone bearing the name Mohammed as ‘Mbatɔɣima’, and not my their first name.

8. Akan Names
Another form of names in Dagbong is Akan Names. Some people, even though not Akans and have no Akan lineage, bear Akan names such as Kofi, Kwame, Donkor, etc. How come? It lies in the history of both the Dagbong and the Ashanti Kingdoms.
According to Fynn(1971), in the 1700s, Ashantis, under the leadership of the Adontehene of Kumasi went to war with, defeated Dagbong, and captured the King, Naa Gariba. On their way back to Kumasi, the then chief of Nasah, Naa Ziblim intervened and Naa Gariba was released. But Dagbong had to pay annually a ransom of 500 slaves, 200 cows, 400 sheep, 400 cotton cloths and 200 silk cloths to the Ashanti Kingdom. During this period, Dagbong came under the rulership of the Adontehene of Kumasi, who in turn trained some of the slaves to serve as his warriors while selling some of them to traders in slavery. These warriors became known as Kambonsi(Akans) and therefore adopted Akan names. Consequently, they started naming their children with Akan names. It is worthy to mention that till date, these warriors(Kambonsi) have become part of the Dagbong traditional setup. The chief warrior in Dagbong bears the title ‘Kambon Naa/Kamo Naa (Akan chief).
A friend of mine whose Father’s name is Kofi told me that his father said their grandfather was a Kambon Naa, and so named all his children with Akan names.


9. Circumstantial Names
In Dagbong, a child may be named according to the circumstance in which he or she was born. For instance, a child born while the mother is on her way to the market is named Dasoli (full form being Daa soli, i.e. on the way to market), a child born from a year old pregnancy is named Dayuuni, a child born next after twins is named Garo/Gado(bed), a child born after the death of their father is named Ziŋba or ʒiba(missed father or don’t know the father), a child born after the death of their grandfather is named Kayaba(Grandfatherless), a child born from a marriage between family relations may be named Tuŋteeiya(the creeping plant has crept ), etc.


10. Other Names
Parents may also give their children names based on the meaning of the name. Tipaɣiya(we are grateful), Soochi(affordable/affordability), Mandeeiya( I have accepted/tolerated), Tamaha(hope), etc are examples of other names.
In the past, local Dagomba names gave way for Arabic/Islamic names. But these days, parents have come to the realization that our local names are gradually vanishing, and have therefore started giving their children local names. I for instance gave both Arabic and local name to my daughter, i.e. Hibatullah as Islamic/Arabic name and Wumpini as local name. This way, we are able to maintain our identities as both Muslim and Dagombas.
Some Islamic scholars have preached against giving children Arabic and local names. They argue that parents should simply choose one and name the child that way. The name could be local or Arabic. However, in relation to the local names, we have to avoid names that are in conflict with the teachings of Islam such as idol names, as well as names that seems to cast insinuations at other people, e.g. Bejejugu(They hate the vulture, full form being be je juɣu ka o laanda. Be ni ti bori o ka o ku lali, meaning they hate the vulture but it lingers around. Time will come when they want it but it won’t be available), Nniŋdini( what have I done?. full form being nniŋdini n zaŋ taali?, i.e. what have I done that is offensive?), Tiyuundiba (we are watching them), etc.
Finally, Dagombas believe that names have an effect on the future of the child, i.e. good name brings good fortune to the bearer while bad name can as well being bad fortune to the bearer.

Reference: Fynn J K (1971). Asante and Its Neighbours 1700-1807. Longman (notes)

Paying Back Debt Owed is Natural, But Gratefulness and Keeping One’s Promise is Most Important

Translated and Adapted from Song Shifeng

Four years ago, a certain lady encountered an urgent situation. In order to resolve this, through social media, she requested for three hundred (300) volunteers to lend her one thousand (1000) Cedis each. She promised that through her monthly salary, she will repay five pe

ople each month, in the order in which the lenders sent the money, i.e. the first five people to send her the money, each will be paid back the following month and so on. According to her estimation, she would have repaid all 300 debtors within five years. Through social media, 300 people opted to help her, while she promised to honour her part of the agreement. She ended up repaying all the money two years earlier than she had earlier promised to. When she was repaying the moneys, there were many lenders who had already forgotten that they ever lent her money. Repaying debt owed is a natural situation, however, an expert in public welfare as well as social media commentators have stated that the trust, gratitude and keeping one’s promise was shown in this instance has made them feel the warmth of life.
One evening in June 2015, a 27 years old Salma was doing overtime in her work place when she received a call from her father, who was a truck driver, that he had knocked down a human being, and that the condition was really serious. Two months earlier, Salma’s mother suffered stroke and was admitted in the hospital. Her condition was so serious that she nearly passed on.
Encountering these two terrible situations in succession made Salma and her family to become unable to make ends meet. She simply couldn’t cope with the situation. Salma had not worked for too long. What is worst is she had just changed a new job only four days ago! So she had no personal savings left.
Salma later stated in a post that her father had all along been the pillar of the family. He could work for three consecutive days without sleep. He was always concerned about the girl’s financial and academic performance, sparing no effort at asking the girl if she had any problem is these areas. Salma has been working for the past five years, but hasn’t been able to pay back the parents in any form. When her mother was admitted in the ICU, she was so worried that she stayed at home for five consecutive days without going out.
Seeing her father being helpless in this circumstance and even considering leaving the house to dodge debtors, Salma swore to get these issues resolved as quickly as possible.
Salma has never borrowed money from anyone, so she didn’t know how to approach friends to lend her some money. She arrived at a decision without even consulting anyone. She said, “I took a pen and a paper and made a simple calculation. In the process, tears dropped onto the paper. I was later to find out that this tears-ridden paper was to touch a lot of people. At 23:08 on 14th June 2015, I spent fifteen minutes in writing an article making public my intention to borrow money from individuals”.
She posted this article on her Wechat status. The title of the article is “in the several months to come, I will be a grateful person”. In the article she explained that her father knocked someone with a truck while her mother has suffered stroke and so being hospitalised. Encountering this kind of issues successively, she had no option than to borrow money so address them.
She stated in the article; “I want to borrow 300000 Cedis. I need 300 individuals to lend me 1000 Cedis each. Any extra money after the 300000 Cedis has been reached will be rejected. Considering my current salary level and without having adverse effect on my live from today, I pledge to settle five people each month. This way, in five years, I will be able to settle everybody. In the process, if I get a salary increment, I will adjust the number of people I will settle each month. As to whom I am, I will not introduce my myself for now, those who trust me, a 27 years old lady, kindly help me, in the several months to come, I will be a grateful person”.
In one night, she was able to get all the 300 individuals she wanted. Society is fast changing. Five years is too long a time, how many people will trust her? A lot of people usually post request for assistance on their social media handles. Does someone really care to help them? Salma didn’t have answers to these questions.
Salma’s friends on Wechat are very few, they are mainly her personal friends. However, she has ever taken part in philanthropy, and also ever worked in a media firm, so she has a good number of media personnel and philanthropists as well as former classmates on her timeline. So her trust level was a bit high.
Through further sharing by her friends, within a short time, Salma was able to get the 300 individuals she needed. Amongst them, more than half of them have never met her before, with most of them sending her friend request as result of reading her article on other people’s timelines.
Salma’s Wechat jammed for a while, she was continually receiving friend requests from people and sending her money, messages of consolation and assuring her that all shall pass. In just one night, she was able to get all 300 individuals.
There were some lenders who told her not to repay the 1000 Cedis they lent her, while others requested that they send more than the 1000 Cedis. There were still others who requested that their turn for payment be moved further backwards, as they didn’t need the money immediately. After receiving money from an individual, she will thank you and assign you a serial number.
There were people who asked her for repayment. There were others too who completely forgot of this money.
On 7th July 2015, Salma settled the first five people. On 20th July 2018, Salma finished repaying300 people, two years earlier than she had planned.
Salma stated that among the 300 individuals who lent her the money, each was different, they all had different concerns. In these 3 years that she has been repaying the debt, a lot of interesting things happened.
There is one lender who is no more. Salma told journalist that “I have always sent her friend requests without receiving any reply. Later when I was repaying another friend’s money that I got to know that this person is no more”.
Someone enquired on the progress in repayment and wanted to know how he is. He indicated that “as far as I am concerned, so long as you continue refunding the monies, it makes me feel valuable than even paying me back”.
There is another friend too who was continuously monitoring Salma’s payment plan. On 23rd July 2016, this friend sent Salma a message, saying it’s been a while since they saw an update on the progress of payment. He said “you publicly raised the money. So you should let everybody know what is happening. I believe that no one amongst the lenders will pressurise you to refund the money. You should know that transparency is the most important thing after every donation or lending”.
There were still some who requested for repayment. But in each case, they did so rather indirectly.
Salma had a very deep impression about one of her friends from Shenzhen. She told journalist “there is a Shenzhen friend whose work is environmental protection, she occasionally comes to enquire, but she feared that that could put pressure on me. She thought I could misunderstand that to mean she is asking of her money. Until when I repaid her the money before she told me that she can now chat freely with me”. “Even though we have never known each other, a friend advised that I should not lend the money to her. But is still wanted to prove whether there is still trust in this world or not. Now I can testify that my trust was the right one”.
A lot of people have even forgotten, saying “I can remember at all”, “may be you have mistaken”, and so on. Only after they see the chat history that they are able to recollect the situation.
There is one friend who posted on her timeline after receiving repayment, saying “today’s event has really moved me. Today, I received an online payment of 1000 Cedis on Wechat from a sender I didn’t know. So, I messaged the person and asked her why she sent me this money. She sent me screenshots of our previous chats. I got to realise that it was a repayment of money I lent her two years ago. I have donated on several occasions, this is rather the first time I am receiving repayment for a donation. So I became curious about what the purpose of the donation was. The lady sent me a link to the appeal for funds that she posted two years ago. When I saw the marks of her tears on the paper that she wrote the calculations on as well as the pledges she made in the article,….. young lady, you have made me win, you have made me win the trust that I have forgotten already. You have made me win this profound and long-lasting touch. Even more, you have yourself a winner, a winner that has far exceeded your own imagination”.
Another friend said “someone sent me 1000 Cedis on Wechat and also wished me happy new year. thoughts came to my mind as to who else is teasing me? It was a real 1000 Cedis. But who is this generous? I had a second thought, could this be a bait? Later, she sent me our 3 years ago chat history. I have long forgotten that I have ever lent 1000 Cedis to anyone. When I read her article again, I was touched once more. Someone who is so richly attached and filial to her parents and action oriented, utilised her own honesty to help her family overcome challenges, and has even giving 300 people in this world a kind of warmth, this is really excellent!”.
There were some friends who unfriended her after lending her the money. She resent them friend requests to explain to them. There were others too who rejected the repayment, saying she can donate that money to those who need it. There were more than 10 other people who refused to accept her friend request no matter how she explained. Salma decided that these monies that she couldn’t get the lenders to pay back to them, she was going to donate it to charity.
After Salma finished the payment, she wrote an article in which she said “I have finished repaying the monies. I have completed the agreement between myself and the 300 unknown friends who agreed to lend me money 3 years ago. I have completed the repayment 2 years earlier than initially planned. A lot of people have completely forgotten, others have unfriended me, but I resent them friend request to explain to them. There were other who I could no longer add as friends, while there were still others who didn’t accept the repayment. I often recollect the event on that faithful summer night, I cant tell how lucky I was, within that short period of time, these many people helped me. The present me, has become pliable but tough, developed endurance, and an everlasting kind heart. At this moment today, I am very happy”.
Source: 93FM, Voice of Traffic, a Hangzhou, China based radio station

The ‘Busanga volvo’ with a seatbelt: A Tribute to Alhaji Abubakari Alidu (Zemoli)

It was an early cool harmattan morning, while I was in the boarding house preparing for my WASSCE exam which was only 4 months away. One of my younger brothers unusually stormed my dormitory. I quickly felt all wasn’t well.
Few days earlier, I had visited my grandfather whose health was worsening by the day.
Apparently, the oldest man in Bimbilla then had passed away.
Alhaji Abubakar Alidu was then the Zemoli to the Bimbilla Naa. He had lived so long that when he died no one could tell his age with certainty.
Alhaji was an Islamic scholar whose knowledge in the religion was not in doubt. He traversed north-eastern Africa, not in search of greener pastures, but to acquire Islamic knowledge and worship his Lord. He is on record to have been one of the few people in Bimbilla who went to Mecca for pilgrimage ON FOOT! unbelievable you will say. But that is the reality. During the second leg of his visit to the holy Land, it was by horse. This is how Alhaji and his compatriots then, such as Alhaji Asimah, toiled to earn the favour of their Lord.
Baba, as we used to call you, you left this world on 14th January, 2007, 12 years ago. You left a solid legacy, a legacy that will continue unabated, in Sha Allah.
I was your closest companion, for I was your eldest biological grandson. You loved me so much that wherever you were going, you will take me along. At the age of about 16, you trusted and sent me to represent you in a funeral in Yendi in 2005.
At a much younger age, you used to carry me to farm whenever you were going. In one of the occasions, I slept and fell over from the bicycle. You didn’t realize it and rode to farm before realizing that your friend wasn’t on the bicycle. You rode back and saw me still sleeping in the bush. Lol. From then, you started using a rope to tie me on the bicycle whenever we were going to farm. Funny? Lol. That is how intimate we were.
Promotion of family relation was your hall mark. You visit family and relatives, no matter which part of town they were. You were the eldest man we knew, but that didn’t make you sit at home waiting for the ‘younger’ members of the family to come and greet you. You will walk to Masaka to greet Mr Salifu Asabre, to Baatingli to greet Alhaji Yaalo, Haji Amina, and Zabalindoo Paga, just to mention a few.
Words cannot be used narrate your life.
We only pray that the Almighty Allah will extend His boundless Mercy on you, forgive your sins and above all grant you Jannah.