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Know The Dagaaba People, Their Marriage Customs

Sun, 11 Jan 2015 Source: Ziem, Joseph

BY Joseph Ziem

An uninformed generation is without doubt, a lost generation. In other words, people who do not have any knowledge about themselves or their belief systems don’t seem to know what they are about.

Apparently in Ghana, many young people have very little or no knowledge at all about their culture and traditions. What young people often forget is that, there are serious repercussions when people go against their cultural and traditional norms even if they are ignorant about them. More often than not, you invite curses upon yourself and unborn generations.

Subjectively, there appears to be a growing deficit of the culture and traditions of the Dagaaba ethnic group among the younger generation of today and it is worrying. I wouldn’t like to lay any blame on anyone; however, I think parents, the elderly and chiefs who are supposed to be custodians of the culture and traditions should show serious interest in teaching young people about what they ought to know.

Uncompromising Customs You Ought to Know

In the culture of the Dagaaba people, it is an abomination for a married woman to cheat on her husband. The wife of a Dagaaba man is not supposed to have any form of sexual contact with another man apart from his husband. Any man who touches her breast, buttocks, kiss or have sex with her, whether it is consensual or not, if the woman for fear of embarrassment or divorce refuses to report this to the husband immediately the incident takes place, risk dying after a short illness.

In some clans in the Dagaaba ethnic group, it is the man who dies first and after that, the woman also dies. The woman will die because, it is believed that she has defiled or polluted her spiritual being and therefore ought to be purified through a ritual sacrifice. The cost of this ritual sacrifice is borne by the man whom the woman slept with or who sexually harassed her. Besides, once the woman is polluted, any food she handles or cooks for the husband also becomes polluted and if the husband eats it, he will die. If the woman fetch water for the husband to bath or sleep on their matrimonial bed, the man will die if he bath the water or sleep on the bed.

There are also other instances like visiting the hospital for medical care and you are required to take off your clothes for a medical doctor or nurse to examine you. As a wife of a Dagaaba man, you must first seek the consent of your husband before going to the hospital. It is believed that, once your husband grants you permission, nothing would happen to you if the male doctor or nurse touches where he is not supposed to touch or what does not belong to him. But if the doctor or nurse has any ill-motive towards the woman during examination, the wrath of her husband’s ancestors would deal with him unpardonably.

There is a saying that “Old firewood burns faster or easier” or “It is never too difficult to sing an old song once the chorus is introduced.” To further expatiate this in the context of a relationship or marriage, there are many young women of today who get married and still want to go out with their ex-boyfriend/ex-husband especially when they want a comeback or experience economic hardship.

Once your ex-boyfriend/ex-husband knows that the two of you have had an intimate relationship before, he may attempt to touch where he used to touch, kiss or fondle you and if possibly, sleep with you when you visit him. Seriously, you won’t and can’t get away with that if you’re married to a Dagaaba man. It doesn’t matter whether you are Ga, Ewe or an Akan woman married to a Dagaaba man.

How This Cultural Practice Started?

No one knows how this cultural practice of the Dagaaba people originated. However, when the wife of a Dagaaba man commits adultery, the man she slept with is charged to pay what is called “pasan” literally known as vagina fine. The fine includes a male goat or ram, fowls and some amount of money which are used to prepare the ritual sacrifice for the purification of the woman and most importantly, to save her life.

The pasan is also charged according to the status of the woman’s husband. For example, if Peter is a chief and another man sleeps with his wife, the pasan charged the man will be different from the pasan charged another man who sleeps with the wife of Philip, a teacher. In the case of Chief Peter, the man who slept with his wife would first be fined for disrespecting his authority as chief, and then the fine for sleeping with Mrs. Peter.

Furthermore, in the Nabegle clan, legends have it that, a married woman once committed adultery and fell sick and died. According to oral history, before the woman died, she confessed to the husband about what she did. This was before the advent of Christianity, but it has since become a revered custom among the clan members up till date. Among members of the Nabegle clan, when a married woman commits adultery, the man she sleeps with is fined to pay 1,500 cowries (tur kobr anuu) and in addition to that, present a three year old ram and 10 fowls. The ram and fowls are killed and cooked by the siblings of the adulterous wife’s husband and shared among themselves. It’s a taboo to spice such a meat with salt, pepper or any kind of food seasonings. The husband and the wife are not supposed to eat this meat.

Nonetheless, after performing this ritual, the woman also becomes the legal wife of the man she slept with. But any child that is brought forth by any of the two men with the shared wife will always die.

Who Are the Dagaaba People?

The Dagaaba people are an ethnic group in the West African nations of Ghana, Burkina Faso and La Cote D’Ivoire. They speak the Dagaare language, and are related to the Birifor people and the Dagaare Diola. The language is collectively known as Dagaare, (Wikipaedia).

The source of Dagaaba communities in the pre-colonial era remains a point of debate. The evidence of oral tradition is that the Dagaaba are an outgrowth of the Mole-Dagbani group which migrated to the semi-arid Sahel region in the fourteenth century. They are believed to have further migrated to the lower northern part of the region in the seventeenth century.

From well before the appearance of Europeans, the Dagaaba lived in small scale agricultural communities, not centralised into any large state-like structure. Ethnological studies point to oral literature which tells that the Dagaaba periodically, and ultimately successfully, resisted attempts at conquest by states in the south of modern Ghana, as well as the Kingdoms of Dagbon, Mamprugu and Gonja in the north. One thesis based on oral evidence is that the Dagaaba formed as a breakaway faction of Dagbon under Na Nyanse. The colonial borders, demarcated during the Scramble for Africa, placed them in northwestern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso, as well as small populations in Côte d'Ivoire.

In modern Ghana, the Dagaaba homeland of the Upper West Region includes the Districts and towns of Nandom, Lawra, Jirapa, Kaleo, Nadowli, Daffiama, Wechiau and Hamile. Large communities are also found in the towns of Wa, Bogda, Babile, Tuna, Han and Nyoli. Dagaaba communities historically have practiced traditional religions, as well as Islam and Christianity.

There are also, several clans that exist in the Dagaaba ethnic group such as Kusiele, Gbaane, Bewuole, Benyiine, Dikpiele, Nakyiele, Kuwere, Zendaale, Bekuone, Kpiele, Nayeele, Puryeele and among others. People from the same clan cannot and can never marry one another, because it is incestuous and considered a taboo. So therefore, it behoves every Dagaaba man who meets a Dagaaba lady anywhere and in any part of the world and has interest in going out with her or proposing love to her, to first find out which clan she belongs to. A word to a wise is enough.

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph