The Brief History of The Ga Peoples

HISTORY & TRADITIONS- Re External Influence on Ga Society and Culture: The English; probably might pride themselves of and indeed feel lazy in learning other European Languages all because of their dominant language in global affairs but they can hardly escape the dilutions of French words such as restaurant and rendezvous, in their vocabularies. Who; then, are the Tarbons, Alatas and Otublohums of Ga Mashie when we attempt to write or gossip about Ga History?

Asante Fordjour


From the mystical Akan historical accounts of the Ga peoples; and not until I had the privilege of reading from Professor Irene Odotei (External Influence on Ga Society and Culture), all that I knew about Nkranfuo [the Gamee] was the empirical belief that their ancestors, mysteriously, fled from Ilfe, in the ancient Nigeria, in their columns like soldier-ants along the Gulf of Guinea to their present settlements, in a date which is hard to be traced. As Professor Odotei (ibid) forcefully points out, “so far no definite date has been established for the first migration into the Accra plains. However, as early as 1557, Ga Mashie had already developed a well-organised trading system.” Having accepted that in examining the true historical triumphs of the Ga country and its peoples, some historical events remain unchallenged: Like many emerging smaller states surrounded by powerful neighbours, during state formation, the Gas did not escape the threats of cultural dilutions and contaminations. They were once defeated and ruled by the Akwamus (1680-1730); the Akyems (1730-1742) and the Asantes (1742- 1826). It was the alliance of the British and indigenous coastal forces that kicked out the Asantes in the Battle of Dodowa of 1826. Notwithstanding their historical tribulations as a smaller State, by their names; cultures, traditions, national contributions and the reoccurring socio-economic complaints and probably, unattended grievances, the woes of the Ga peoples, could be perhaps, summed up as one of unfortunate or self-inflicting- at least, as peoples who have been at the forefront of Gold Coast’s socio-political realignment and self-determination.


There had been [reoccurring] reported sorry state of the Ga State and the feared scenario of its bonafide Ga Language, on the ebb of extinction due to massive occupation of various ethnic groups, especially, the Akan peoples- many of whom their preferred spoken languages in Accra, to the dismay of the “puritan traditional Ga”, had always been the Akan Languages, instead of learning the indigenous Ga Language. So who could actually be called a pure Ga? In the words of Professor Odotei, “oral traditions collected by various authors indicate that most of the Ga peoples trace their origins to the east of the Accra plains. A section of Osu trace their origin to Osudoku in the Adanme area. Sections of Ga Mashie trace their origins as Far East as the southern part of modern Nigeria, though so far no confirmatory evidence has been established for this. According to oral traditions, the migration of the various groups of Ga-speakers into the Accra plains took place at different times. Before the Ga speakers moved into the Accra plains, there were people living there in scattered farmsteads. These people were absorbed by the Ga-speaking people. The Kpehi of Tema and other Guan groups are said to be among the earliest groups who lived in the Accra plains.” Others posit they are one of the cherished lost sheep of Israel. The Gas are yes, diverse peoples. So why worry if settlers, without offence, decide to communicate in a language they feel comfortable?


For most international relations students; it could be remembered that the dilemma in battle defeats or conquests and occupation- directly or indirectly, in the process of state formation and/or building, alter many facets of victim’s cherished purified cultures and traditions- even where the occupation had been for a minute or microseconds. So, international relations scholars have come to terms that in their efforts to [over]protect what appear on the surface as their own- being it history, culture, or lifestyle, closer inspection might shockingly or uncomfortably reveal to them something foreign. Probably, this might be well supported if we were to consider this from Professor Irene Odotei:

“…After the defeat of Asante in 1826, the British began to consolidate their power on the Gold Coast in general. In 1850, they bought the Danish forts and possessions and in 1872 the Dutch possessions on the Gold Coast. This left the British in sole charge of the Ga littoral…The abolition of slave trade in the nineteenth century also opened new opportunities in Accra which included the settlement of the Brazilian freed slaves in Accra. These are the Tarbon of Ga Mashie. For example, the Otublohum of Ga Mashie originally settled in Accra as representatives of the Akwamu government. A section of the Alatas of Ga Mashie came as slaves and servants from Moure on a fishing expedition to La and stayed permanently. The Anehos of Osu and La came to seek the alliance of the Ga in a civil war in their town, Aneho. They decided to stay when they realised that the Ga were reluctant to help them.” In our globalized world, who dare you to tag a citizen as slave?

Some  Ga peoples  believe that they were part of Israel- migrating from south through Uganda, then along the Congo River, westward through Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and finally to Greater Accra. “What can be said without qualms is that the Ga people were not stable, but dynamic and engaged in the very common phenomenon of migration- the Homowo [Passover] festival had its origin in such migration… the second divide of belief attributed the unleavened com bread to that of Jewish unleavened flour bread as the ritual food, the red clay painted at the door posts and the way the people eat in hurry during the festival are linked to the traditions of the Jewish Passover feast.” But like the said Ewe-Israeli ancestral links, this one too, I have difficulty to accept whole-heartedly in that we know that Israelis cherish their blood bond. This had been shown in Operation[s] Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991), where the Israeli regime airborne their starved cousins from Abyssinia.

Yes, Professor Adu-Boahen(1975) sates that the Ga-Adangbe differ not only linguistically but also culturally from the Akans. While the Ga-Adangbe/Ewe adheres to a patrilineal system, among the Akans; brothers and nephews on the mother’s side and not sons inherit property. It is argued that whereas the systems of marriage and the naming of children are uniform among the Akans, this differs from the traditions virtually common to the Ga-Adangbe and Ewe peoples. Thus while the Akans; Dagomba, Mamprusi and the Gonja, had always lived in centralised states under clan head bound together by kinship ties and chiefs, it was only later that nearly all the Ga-Adangbe and the Ewes of who lived in small communities under clan or lineage heads and traditional priests, adopted the institution of chieftaincy from the Akan peoples. Professor Odotei argues that the influx of non-Ga immigrants affected the composition of Ga traditional society which is, still the We- an ancestral house to which all those who trace descent through the male line of a common ancestor belong.

“Every We has its own set of personal names. It was in the We that a child was welcomed into the world through the custom of kpojiemo (outdooring), marriage transactions are made in the We and it was in the We that a member was laid in state and the last rites performed for him when he dies. Every office among the Ga was, and still is, vested in the We, and it is members of the We who decided who should hold office, subject to the approval of elders of the town.”  The Ga peoples also traded with Dutch, English, Swedes, Danes, French and what Professor Odotei describes as a host of interlopers of all nationalities. The following forts: Crevecoeur (the Present Ussher fort), James Fort and Christiansborg, belonging to the Dutch, English and Danes, had been respectively, built.

According to the Prof, the change in economic policy from free trade to the protectionist policy which the Ga peoples dictated brought them into conflict with their neighbours- notably, the Akwamu- former vassals of the Ga, who defeated the Ga in 1680. With this loss some of the Ga with their king fled from Accra and founded another state with its capital Glidzi across the Volta in the modern republic of Togo. Among other towns founded by the Ga was Aneho.

 “From 1680 onwards, it became the practice of the Ga to seek refuge with their kinsmen in this new state whenever they faced difficulties in Accra. Some of the Ga who left for Glidzi also returned to seek help from the Ga in Accra in the eighteenth century but ended up staying in Accra permanently.” To many history enthusiasts, this Accra- Glidzi or Gold Coast-Togo connections from Professor Irene Odotei, might not be overly circumstantial. I have a friend who prefers his name to be spelt and called Ampofu; instead of the traditional Ampofo. Although, a Voltarian in relation to Ghana’s current geographical map, by the Ampofu’s own ancestral history, he could be probably, more of Asante in origin [and specifically, from Asante Mampong] than some sections of the contemporary Asantes at Adum, Asafo, Kwaaman or Kumawu, all in the heart of Asanteman?  Baafuor Ossei-Akoto has this to say when he wrote about a brief history of the Akwamu people:

“Most of the present Akuapems still have their roots at Akwamufie especially those bearing the names Addo and Akoto or from the Aduana family. Nana Ansa Sasraku [King of Akwamu] also played an important role in the life of the King Osei Tutu of Asante. He protected him from the Denkyiras and when he was called to take over the Kwaaman stool Nana Ansa Sasraku provided him with 300 Asafomen from Akwamu to guide him to Kwaaman. When Nana Osei Tutu arrived, he gave all the men to Kwaaman Asafohene and they became citizens of Asafo… According to oral tradition, the whole structure of the Asante army that was started by Nana Osei Kofi Tutu l and helped the Asantes through many wars, was a replicate of the well organised Akwamu army. Nana Osei Tutu was also assisted by the Anumfuo (later Adumfuo) [Abrafuo] who accompanied him from Akwamu, in execution cases. A large number of the Asantes of today originated from Akwamu especially, people from Asafo, Adum and sections of people from Bantama and Barekese.          

Down-town Accra; the Ga, adopted a policy of incorporating immigrants into the governmental machinery. For example, the Anehos of La were, in the words of Professor Irene Odotei; given the post of mankrado and the Abese-Fante, that of Woleiatse (chief fishermen). Immigrants could also attain certain positions through achievements. “The Alata provide a good example- as servants of the English company, they acquired wealth and certain skills which made them influential member of the society… by mid-18th century, [and]one Cudjoe was referred to variously as English company slave and English company linguist. In his capacity as linguist of the English, his influence became tremendous, especially in the section of Accra under the English, i.e. James Town. Later on he was referred to as Caboceer Cudjoe. These findings are supported with the quoted oral tradition below:

“Traditional accounts indicate that the first Alata mantse was called Wetse Kojo, who had a mantse’ stool carved for him by one Otublafo of Otublohum and adopted the Akan custom of odwira. Kojo eventually superseded the mantse of Sempe, the original rulers of James Town… In a case of D.P. Hammond vs Mantse Ababio and others, the Alata mantse Kojo Ababio IV declared: my predecessors in title have been recognised as Mantse and in going to war, he always went in front of them. Kojo Ababio became so power-drunk that he refused to accept that Sempe had a right to elect a mantse for her own akutso…The head of Sempe was the Mankralo of the Alata…This so infuriated the representative of the Sempe that at a Commission of Enquiry in 1907, he asked, I am a Ga, did come from Lagos and make me mankralo here? Can you who say you are a stranger make me mankralo? Ababio withdrew his claims, but Sempes refused to accept the Alata mantse as the mantse for the whole James Town, although the Government continued to recognise him as such.        

Although Prof Irene Odotei writes that the Gas have a system of adoption which extends its branch to the children of couples of alien origins as far as the law of succession among the Ga tribe proper [ie. La and Nungua], is concerned, inter-marriage between patrilienal Ga women and the matrilineal Akan created nervousness in the mind of the Puritan Ga. The Akan political arrangements appear to have had serious influence on the Ga peoples too. “The Ga towns were divided into lineage groups under the leadership of wulomei (singular Wulomo ‘priest’) who were in charge of the lineage god (jemawong)… With the separation of the religious from the secular authority, the Ga began to adopt certain characteristics of Akan chieftaincy…This explains why, as Nketia stated, the speech mode of drumming associated with the Ga court is invariably Akan (Twi, Fante)… The horn language of the Ga chief is also, with a few exceptions, mostly Akan. For example, the horn the Akamanje Mantse sounds: Onipa nni aye; Onipa nni aye, Onipa to nsu mu a ma onko, Aboa to nsu mu a yino kodi.”

This is explained as follows: “Man is ungrateful; Man is ungrateful, If a man falls into a river, let him drown; If an animal falls into a river, take it out to eat.” In the words of Prof Odotei, the Wei from which the mantse is chosen is known as the jaase [Akan- Gyaase], whose function is to protect the king or Omanhene and perform menial tasks for him. “A war captain among the Ga is known as Asafoiatse derived from the Akan Asafo (war company), and the asafo songs are mainly in Akan. The Akan military organisation was copied haphazardly by the Ga… These (Ga) stools are arranged for military purposes in groups or wings and from the fact that Twi words are used to describe such divisions… Evidence of its application was conflicting and somewhat meagre, but this may be attributable form Rouna the stool of the Ga Mantse… Those of Alata, Sempe and Akumanji the left wing, those of Osu, La, Teshie, Nungua and Tema, the right wing.” But this is not all- religiously, the Israeli descendants have Kple and kpagods which are Ga and Obutu (Awutu), Me gods which are of Adanme origin, Otu gods which are Fante and Effutu and Akong gods which are Akuapem.

It might be of interest to learn that when the mediums of these gods are possessed, kple medium, per Prof Odotei, speaks Ga, Me medium speaks Fante and Akrong medium speaks Akuapim Twi. “Evidence that the Ga always leave room for reverence and incorporation of other gods is seen in the text of the libation of the wulomei. After offering drink and asking for blessing from their gods they add[ this in Ga Language]: Milee nmaa kulibii Ayibo; Ni male nye yibo, Keje Lanma keyashi Ada Shwiloo, Keje wuoyi keyashi namli, Bibii ke ewuji fee abanu eko, Nii nyeke joomo juro ajoo wo.”  Prof Odotei translates these in English as follows: “I do not know the number of grains of millet; Therefore I do not know you number, From Lanma to Ada Volta, From the north to south, Come to drink both great and small, And shower us with good blessings.” The illustration here is that many supporting evidence as far the corruption of the Ga Language are concerned is cited. Yet it might be simplistic if not erroneous if the Akan is to predict the extinction of the Ga Language.

According to Odotei, other languages such Ewe, Hausa and those of European origins, have also contributed words such as Aboo ‘garden’ in Ewe, and Abotsi ‘friend’ in Hausa. The cited examples: Sakisi saks (Danish) scissors; klakun klakun (Danish) Kalkoen (Dutch) turkey; Duku Doek (Dutch) Scarf; Flonoo Forno (Portuguese) Owen; Atrakpoi Trappe (Danish) Stairs. On entertainment, it is said that Ga recreational music such as asoayere and adowa are entirely in Akan, whilst others like tuumatu, kaadiohefeosee, siolele, adaawe and kpanlogo which are Ga, often include words or lines in Akan and occasionally other languages, such as Ewe and English. The Akan might yes, boast of its linguistic might over its territorial space and landholdings but what makes its cultures attractive? Not until recently, I never knew that the Ga town- Pokuase, was founded by a man named [O]poku?

Prof Irene Odotei is right: The external factor is crucial element in the development of Ga society and culture… [and] The reaction of the Ga went beyond mere tolerance and the desire for more to join them as expressed in their libation prayer- “Ablekuma aba kuma wo- May strangers come to settle among us.” So, Kormantse na Abandzefo, what are the true origins of your twin-towns?


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