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The forging of new GaDangme Unity and the Katamanso War: King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures by Nii Armah Josiah-Aryeh

To lead the Gá-Dangme you need the courage of Okaikoi and the sagacity of great high priests. It is a task in selflessness and courage. In all things be bold and fearless, seeking above all to ensure the security and happiness of the people. Like a good tree the strong nation requires continual pruning and reform. The good leader sleeps not for an hour, constantly seeking the interests of his people
In this Lecture we examine the factors that led to the emergence of the Gá-Dangme as major players in the political scene of the Gold Coast; look at the principal reasons for the Katamanso War. Accra started to emerge from its short eclipse; the short reign of Ofori Tibo saw the the re-stabilisation of Gá-Dangme politics.
The emergence of Tetteh Ahinakwa or Momotse and Okaidja as King of Accra and chief of Gbese respectively led to a reform movement which tried to cleanse the city of corruption and re-establish its politics on a sounder footing. Princes Tetteh Ahinakwa and Okaidja had been ransomed to the Dutch and had gained considerable Western education; they were therefore in a relatively good position to stand back from Gá society and objectively analyse its failures and difficulties. However, once they acceeded to office they lacked a reform party to carry out their reformist programme in the various Gá-Dangme quarters and towns. Attempts to involve the manbii or citizens were not entirely successful.
Attempts at reform were interrupted by periodic intervention in the affairs of their kinsmen at Anecho. Much of the royal treasure was lost during journeys to and from Anecho. Tetteh Ahinakwa took the Ga and Adanse stools with him on his expedition to Anecho where he died; Prince Teiko Tsuru, who had joined the king in his campaigns at Anecho and Krepe was in his old age made king, leaving the task of reform in the hands of Okaidja.[1]

The absence of Tetteh Ahinakwa in Anecho provided Okaidja with the opportunity of undertaking considerable reform in Accra. Okaidja’s reforms and campaigns against usurpers kept up constant agitation within the nation. He also created an alliance of all the major Gá towns, and mounted a fight against the Aseres and the the people of Otublohum.
Teiko Tsuru was succeeded by Nii Saba Osepre (1787-1801) whose peaceful reign saw the first steady efforts to re-create a Gá-Dangme commonwealth as in the days of yore. This involved the re-unification of the Gá-dangme initially by diplomacy and ultimately by what we hereby designate as the Sakumowe event in which a divine voice was heard to appoint Tackie Kome I as supreme king of the Gá-Dangme.
The activities of Okaidja were illustrative of the increasing assertiveness of Accra as it steadily began to rid itself of the chains of inaction woven by years of internal division. Okaidja was the son of Teiko Adu Amiri and Kokoi Mota Bara, said to be a female relative of Ofori Ankama who was the successor of the Adanse chief, Boa Ankama. Okaidja was the nephew of the Gá Manche Ayikuma Teiko.[2] After founding the present Gbese quarter of Accra Okaidja became heavily involved in conflicts between the Akan and Guan elements of Accra, ending in the death of Ayikai Siahene who was caught and executed. As a result of these conflicts the Sempes are said to have gone westwards beyond the Korle lagoon and re-settled at Gblamote and Korle-bu. Once Okaidja’s wars had been brought to a conclusion, he was reconciled with the Sempe and other peoples in Accra; he subsequently arranged for the Sempe to live under English jurisdiction.[3]
Okaidja’s reforms also involved the relocation of the major religious shrines to Gbese. Sakumo was removed from Lomotsokuna to to its present site; Korle was also removed from Sakotsoishi to the Gbese quarter.[4] Upon his death Okaidja became the first person in Accra to be buried in a coffin; he was buried within the yard of Ussher fort. The Saturday and Thursday wars: Hota and Sota were two of the principal military engagements after the death of Okaidja. Hota (1809), an invasion by Fantes and Obutus was successfully repulsed; Sota, a collective campaign by the Akyem, Fante and Akwapim, was also repulsed, and the invaders chased beyond the Sakumo in which many were drowned or devoured by sharks. Both wars were fought under Nii Amugi I (1802-1812).
Okaidja also had a hand in various intrigues involving the Dutch, Danes, Asante and Akyem.[5] At one stage he retired to Osu from whence he continued to dabble in the affairs of Accra; and tried to debar the Dutch from trading at Teshi.[6] Okaidja subsequently enforced a trading embargo against the Dutch on the coast as far as Keta, rebuffing attempts by the king of Akyem to have the embargo lifted.[7] His presence at Christiansborg increased the influence of the Danes who were all too happy to have an influential Accra leader in their midst. After a brief sojourn in Labadi Okaidja finally returned to Usshertown in 1739
By now various events appeared to be tilting the fate of the Gá-Dangme toward the historical Battle of Katamanso. Following the death of Sir Charles MaCarthy at Nsamankow the Gá (mainly under King Kuja Okai (1812-1823)) in particular, were called upon no less than five times to help defend various coastal peoples: at Asikuma, Aburi, Mampong, Daboase and Cape Coast. Of the above, it was the critical intervention of the Gá at Cape Coast, sanctioned by Nii Adama Akuruja (1823-1825), which led directly to Asante resolve to commence battle at Dodowa or Katamanso.
In regard to the battle at Cape Coast in 1824 Reindorf recorded:
“Old Adama Pataku, with his company of iron-hearted men of Akra, proceeded to clear the enemy from the forest of Fufumpo…On the 11th of July [1824] a furious attack was made upon the lines by the whole of the Asante force, but signally repulsed…It is related that an Akra man, captured during the heat of action, was asked by the [Asante] king, who those were that fought so bravely and fiercely against him. Being told they were Akras, old friends of the Asantes, in whose blood they never imbrued their hands…he replied, “Let us march back to Kumase, and I will come upon them.”[8]
The role of the Gá in the battle of Cape Coast is one of the great, yet under-stated, episodes of Ghanaian history. Defeat at Cape Cape was actually the first time that the Asante army had been defeated. According to Boahen, “Asante’s decline began with the defeat of the hitherto invinsible Asante army near Cape Coast in May and July of 1824.”[9]
The Gá who had hitherto been friendly with the Asante now found opportunity to assert their military muscle, and perhaps to indicate what might have been if their kingdom had not been fragmented into separate and independent units. The usual preparations having been undertaken at Sakumowe, the veterans and recruits to the campaign performed the anti-cowardice oshi dance, and set out for battle.
The battlefield exploits of Armah Twitwegwu (cut and disperse) and the other warriors of the Gá contingent are still recalled with awe. The battle of Cape Coast brought a new confidence to the Accra forces which soon spread to the other Gá-Dangme as they prepared to take the field of battle once again at Katamanso.
The Asante now started earnest preparations to attack Accra for assisting the Fantes. As is well-known the Asante kingdom was founded upon the superstitious and improbable event of the alleged descent of a stool from the skies. It was therefore not surprising that in their preparation for war the Asante consulted all manner of fetishes. Osei Yaw Akoto, the king of Asante first consulted the Tanno oracle which requested that he poured 100 pots of palm-oil into the river Tanno; Kramo Koko, the chief Muslim priest was also consulted; finally, the king consulted the oracle of Odente which like Kramo Koko informed him that he could not defeat the Gá-Dangme.[10]
Still resolved to attack Accra inspite of the above advice, Osei Yaw Akoto proceeded with preparations for war. He went to Bantama and poured libation to his ancestors, calling for their help in his campaign against the Gá; he continued to Santemanso, the first settlement of the Asante, and did the same. The king then started to gather his generals and warriors together, apportioning roles to each and providing the men with ammunition. Altogether the Asante had about 40,000 warriors organised into four divisions: the Right Wing, the Centre, Left Wing, the Rear and the Reserve or king’s body-guard.
In Accra events were unfolding which would ultimately lead to the appointment of Tackie Kome I as Gá Manche and leader of the indigenous forces at Katamanso. The career of Okaidja had already demonstrated the resurgent military power of the Gá; the new confidence led to a desire to provide a new cohesion for the Gá-Dangme as a whole. Following the death of king Adama Akuruja, and amidst the gathering storms of war, the people asked their patriarchs, the priests of Nai, Sakumo, Lakpa and the Dangme high priests for a national leader. After a series of consultations principally at Amuginaa and Sakumowe, it was resolved to hold a meeting of Gá-Dangme leaders at Sakumowe to appoint a national leader.
At the time the Sakumowe building, a structure of rude but imposing architecture served as a gathering point in times of national crisis; the main residence was quite a distance apart from the grove, and the yard was dominated by a giant fig-tree under which the assembled leaders awaited the decision of the oracle. Speaker after speaker emphasised the straits facing their people, and prayed for prompt divine guidance for a truly national leader.

According to Quaye,
“when the Gá[-Dangme] consulted the Sakumo oracle about leadership, a mysterious voice was heard in the grove telling the Gá[-Dangme] to accept a man called Taki, one of the slaves (sic) who had sought asylum and was then living with the Sakumo priest. The Gá[-Dangme] accepted the order from the mysterious voice and Taki led the Gá to war.”[11]
Quaye’s account, although touching on the central importance of the Sakumowe event, obscures the origin of Taki Kome and tends to underplay the significance of the event. The traditions of both Sakumowe and Taki Komewe reject as unfounded the view that King Taki Kome was of slave origin. As is well-known Kome is one of the names of the Sakumo We of Gbese quarter; Taki Kome was the son of an agyinafonyo of one of the minimal lineages of Sakumo We; his own son, Lomoko, became a foretelling priest of Sakumo.
As a young man Taki Kome had distinguished himself by his valour, wisdom and sagacity; as a son of Sakumo We he had learnt at first hand, the lore of the Gá-Dangme, and was keen to help restore his people to their ancient glory. However, his appointment was in direct answer to the prayers of the Gá-Dangme who, in their hour of need, were looking for a divinely favoured warlord and ruler.
It is said that at the moment of Tackie Kome’s divine appointment a magnificent rainbow appeared in the sky, its seven colours representing the divisions of the major Gá-Dangme towns. The appointment of Taki Kome was met with a fire of nusketry, and collective performance of the oshi warrior dance which inspired confidence even in the most pusillanimous heart. At the same time a glowing light enveloped the tall and imposing form of the young Taki Kome.
The appointment of Taki Kome meant a diminution of the power of Asere. The Asere had hitherto been assumed to have inherited the authority of Okaikoi; with the emergence of Taki Kome they were now assigned the role of re-newing the power of the Gá Manche annually (by the grant of a yó fai (duiker-skin cap)) and retaining the office of Akwashongtse or Commander in Chief of the Gá army. The Akwashongtse was, however, answerable to the Gá Manche. The Kpakpatse We of Asere has to this day retained the right of appointing the Akwashongtse of Accra.[12]
Once a new Gá Manche had been appointed and the Asere had been assigned the role of commanding the army, preparation for war began in earnest. Taki Kome consulted the quarter and town leaders on a daily basis, working out his strategy and securing arms and ammunition from the British. Flintlock guns, rifles, muskets, powder, kegs of shot, and bullets were distributed to the men; other men carried their own self-made rifles and machetes. Carriers (kaya) were engaged to bear the ammunition and; and asafoiatsemei and shipi were carefully assigned to the sub-divisions.
Within the kutsei new war-songs were composed, and women encouraged their menfolk to rise to the heights of valour. While this war-fever was sweeping the land Tackie Kome and the kings of Ada and Krobo were together with their henchmen working out the details of fighting strategy.
There was also the matter of the ceremonial “boiling of the war” before the Sakumo gbatsu to invoke the necessary hekah and dade-krama as well as to render the warriors invincible and impervious to enemy bullets. Partaking of war ritual and fighting in the field were both considered to hasten the incorporation of strangers into Gá-Dangme society.
The forces of Dutch and Jamestowns, Osu, La, and Teshi constituted the van which confronted the main Asante fighting force. The Left wing comprised the Denkyira, Assin, Fante, Obutu and Agona; and the Right wing was made up of Akwamu, Akyem, Akwapim, Tema, Nungua, and Dangme. A small number of white men and the militia and some regulars constituted the rear.
As is well-known the Van or Centre is the most important division in a traditional army. Besides, as most of the militia and regulars in the Rear were drawn from Accra, the Left Wing where the Obutus and Awutus fought was the division in which the Gá-Dangme were least represented. Katamanso was therefore in essence a war by the Gá-Dangme.
The presence of a small number of Europeans and Southern peoples should make no difference to this fact. At Waterloo, and indeed in the two World Wars of the twentienth century, the British enlisted many non-British fighters and formed alliances with other powers; yet the victory at Waterloo and in the Two World wars are attributed to Britain. Indeed, the Right Wing of the Asante army, under General Kwame Atakora, included “Hausafo” or Northern Nigerians.[13]
Katamanso is probably the greatest set-piece battle West Africa has ever known. Hemmed in by the Akwapim hills to the North and the Volta river to the East, the opposing forces prepared to meet on the parched plains on 7 August 1826. Reindorf, Claridge and others have documented the progress of the war and its victorious conclusion for the Gá-Dangme and their allies. What remains to be stated is the role of the Gá-Dangme army and the effects of victory on the Gá-Dangme polity.
Drafting young men for the war and the lengthy discussions that preceded combat required the reinforcement of the ancient constitutional structure with its defined hierarchies. Mechanisms for regulating the activities of sub-chiefs and their subordinates were revived; and the divine appointment of Taki Kome infused into the people a new sense of national purpose or man-taomo-nin, which galvanised the Gá-Dangme throughout the nineteenth century. The Sakumowe event, in effect, became the most notable Panmonaa or national meeting of the Gá-Dangme; and the stunning victory which followed it emphasised to the people the advantage of planned national strategy.
As the armies assembled on the battle-field rank after rank, several Numidian cranes, alleged to be Sakumo horn-blowers flew over the the Gá-Dangme warriors further emboldening the men. The men in the Rear kept up a steady hum of war-songs; and groups of young men continually relayed information about the state of the opposing army. As the epic battle commenced and men lounged into men the agonising cries of the wounded and the dying filled the air, constituting an eerie backdrop to this clash of Titans. The fire of bravery was felt in every heart that overcame the initial clash of arms and burned until the enemy succumbed in the end.
The leader sand warriors, sustained by a sense of national destiny fought like lions until victory was secured. Each quarter and town retains its traditions of the Katamanso war. Each chief and general led by personal example; when the army was on the attack stepping boldly into the midst of the enemy and exhorting the troops to fight bravely; when on the defensive, he urged resistance and stirred the men into furious action. The men of  Otublohum Dadebanaa (cutting edge)[14] under chief Ankra; those of Asere under chief Kwatei Kojo and Akotey Oworsika distinguished themselves among the Gá Mashi.
Of the resulting victory Sarbah stated:
“Some writers say that by this treaty [of 1831] the local rulers acknowledged British protection, but the same writers forget that the defeat suffered by the Asanti sovereign and his forces five years previously, at the battle of Dodowa, in 1826, was inflicted by the natives; for although the use of rockets and grapes turned the scale at the critical moment, there were not more than sixty white soldiers present in a force of 11,380 men.”[15]
Katamanso was the single greatest victory ever achieved on Ghanaian soil. The unequalled unity and collective organisation which accompanied preparation for the war made this possible; and for a long time afterwards the Katamanso spirit enabled the Gá-Dangme to enjoy political dominance. Thus Katamanso unleased a creative and organisational genius of the Gá-Dangme which had lain dormant for sometime; and which under an appropriate dzielor has manifested itself from time to time in Gá-Dangme history.
The Gá Manche acquired a new status as the unquestioned military leader of South-eastern Ghana; his position among the Gá and allied peoples remained matchless.[16] Africanus Horton noted that
“[T]he Ashantees..have, since the battle of Doodooah, regarded the Gás with a certain degree of fear.”[17] The Basel missionary, Elias Shrenk also informed the 1865 Parliamentary Select Committee that bitter experience had taught the Asantes never again to send an army into the Accra plains.[18]
The Katamanso War together with subsequent military expeditions led to an increase in the influence of the King of Accra across the South-East. In 1829 Mantse Ankrah of Dadebanaa, Otublohum led an expeditionary force into the Volta basin to resolve difficulties between the Akwamu and the Krepis and their allies. Mantse Ankrah’s troops were drawn from practically every state in the South-East save Krobo.
He started off at the head of a 15,000-strong army, with three one-pounder field pieces which were fired twice daily in unchallenged demonstration of King Tackie’s Kome’s authority across the South-Eastern province of the Gold Coast.[19] Mantse Ankrah’s forces engaged the enemy on several occasions, and returned to Accra with many captives, settling them in his village of Awudome to the North-West of Accra. A second expedition to the Volta area to assist the Agotimes was led by Kwatei Kojo with much less success on the field.[20]
With his military reputation firmly established, King Tackie Kome I spent much of the later part of his reign concentrating on the maintenance of peace and stability. Increasingly, too, dealings with Europeans were becoming problematic. The later part of the reign of Nii Tackie Kome’s witnessed the beginnings of organised resistance against European attempts at political control. With the enactment of the Poll Tax Ordinance in 1852 much of the smouldering anger at European activities on the coast statrted to coalesce around parties opposed to the Poll Tax.
Resistance against the Poll Tax was most spirited in the Eastern parts of Accra. Dubbed the Christiansborg Rebellion by Kimble,[21] the resistance actually centred on Labadi and Teshie; leaders from Osu and elsewhere converged on these two towns and swore to resist the Poll Tax. Anti-Poll Tax riots broke out during the Homowo festival of 1854 and discontent spread. Eventually, the towns of Labadi, Teshie and Christiansborg were bombarded. In retaliation the people, led by crack marksmen, attacked the castle. When Major Hill arrived at Accra to investigate he found several thousand armed men from towns across the South-East waving Danish flags and menacing the forts.[22]
There was intense opposition within Accra itself to the Poll Tax. A letter despatched by the King of Jamestown and allegedly signed by “a set of bankrupt rebels who infest that district” was written on paper decorated by the vignette of a war knife beside the letter W, written in a manner to suggest the word “war”.[23] Krobo was also affected. Civil war broke out in Krobo in 1858 when the chief of Yilo, described as a “palaverous” man refused to acknowledge the authority of Odonkor Azu, the King of Manya Krobo. The Yilo Krobo chief collected a band of rebels around him, and resisted the Poll Tax; the resistance was accompanied by a hold-up of palm oil.
    [1]Reindorf 1895, p. 98.
    [2]A tradition related to Reindorf by his cousin Philip Reindorf firmly connects Okaidja with the so-called Akyem party in Accra. He was said to be descended from Boa Ankama, king of Adanse. Okaidja and others, were according to this tradition, offered as hostages by the Akyem to secure supplies of ammunition.
    [3]Ibid. p. 110.
    [5]See Quaye 1972, pp. 223-233.
    [6]Ibid. p. 229.
    [7]Ibid. pp. 229-231.
    [8]Ibid. p. 197.
    [9]Boahen 19 …p 197.
    [10]Ibid. pp. 200-201.
    [11]Quaye 1972, p. 264.
    [12]Cf. pp. …-… above.
    [13]Reindorf 1895, p. 353.
    [14]From dadeba (Fanti): nail; naa (Gá): edge.
    [15]J.M. Sarbah, Fanti National Constitution, London 1968, p. 81. Cf. Claridge 1966, p. 389: “With the exception of the officers and sixty men of the Royal African Colonial Corps and the officers commanding the militia, all the men engaged were Africans. The white troops, moreover, were not engaged until the very end…Contrary to the general belief, therefore, the victory of Dodowa was undoubtedly a native victory.”
    [16]See e.g. Reindorf 1895, p. 347 referring to King Tackie Kome as “Abia Taki, king paramount” and putting him at the head of the list of Gá and allied sovereigns at Katamanso.
    [17]J. A. B. Horton, West African Countries and Peoples, London 1868, p. 136
    [18]See Parker 1995, p. 76.
    [19]Reindorf 1895, p. 254.
    [20]Ibid. pp. 306-310.
    [21]D. Kimble, A Political History of Ghana, London 1963, p. 179.
    [22]Ibid. p. 176.
    [23]Ibid. p. 180.

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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