Friday, February 20, 2015



One of the major and most conspicuous features of Dagomba society is chieftaincy. There has been a line of paramount chiefs that stretches back to the days of Naa Nyagsi, the son of Sitobu. Their system of chieftancy is ver
y hierarchical, with the Yaa-Naa, or paramount chief, at its head and a tiered system of rulers below him. In Dagbon, chiefs traditionally sit on a stack of skins. For this reason, when a person assumes a chief position, they are said to have been "skinned," rather than enthroned. As an example, to say that so-and-so is "sitting on the Savelugu skin" means that the person is chief of the town called Savelugu.
Chieftaincies are generally associated with towns or villages and are categorized by who is eligible for them. Staniland outlines 5 levels of chieftaincy, the first four of which he labels "royal" chieftaincies. Royal chieftaincies are only available to those who can trace themselves through the male line back to Naa Nyagsi. If a man is not appointed to one of the royal chieftaincies, his descendants lose their royal status. The first group of chieftaincies is reserved for the sons of Yaa-Naas. The second group of chieftaincies is for grandsons of Yaa-Naas. The third group is reserved for daughters of Yaa-Naas. The fourth group is for sons of the sisters of Yaa-Naas. The fifth group, which are not considered "royal," are for court elders. These often have some specific responsibility attached to them. For example, the chief of Tolon is traditionally the head of the Dagbon's cavalry.

Chiefs are generally chosen by the Yaa-Naa who is aided by a council  of elders situated in Yendi, or in the case of smaller town chieftaincies by the divisional chief above him. The Yaa-Naa is chosen by a set of elders and chiefs from around the kingdom, referred to as the kingmakers. Because a person's ability to become chief depends on the level achieved by their father, competitions for certain chieftaincies can become very fierce. Something else that contributes to the intensity of this competition Dagomba society is polygynous. As powerful men, chiefs tend to have many wives. As a result, a chief can die with a large number of surviving siblings, children, and nephews, all of whom have a vested interest in who ascends to that position. Once a man dies without having reached a certain position, his line becomes ineligible for that post and his descendants lose some of their status. This has the potential to generate immense conflict when it comes time to skin a new chief and often does.
Many of the history stories on this site deal with how specific men came to sit on their skins. The proverbs attached to these dance-drumming compositions are often warnings to would-be challengers of these chiefs. They have demonstrated their power by attaining their position, and to go up against them would be considered foolish for most men to attempt.

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