ZanGo, An Oral History


Was it not Bob Nesta Marley who said that ‘in this great future we cant forget our past’ but in Africa have we really delved into our past? The history of Africa has been shrouded in white diaries and ledgers and told to us by adventurers, traders, missionaries and colonial exploiters from the archives of libraries in Europe.  What have we done as a people for ourselves and the black race going through slavery , colonialism and now neo-colonialism.

I believe as individuals we should tell the stories as we know it and any time I hear a story  of African history I have tended to share it so the information doesn’t end with me but then I strive to leave it for posterity. Inasmuch as the young these days are not bothered about the history, at least the very few who bother to be conscious of their heritage should have the material to read and learn.

It is in this spirit that i learnt a valuable history lesson about how zongos came to be formed in Ghana on a social media platform. For using social media as a learning tool and to enhance personal knowledge and development that’s a whole article and course on its own.

A simple question as ‘where are the hausas from?’ generated this whole discourse that I am going to share with you and I pray you get enlightened as I was after I had read through the whole discussion.

In the beginning there were suggestions from people on the platform saying that the hausa came from Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroon, Chad and some even settled in Ghana. The consensus however was that the Hausa are the largest ethnic group and indeed scattered all over West Africa but some first settled in Prang in the Brong Ahafo region. It was revealed that the Hausa in Prang were brought in by the colonial governor as infantry to fight in the middle belt expansion wars with the Asante and therefore the Hausa spoken there is purer than that spoken in Accra.

The truth is that the Hausa as well as other tribes were in the Gold Coast before it gained independence to become Ghana. aside those that settled up north due to the Trans Saharan trade, others migrated down south to other parts of the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and then Accra as we know it now. They have therefore been in existence for over a century.

A tribe indeed does not necessarily have to be a permanent location in a country to be a citizen of that country. the colonialist scramble put borders on the ethnic groups that existed within Africa for example the Ewes were divided into ghana and Togoland, the Nzemas into Ghana and La Cote d’ivoire, the Chambas into the eastern parts of Northern region and Togo and the Mossi into parts of upper west and Burkina Faso. there are myriad examples all over Africa.

Inasmuch as all these tribes existed before independence and were in the country then, they are Ghanaian.

However where they settled became known as zongos and the question then arises how the name came about.

The word is actually ‘zan go’. it is a designated quarters for Hausa settlers. even in Northern Nigeria which is predominantly Muslim there are zangos which only refers to an area where the hausa people due to their conservatism in religion  and culture, like to keep a closely knit society.

It is said that the word ‘zan go’ is actually a combination of two words ‘zan’ which is Hausa for ‘i am’ and ‘go’ which denotes the action of going or to go. This came about as a result of the taxation put on the colonists by the British colonial masters after they brought in 700 Hausa soldiers from Northern Nigeria to form the Gold Coast Constabulary. The Hausa usually refused to pay the tax in the settlements they were given, therefore they moved out to form their own communities which meant  that if you didn’t pay the tax ‘then go’ literally. ‘mu kafa zango’ literally meant let’s set up a quarter for ourselves.

There are zangos all over and they mostly have names and especially in Accra we have places like Fadama, Sukura and Nima which has grown into a cosmopolitan potpurri of other ethnic groups so you wont really hear it being called a zango like it originally is.

Nima is not really seen as a zongo because the Hausa were not given a chance to dominate the place. Originally there was the Kador, a tribe from Burkina Faso and Mali who were dominant and then the Fulani too. the Gas gave Nima to the Futa family who were Fulani and then other tribes from Togo and Benin, the Chamba, the Kotokoli and others found it as a good entry point to serve the colonial masters and other high ranking officials  who lived in Kanda, Ridge and Cantonments. It was also a general entry point and suitable place to start when one wanted to work in the capital. life in Nima was accommodating from the people to general living in terms of living expenses. People easily get integrated into such communities and you are given all the necessary assistance as if you were part of the community. Such areas promote communal living .

Nima is known as Tunbin Giwa, The Belly of The Elephant because all the foreign tribes are found there and because they are predominantly Muslim the lingua franca is hausa and that is what passes it for a zango.

Later settlements like Madina and Ashaley Botwe came as a result of the attempt to decongest Nima because of the plague.

The formation of one of these zangos has an interesting history not far from most of the zongos that were formed in the colonial era and the case of Sabon zongo is a case study.

In the early 1905-1910 the foreigners settled in Old Accra, around the High Street, Cowlane (Fulani and Hausa tended cows, Fulani and Zamrama people were traders along the West African sub region) the Hausa traded kola from the hinterland through the Jamestown Port. there was a central imam in the community who was the ‘Leader of Muslims’ and after his death there arose a succession problem. Mallam Neinu, was a mallam from Sokoto, so a petition was sent to the colonialists who decided that to salvage the issues of succession each tribe should just have their own chief chosen by themselves.

The Hausa chose Kadiri English, the Yoruba already had \Braimah who was given a chieftaincy by the Ga Mashie mantse, and who later married a Tagbon lady with the family name Peregrino. The Peregrinos were freed slaves from Brazil who had settled in Jamestown. The Fulani chose their chief as well as the Zamramas so every ethnic group had a chief instead of one central mallam overlooking all the Muslims.

The unrest didn’t stop but however continued among the Hausa because they believed that Kadiri English, being a kola merchant and very rich had used his influence to get himself made the chief and hence there was rebellion. The Ga mashie stool decided to relocate the aggrieved Hausa people to a place several miles away from the zongo lane which was the first properly demarcated and mapped out zongo community. So they moved and the boundary was set right behind where korle bu hospital sits now right down to the International Central Gospel church premises now straight down for about a mile towards the present zongo junction and up towards Radio Gold premises.

The chieftain however didn’t stay put where he was at zongo lane but being of immense wealth and influence bought lands directly opposite the resettlement and called it Zango Tuta and designated a chief there.

Mallam Nenus son was brought to set up the Sabon Zongo which literally means new zongo because the old zongo in Accra still owed allegiance to the chief they were disgruntled against being kadir english.

This is why on Eid day the Hausa at zongo junction ride on horseback through Tudu  through Adabraka to High Streeet and go round where most of the chiefs will alight  and walk the streets of Cowlane and its environs followed by a large crowd of women and children amidst brass band and traditional music and just make merry until everyone went home.

It must be noted that most Hausa in Ghana are from Sokoto and the Hausa language  has been adulterated to suit the location. There is the original Kano /Kaduna version and the accents are different depending on the location and also social factors such as intermarriage in the communities the Hausa found themselves in.  It is said that there was even an attempt to learn Hausa amongst the constabulary ranks and that also degenerated into a kind of patois.

Hausa people are said to be very loyal and this the colonial British used to their utmost advantage and has been a legacy handed down politically such that in political expediency politicians tend to go to these zangos to pick up followers to do their bidding. However this and the communal nature I believe can be harnessed to develop such communities and improve the lives of more people that live in these communities.

Well, I have picked up a bit of oral tradition of the formation of zangos in Ghana and this enlightenment will be a key knowledge to share and know how to relate to the different ethnic groups and tribes that live in the zango communities not as negative people but as hard working people whose grandparents migrated here and they are as Ghanaian as any other Ghanaian from anywhere in Ghana.

Spread the word.

Like I always say it begins with YOU.
As told by Alhaji Rabiu Maude. 



one love marley


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