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Trade Pilgrimage Routes of North-Western Ghana

Date of Submission: 17/01/2000
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ghana Museums and Monuments Board Government of the Republic of Ghana
Coordinates: Upper East, Northern and Brong Ahafo regions
Ref.: 1395

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The introduction of the camel in the 1st century AD by the Arab traders facilitated trade between North Africa and the Savannah belt. Peace, tranquility and prosperty in the area gave rise to emprires such as Ghana, Mali and Songhai. Invariably almost all the Arab traders were muslims who were bent on converting the people of the Sahara to Islam. As majority of the converts traded with their southern neighbours, they also tried to convert them as well. HISTORICAL BACKGROND OF THE MOSQUES The Sudanic style mosques in the north of Ghana are historical evidence of the Islamic diaspora that followed the rise of Sudanese states and mark the trade routes of the muslim Dyula traders who migrated southwards from Djenne across the savannah towards the gold and kola producting arears in the rainforests of southern Ghana. Following the Moroccan invasion of Songhai in 1591, and the sacking of Timbuktu and Gao, battalions of Mande warriors followed traders southwards. They conquered the indigenous people in the north-west among whom the Djula had been trading peacefully and established their rule. This penetration of Neo-Sudanese influence led to the formation of Islamic states such as Wala, Dagbong, Gonja and Mamprugu. Of these states the Sudanic style mosques are mostly concentrated in the Wala and Gonja states as these lay directly on the western routes used by the Mande warriors, Missionaries and traders. BUILDING TECHNIQUES OF MOSQUES OF GHANA The mosques are built of sun-dried mud bricks and have massive mud columns supporting flat roofs which consist of mud on frame works of bush poles. Short lengths of bush poles are buried into buttresses and left jutting out, and these help to give these mosques their characteristic appearance. Traditionally, the flat mud roofs are well made impervious by a mixture of cow-dung and laterite soil well rammed and provided with gentle slopes to drain off rain water. Deep slopes are provided for fast drainage of water from the roof. This type of structures obviously need constant attention to keep them in good state. To save these ancient examples of a unique architectural style from total disappearance, the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board has been making tremendous efforts through comprehensive maintenance and restoration programmes. TYPOLOGY The Islamic architectural style introduced into the country are of two types: Sudanic and the Djenne Types. SUDANIC TYPE: This has a timber frame structure supporting a flat roof of mud construction. It has a series of buttresses with pinnacles projecting above the parapet, and usually has two pointed towers. One of these towers is over the 'MIHRAB' which always faces the east (or Mecca) as is the case with all mosques. The tower contains the 'HALUWA' (a small room for meditation), and access to it is usually by means of steps leading from the interior of the mosque to the roof. Generally the Sudanic style mosque have bush pole re-inforcements which also serve as scaffolding during the building operation. Above the entrance lintels are triangular recesses, forming decorative features. In some places, the area surrounding the mosque is usually reserved for burial and the graves are marked by rocks. Sheep-skins and woven mats serve as pews or praying mats in the mosques. These are either rolled up or left spread in the mosque aÎter each prayer session. A receptacle is usually kept in the mosque to hold water for ablution. An example of the Sudanic style mosque is the one at Larabanga (described in detail later in this paper). DJENNE TYPE: The mosque at Wuriyanga near GARU in the Bawku district is an example of this architectural style. It is rectangular on plan and has no buttresses. Its' walls are load bearing with a flat mud roof surrounded by a parapet. There is only one tower which is over the 'MIHRAB', the HALUWA is in this tower and access to it is from the roof. The epitome of this type of Islamic architecture can be found in Djenne in the state of Mali, further north of Ghana.