Hometown Watch: Stunning Salaga

Townhouse Exterior of Kai Villas by Clifton Homes

Ever tried to trace your heritage? Wondered what fables traditional griots spread about the Ga, Gonja, Ashanti, Zulu, Yoruba, Ibo, Fante; or what history books captured about being African, European or American? Well I have, I am a Gonja girl and this is my story…

Being Gonja to me means I am from the town of Salaga, capital of the East Gonja district in the Northern Region of Ghana. The amazing thing is, the Salaga people are known for their hospitality, which traces back to the reason behind its name and existence.  A Nanumban Prince named Wumbei used to hunt close to Bopelani (now Salaga) where he eventually made it his home. When it was time for him to be crowned chief of his original homeland, he refused to return home, saying in his native language “N Salgi ya” meaning “I am used to this place”.  Hence the place became known as “Salga” in its local dialect from the Dagomba word “Salgi” meaning “to get used to a place of residence” and eventually Salaga.

In all of its warmth and hospitality, it’s rather disheartening that the town of Salaga is most famous for its prominent contribution to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Salaga was a major market center in the 18th and 19th centuries and traded in a variety of items including kola, beads, textiles, gold, animal hides, ostrich feathers, but to mention a few.  The Ashanti Kingdom however claimed jurisdiction of Salaga and controlled most of the trade between the north and the south and ultimately took charge of the then lucrative slave trade business.

Slaves were bartered for kola nuts, gold, cowries, European drinks, etc. and were transported to the Americas and Arab countries to be sold.

Today the Salaga slave trade market serves as a tourist site as well as a functional part of the town and its history. It still has some unique features such as the baobab tree in the middle of the market, which served as a cemetery for the slaves who died in the course of the trade and were dumped under its roots. The existing baobab tree is however a replacement of the original tree to which slaves were chained and displayed as ‘goods’ for sale.

Historical sites displaying shackles, chains, and guns used to carry out slave trade can be viewed at the market and the traders used two rooms that still stand in the market for official duties.

In addition one can visit a pond called “Wonkan Baura” which in Hausa means “the bathing place of slaves” which is also a historical site.

 

Currently the palace of the paramount chief of Kpembe is located within the market as well as the slave trade market primary school. Slave residences and other transport houses have also been abolished and replaced with residential property, but there are still a few sites of the slave market for viewing.

Earlier housing styles in the region were mainly mud huts, where the houses were built with mud and in a smoothed and circular form and then roofed with straw or dried leaves. This eventually advanced into enhanced roofing using old worn-out roofing sheets.  Currently however, buildings and housing in Salaga have been given a modern touch, with concrete exteriors, plastering and painted roofing sheets, just to name a few.  However some of the old style mud houses still exist in the area.

I gathered that the Salaga people are mostly immigrants from foreign areas and it is a town with a population of different ethnic groups. The Gonja ethnicity is an accumulation of many distinctive groups who comprised of a civil entity and who created their own language derived from the Guan language.  Also, owing to the diverse heritage of the slaves who converged in Salaga, there is an interesting mix of ethnicities and the people of Salaga have no distinct tribal marks of their own.

Slave trade is long gone now, and Salaga is still known for its hospitality and commercial trade of Shea butter, yams, grains, sesame seeds and not people.

I’ve always known where I come from but never really knew the depth of my heritage.  At least today, I can say I know my roots and truly boast as a proud Gonja girl!!!

To You: What has been the most fascinating discovery about your heritage and homeland?

Word of the day: Salgi…to get used to a place of abode.

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