ORIGIN OF THE GA-SPEAKING PEOPLE
The origin of the Ga-speaking ethnic groups from the early Sixteenth Century in the then Gold Coast has been a subject of controversy, since various scholars have given different versions of their migration stories. Most of these narrations are based on oral traditions, myths, legends, folklores, music, religious songs and many other sources; including archaeological findings.
Reindorf (1895, p.18) in tracing the origin of the Ga indicates that F. Romer, a Dutch resident of the Christiansborg in about the middle of the Eighteenth Century states, “that the Gold Coast was once part of the western division of the territory of the Emperor of Benin.” To buttress this point, Romer further argues that, “the insignia of the kings of the Akras were like those used in Benin, and most of their religious ceremonies, e.g. killing the sacrificial animals with sharp stones instead of knives, in order not to avoid defiling them, were also used in Akra.”
Corroborating Romer’s assertion, Henderson-Quartey (2001), citing from the work of Bruce-Myers (1927, pp.70-72) quoted him as saying, “the Gas came all the way from the central part of the Continent…and they are kinsmen to the Benins, who by their own choice, kept back in the course of the migration.” This gives credence to the assumption that the Ga ethnic groups were once part of the people of Benin from the mid-western part of Nigeria. Existing traditional accounts of the origin of the Ga according to Reindorf, indicates that the ancestors of the tribes of Akras, Late, Obutu and Mowure are said to have emigrated from the sea, arriving at the coast tribe after tribe.” These tribes he believe arrived together with the Adangbes either from Tetetutu or from Samè, located beyond the Volta in the east, and situated between two rivers.
Ga women of Accra carrying the effigies of their ancestral gods in a form of Sankofa bird
Field (1937, p.142) associating with Reindorf noted that the Ga speaking emigrants began to arrive and settle among the lagoon-worshipping Kpéshi aborigines probably at the end of the sixteenth century. She argued that these were emigrant refugee families of the Ga Boni, Ga Wo, Ga Mashie and the Obutu fleeing in separate parties from Tetetutu and other Benin parts, probably travelling along the beach, and eventually settled along the coastlines of the Gulf of Guinea, in the Greater Accra region. Henderson-Quartey on his part noted that the Ga Mashi, Ga Wo, and the Ga Boni in association with some Guan groups having formed part of the emigrants that re-grouped at Tetetutu, crossed over from the east of the Volta into the Accra Plains.
On the contrary, Amartey (1991, pp.13-14) narrating from oral traditions or folkloric sources gave a different version of the migration story of the Ga in Gamashie Ashikwei (Origin of the Ga). According to him, historically, the Ga of Ghana were believed to have once lived along the eastern part of the banks of the River Nile during the reign of Thothmes II, the then Pharaoh of Egypt, circa 1700 –1250 BCE. This was at the time when the Israelites had settled on the land of Goshen, from the eastern part of the River Nile to its estuary. He postulates that the Ga were part of the Nubians that left Egypt after being freed from slavery by the then Pharaoh Amenhotep II.
Unlike other scholars and historians, Amartey tracing the itinerary of the Nubians indicted that this group separated into the Ethiopian and Ga ethnic groups after they had left Egypt, with each group following different direction. The Ga-speaking ethnic groups which consists of the Wo Kpele, Wo Krowor, Wo Doku and Wo Sagba were supposed to have travelled the south-western route by following the Ghazal and Jebe creeks, and the River Ubangi which eventually led them to Boma; a town in Congo (presently D. R. Congo).
There they sojourn for some time, before moving on to the Boni Island in the Niger Delta Basin. He further posits that while in Nigeria, these groups once again separated, with one part moving west to the land of the ancient Benins, while the rest moved north-west to Ife in the Yoruba land. He then traced their movements from Nigeria through Dahomey (now Republic of Benin) and to Togo where they settled at Aneho, before eventually moving on to their present locations in the then Gold Coast.
Even though these narratives of the origin of the Ga-speaking people depended mainly on the generics of oral traditions, legends, etc: it is obvious that names of certain places such as Tetetutu, Benin, Boni, Boma, Samè or Seme, Aneho and others have featured prominently in the migration stories of most scholars of Ga history. These assertions has been corroborated by people of other ethnic groups such as the Adangbe, Ada, Krobo and Ewe speakers who were fellow emigrants of the Ga groups in their journeys from Benin in Nigeria through Aneho in Togo, and finally to their present locations in modern Ghana.
Commenting on the above assertions, Field (1937, p.72) intimates that, “when the Ga-speaking emigrants arrived in the Gold Coast, neither they nor the aborigines had any military organization and since they were all farmers, the newcomers settled peaceably among them wherever there was a vacant territory. However, because much of the land was of thick bush inhabited by wild and dangerous animals, hunters who opened up tracts of these forests were recognized as owners of such places.”
Consequently, these extended family groups comprising of both emigrants and aborigines either through intermarriages or through assimilation, formed settlements that lived by farming and to some extent hunting. In order to protect themselves from slave raiding that has become rife, these settlements which were threatened with extinction, had to combine forces to establish towns for mutual protection; and the setting up of military organizations to fight off these invaders.
Stride and Ifeka (1971, p.203) while corroborating these assertions of Field, further noted that it was at the end of the Fifteenth Century that the social organizations of the Ga towns began to change. This in their view began with the establishment of a more centralized administration system, and military companies (Asafoi) under captains (Asafoiatsemei) that played prominent and important roles in the maintenance of law and order, as well as governance of these towns.
Ga is the derivation of Gaga (soldier ants) which according to Reindorf (1895, p.24) is the names of the big black ants which bites severely and are dangerous to the white ants. However, he noted that the natives called themselves Loeiabii (children of Loei). Of course, Loei is a Ga name for another species of dark brown ants, which meanders about in great swarms; invading houses, killing and devouring everything in their way. These marauding ants known to the Akans as ‘nkrang”, and whose aggressive nature were attributed to the powerful wandering Ga emigrant tribes; easily subdued other tribes as well as the Guans who were the aborigines of the land. This was the name ascribed to the Ga-speaking tribes due to their prowess and bravery in warfare, and the Portuguese due to their difficulty in pronunciation later on corrupted it to Akra (Accra).