One vital thing I quickly had to learn in a hard way, which was peculiar with northern people was squatting – and I mean squatting to greet. I was born and bred in Ashaiman – Accra that is the society I am well accustomed to. I am a proud Ashtown boy and that can’t be taken away from me lol. By the way, my name is Maani Iddrisu, a dagbani by tribe yet still struggling to convince people that I am due to my strange accent when speaking it.
At age eight, I quite remember whenever strangers or a distant family member travels from the northern part of the country to visit us in Accra. After sharing memorable pleasantries with Alhaj – my father. Alhaji will call for me to come and squat right in front of the stranger as a traditional and respectful way of greeting. Most of the time they will tell me “AYab Naa kuna nti ko” (your grandfather says come home to farm), “Apaga naa kuna nti ning o amaria” (Your grandmother says come home to marry her), I will be perplexed as to what was the meaning of apaga,? Ayaba? Until I was told that apaga means your grandmother and ayaba means your grandfather.
Those frequent visits hinted the idea that we had a family somewhere, in fact a much extended one. “We had a home far in the north, it is called Dagbong that is where we came from.” Mma Sanatu will often jovially say “ if you step foot in the north , you will be served with saakurrilli (old tuo zafi) and Mankuuni (a particular green powdered leave soup), every morning you will be sent to puuni (farm) to work every day from dawn to dusk”.
Nonetheless, my first time of coming to the north was when I gained an admission to Zion senior school after completing my junior high school, a newly established catholic school located in the heart of Tamale behind former panga naa building.
I found life difficult at the beginning because I had to learn a whole new ways of doing things at that stage. I learnt quickly when to squat and greet lol, in order to remove the hidden tag on me that I was arrogant and disrespectful. Since then squatting has become a part and parcel of me. I had to learn not to use certain expressions and words that I use comfortably in Accra, my way of dressing was another issue, to the extent that my way of eating and handling money were questioned and rebuked. In fact I was welcomed in the hard way and I also learnt to fit in the hard way.
Later in life I realized that was because I was staying with my extended family, my experience was similar to those who just moved back and staying with their families. They were trying to imbibe the northern lifestyle in me, and I appreciate it today.
As a Dagbani our ways of greetings is done by squatting or lowering one’s height in some situations – the most important sign, then accompanied with the saying “Dasiba”; Good Morning, “Antire”; Good afternoon, “Aninwula”; Good Evening. Greetings accompanied by a hand shake are meant for people of the same peers. In Dagbong tradition, it is regarded as a sign of disrespect when a young person greets an elderly one by a handshake or while standing. Greetings is a sign of having a good moral upbringing. For someone to ignore greetings, it shows an insult and disrespect.
Many northerners migrated to the southern parts of Ghana as a result of poor agricultural conditions, to trade, in few cases as a result of chieftaincy and tribal disputes. The savannah has one farming season in a year-round, followed by a severe dry season. Hence, most migrate to the southern part of the country to engage in all forms of agricultural and economic activities such as selling of metal scrubs, working on cocoa farms, butchering, blacksmith, head porters “kayayo” etc.
As a result many northern families are formed and indoctrinated in the southern part of the country, migrants marry each other and settle there with their nuclear family. In some scenarios there are inter-ethnic marriages between the northern tribes and the southern tribes. In my case both parents are northerners and Dagbani and my father happens to be among the numerous northerners who migrated from northern Ghana to the southern belt in search of greener pastures, hoping that one day they will come back home.
Alhaji’s pride was to see me grow in the north under the care of a family relative to be fully equipped with the northern culture and traditions. His first attempt was in early 2003 where he wished I had continued my primary education there but my mother insisted saying that “Anku zang o koli yeng , o yen di la wahala, zung dunia so be lan yundi sobia”(He will suffer if you take him back home for in this modern world no one takes care of another’s child).
I finally moved back in 2010 and I am still staying in Tamale. This is a lifestyle similar to many northerners that I hope to continue very soon… sit tight for more.