A Drummer's Testament
<Home page>

Chapter II-8:  How Chiefs Judge Cases  <PDF file>>

The chief’s court in pre-colonial times; the naazoonima (chief’s friends); the role of the elders in cases; types of crime and the punishments; selling a bad person; witches and witchcraft cases; modern types of crime; comparison of chief’s courts and civil courts

Paragraph outline and links
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms

Contents outline by paragraph  <top of page>

The chief’s court and bad people

1.  formerly, before government courts,  chiefs judged cases in public in front of their houses
2.  types of bad people:  adulterers, thieves, fighters, debtors, witches
3.  the Naazoonima (chief’s friends) were like police; would arrest and detain a bad person

Types of judgments

4.  the judgment (eating the case):  bad person would pay money or would be sold
5.  the sold person would work for the one who paid the debt
6.  the person who buys a bad person was also bad
7.  differences in the crimes; from killing to kidnapping girls or eloping
8.  example:  sex with a betrothed girl; the father would bring the complaint; initial charges
9.  boy held at Wulana’s house; would be fined what the fiance had spent; could be sold
10.  farming and work would not pay the debt; the family would struggle to pay and free the boy

Example:  debt and indentured servitude

11.  chief can intercede for a debtor
12.  the creditor can refuse
13.  sometimes the debtor can work as laborer to pay the debt
14.  can deposit a child to work for the creditor; not the same as slavery
15.  selling a relative to get money to buy chieftaincy
16.  cannot get the person back until the debt is paid
17.  the pledged person might run away, but difficult
18.  could not run outside Dagbon; danger from animals and slavers
19.  sometimes could stay years indentured; sometimes freed

Whipping and other serious punishments

20.  for children of chiefs or tindanas; the barazim; how it was made
21.  for serious criminals like defrauders, also debt; olden days burned the hands
22.  a habitual thief could be shot with arrows; no case would be made


23.  witches not sold; driven from the town or sent to the buɣa, especially Naawuni
24.  can be identified by a victim before dying
25.  could confess and name accomplices; driven from the town, plus debt
26.  many witches sent to Gnaani; how they live there; taboos of the town
27.  if refuse to confess, would break fingers
28.  if no confession, chief will gather women; carry the dead body on a frame
29.  they will use the dead body to divine the witches
30.  the women pass by the dead body; the dead body kicks the witch
31.  they whip her until she identifies accomplices
32.  the witches are driven from the town; her people will also pay a debt; if no money could be killed
33.  women kill more than men; man who kills will be sold, but a woman is driven away

Modern courts under law

34.  modern times, the chiefs do not judge cases; cases go to the government court
35.  the relative of a witch will send the accuser to court
36.  some people accept that the woman is a witch; others go to court and charge the accuser
37.  the chief’s court both good and bad; chiefs use strength, not truth
38.  in modern times, more bad people in Dagbon; no deterrence as before

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

The place where no one knows you is the place where they take you to be a slave.

If somebody says he has refused, can you catch him and put him inside a tree trunk?

We want you to get the person who does not like you.  And if the one who doesn’t like you is a man or a woman, you should search for the one, and if it is the wish of God, enter the room.

I the chief and you people, we are too big for this town.  And so this town is not big enough for me and you.  You should search for your town.

The chief will say they will remove her from the town, and they should accompany her and leave her on the way.

It’s just as if a porcupine has hurt you and you want to knock it.  If you knock the porcupine, you will get more pain to add.

You see the truth:  you cannot say it.  That is strength.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Elders and titled persons
naazoo, naazoonima
Zogyuri-Naa  (Zoɣyuri-Naa)


Towns and places
Upper Volta

Cultural groups

Miscellaneous terms
gaa  [Diospyros mespiliformis Hochst ex A.DC.]
kogu  (koɣu)
shea butter
sogu  (soɣu)
takobu  (takɔbu)