A Drummer's Testament
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Chapter III-24:  How a Husband and Wife Separate   <PDF file>

How Dagbamba divorce; causes of divorce; examples of three divorces

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

Contents outline and links by paragraph  <top of page>


1.  Alhaji Ibrahim can speak from experience

Importance of knowing a woman before marriage

2.  men do not think before marrying a woman; does what he wants
3.  man should try to know the character of a woman
4.  important to know the parents; how Dagbamba find their wives

Lack of children

5.  stress and gossip if a couple is childless; from woman’s friends, not parents
6.  frustration leads to quarrels; separation begins

How the separation proceeds; wife returns to her family

7.  woman to her father’s family, husband will follow; she returns but further quarrels
8.  woman to her uncle; husband will follow; the separation is decided
9.  several month before collecting the wife’s things; then the separation becomes final
10.  children remain with father if they are walking; infants will return to father when they walk

Quarrels among wives:  jealousy

11.  when a new wife arrives, senior wife may become jealous and leave
12.  senior wife may abuse new wife; no blame if the new wife leaves
13.  husband needs to be strong and refuse to choose; threaten to divorce all of them

Quarrels among wives:  childbirth

14.  if a new wife gives birth, a childless wife may leave
15.  if senior wife with girl children and new wife with boys, senior wife may make medicine
16.  especially with chiefs and rich people; other wives will not like a wife who has boys
17.  some women with girls will leave on their own when new wife has boys
18.  the senior wife can put medicine in food to kill the boys or kill the new wife
19.  medicine can ruin a person’s life, so the new wife may leave the house
20.  the senior wife’s strength will overcome the love of the new wife and the husband
21.  the husband may send boys away to be raised, or he may divorce the senior wife
22.  wives cannot refuse each others’ food; they will fear to use medicine; other ways to repair it
23.  exception:  wife may like the one with boys, thinking she will also get that luck

Quarreling in a house

24.  too much quarreling, man will divorce all the wives; he has “bought his life”
25.  a house with constant quarreling is vulnerable to medicine and witchcraft
26.  story of a witch giving medicine; find people who “don’t want themselves”
27.  someone who quarrels “does not want” himself or herself

The response to jealousy

28.  new wife comes, refusal and bad examples from senior wife; husband has to complain
29.  sometimes the wives will use sense to live together better
30.  after husband talks, each wife will decide if she will leave the house or live with the other
31.  when wife leaves, husband should not mind whatever story she tells her family

Why a woman leaves a man

32.  the man can be at fault; a useless man can drive a woman away
33.  a woman can also leave on her own choice; counting the faults of the husband
34.  husband doesn’t care if the wife is sick
35.  husband does not greet the woman’s family
36.  husband does not perform funerals in woman’s family
37.  husband does not buy clothes for the wife
38.  husband tries to account for how the wife buys food
39.  husband becomes impotent; or woman does not want to sleep with man
40.  husband has bad habits the wife didn’t know; husband beats the wife
41.  husband has lied to court the woman
42.  cowives will abuse the woman
43.  husband’s mother doesn’t like the wife and will abuse her; doesn’t want to share
44.  some families are descended from slaves
45.  some women will leave if they find that the husband is from a slave family
46.  a family arranges a marriage, and one of the couple does not like the other

How Alhaji Ibrahim divorced three of his wives


47.  in mother’s house after giving birth; became pregnant by another man
48.  pregnancy from another man is dangerous to an unweaned child
49.  Alhaji Ibrahim sent people to the mother’s house, but Gurumpaɣa did not return to him
50.  Gurumpaɣa refused to return; the conversation about the pregnancy
51.  Alhaji Ibrahim went himself; they refused to identify the other man
52.  Alhaji Ibrahim brought a case against his in-laws in the chief’s court
53.  suing in-laws is unusual and against custom, especially if there has been birth
54.  Alhaji Ibrahim explained about the pregnancy; the court summoned Gurumpaɣa and her mother
55.  the court asked Gurumpaɣa’s mother about the pregnancy, and she refused to say
56.  Gurumpaɣa explained her relationship to the other man; he was joined to the suit
57.   how the court charged the mother and the other man
58.  the judgment and fines; Alhaji Ibrahim accepts the judgment of the court
59.  Alhaji Ibrahim sent people to end the marriage; later he collected his children from Gurumpaɣa, but not the other man’s child
60.  in Dagbon, a father can give his pregnant daughter to a chief; such children have spoiled chieftaincy


61.  continually quarreled with Alhaji Ibrahim’s other wife, Fati


62.  did not group herself with the other wives
63.  did not tell Alhaji Ibrahim about her uncle’s sickness and death
64.  ignored the other wives at the funeral
65.  Alhaji Ibrahim wrote a letter to Alima’s family to come for her
66.  her family collected her things; no one knew why
67.  did not visit her former cowife in hospital who was taking care of her children
68.  did not attend the cowife’s funeral; people understood
69.  why to confront or not confront someone who does bad to you; conclusion

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

If you haven’t done something before, and you want to talk about it, it will be difficult.

Everybody knows to his extent.

When it comes to taking a wife, a man is like a crocodile.  When a crocodile sees water, whether it knows the water or not, it will enter it.

When you see a horse standing somewhere, and the horse has thrown somebody down and come to stand there.  If you don’t ask and you come to take the horse, it will also throw you down.

If you see a horse standing in the bush, you should ask before you ride the horse.

The mouth that is washed, they don’t blame it.

If you have said something, you don’t deny it later.

Their noses will be smelling at one another.

If your wife runs away, you have to follow her legs.

You don’t take a woman and leave her things in another man’s house.

Somebody can die in all, and somebody can die and still be alive.

Health is everything,

Without health, you are a dead body.

To die is all is better than to die and still be alive.

If a man has wives and the women are dying in his house, it’s not sweet.

When somebody’s heart is removed, you cannot find it again.

It is the heart that is a human being, because where your heart points to, that is where you point to.

To us Dagbamba, and even to God, if you have women and they are as many as a hundred, if they all go out from your house in one day, it is better than if a woman dies in your house.

If a woman dies in your house, no one knows its pain, except you, and God.

You can take your friend’s dance, but don’t get the way of living of your friend.

Her mouth is sweet.

Not fearing trouble and not having sense, we take both of them to be one thing.

You take lies to find a women and you take truth to hold her.

However strong you are, if many people group against you, they will defeat you.

As for tradition, it doesn’t finish.

A family or a line doesn’t have anything to do with change.

There are no slaves again, but there are still lines of slaves; and those who bought them before, their lines are also there.

You don’t dig a hole for your dog, and the dog will sit down.

A snake will not lie down for you to compare its length with the length of a stick.

Sometimes you won’t want something but you will say you want it.

The river is full.

If there is a small pond by the side of a river, when the river is flooded, it will come and fill the small pond, and they won’t call the small pond by its name again; they call it by the name of the river.

If you want to see the ears of a snake, you will become tired.

If you have seen something yourself, it is better than if somebody had seen it and come to tell you.

If you’ve given birth to children with a woman, it shows that you have become family.

When you have eye sickness, you don’t have to tell anyone.

If somebody does something bad, and you see it because you are with the person, you may say something against him; by then, others who have not seen it will be finding your fault or talking against you until it comes to a time that everybody sees it.

If I am with somebody and the person does something bad to me, if I ask him about the thing, it means that our friendship is going to last.

It is because I want him and me to stay together that I will ask him.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Chiefs and elders
Naa Abilabila
Prophet Muhammad

Names and people
Abdulkadiri (Ibrahim)  (child of Alhaji Ibrahim and Alima)
Abibata (Ibrahim)   (child of Alhaji Ibrahim and Alima)
Alhassan  (a soldier)
Alima [Alimatu]  (wife of Alhaji Ibrahim)
Aliyu (Ibrahim)  (child of Alhaji Ibrahim and Alima)
Fatawu (Ibrahim)  (son of Alhaji Ibrahim and Marta)
Fati  (waljira of Alhaji Ibrahim)
Fatima (Ibrahim)  (child of Alhaji Ibrahim and Alima)
Gurumpaga  (Gurumpaɣa) (wife of Alhaji Ibrahim)
(Alhaji) Ibrahim
Maalam Ibrahim  (uncle of Alima)
Mahamadu (Ibrahim)  (child of Alhaji Ibrahim and Alima)
Zhenabu   (Ʒenabu) (wife of Alhaji Ibrahim)

Towns and places

Cultural groups
Gurunga  (Guruŋa)
Gurunsi, Gurunsis

Miscellaneous terms
cowife, cowives
mogli dibem  (mɔɣli dibɛm)