Thursday, 3 March 2011

Navrongo and Tongo

3 March 2011
Here in the Upper East Region of Ghana, there many villages which end with the letters ‘go’, e.g. Bongo, Kongo, Tongo, Navrongo, Gorogo, Yorogo and so on. In the last month we visited two places on two different weekends. First was Navrongo and the other was Tongo.
I went to Navrongo with one of my new friend, Rogier, whom I had met in one of the gatherings of the volunteers. Rogier works in one NGO in Bolgatanga and is from the Netherlands. This was my first time finding some non Indian travel buddy, about whom I had not known much before. In my first meeting with Rogier, I found him to be cool and much down to earth, so I thought that I might ask him if he was interested in joining me for the trip. He said that he was very much interested in it. It turned out that he was a really laid back person and we got along with each other very well.
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Me and Rogier
Navrongo is a town in the Upper East Region of Ghana and situated about 20 km from Bolgatanga, the regional capital. Navrongo is the head quarters for the district called Kassena Nankana West. Once Government of Ghana had planned to make it the regional capital but then it was dropped after a while. One of the advantages of that plan however, is that the town has some nice tree lined streets which is a rarity in this part of the world. Navrongo is also the headquarters for the catholic diocese and first Christian mission in northern part of Ghana was started here in the year 1906, when British had newly occupied this territory. It was lead by a Canadian missionary called Oscar Morin.
There is a cathedral is known as Cathedral of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. It is built by using elements of traditional and western architecture. There is also a small museum in the area, where various traditional artefacts and models of traditional houses and paintings are displayed.
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Cathedral of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
It was a completely hassle free trip and nothing exciting happened. We had a good time, which I think, is the most important.
My other tour was to a place called Tengzug. I had been planning for this tour for a long time. Tengzug is a small community near a district town called Tongo and there is no public transport that goes all the way to Tengzug and one has to walk from Tongo to Tengzug. There are only two options to reach Tengzug, either hire a taxi from Bolgatanga or walk from Tongo. I had preferred first option and that required the taxi to get full so that it would cost less per person. There were always some and other problems in getting four people willing to go to Tengzug at one time. One weekend when Tom and Nicki, a VSO volunteer couple based in Accra travelled up in the North and showed there interest in going to Tongo. It was a lucky day as I found Sadat, who works at Agriculture Department office in Bongo and drives taxi on the weekends. He took us to Tengzug while entertaining us with his wits and impressing us with the information he had about various places he had been in Ghana.
Tongo and Tenzug are important places for the people of Talensi tribe who inhabit the area. Talensi is one of few tribe in the northern part of Ghana, who offered some resistance to the British acquisition. Tengzug is developed as a community led tourism site with the help of Peace Corps. They have developed a conducted tour of the community which includes various sites such as the first school in the area, chief's palace, and its compound, various shrines, tombs of the chiefs, sacrificial caves and the most important shrine called Baar Tonnab Ya shrine. The sites are very near to each other and it took us about two hours to visit all these in the conducted tour of the place. There was a visitor centre, where we entered our names and paid our fees. The heavily built guide was trying to hurry up the things and was not allowing us enough time to really appreciate the things and take snaps of the places that were being showed to us.
For a person like me who has seen plenty of villages and slums in India, the first site of chief's compound was nothing remarkable as it was only a big area closed by a wall and inside the compound were very small houses built close to each other. There was one multi-storied structure which was called chief's palace. The area was not connected to the main electricity grid. The information about the whole community was something which made the site very interesting. The chief has 18 wives and 110 children. Each wife has a separate house within the compound and many of the sons have built their own houses within the compound. So it is a small village. Of course there are not much of resources in the area to live by and many of his sons have migrated.
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Chief’s Palace
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Chief’s compound

The community of Tengzug is famous as an important site for people who follow local beliefs. The people go there to seek solutions to their problems, which range from medical to financial. Sacrifices are offered and various rituals are performed almost every day. The community is full of so called shrines which are nothing but the sacrificial alters. The site is also popular in the people from southern part of Ghana. We were told that many pastors in the local churches, who claim to have powers to drive evil spirits, also visit the place to seek power.
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A shrine or Sacrificial Alter

There was one cave which was full of donkey skulls offered by the devotees. By the way, the donkeys are not wasted here when they become old. They are eaten and it is considered as a good meat. Here they believe that donkeys work very hard and if one eats donkey meat, one can become as tough and hard working as donkey. We visited the main shrine called Baar Tonnab Ya shrine. It was nothing more than a small cave with a pile of feathers of chicken and smears of Shea butter on the rock. It is famous with the tourists as topless shrine as people of both the sexes have to visit the shrine by keeping their body naked above waist and below knees. We boys went to shrine whereas the girls chose to remain behind.

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Donkey Skull

After finishing our visit to Tengzug, on our way back we stopped in Tongo for soft drinks at a place called Super Natural Drinking Spot. The name sounded very funny but it was in line with the local beliefs in the place for which it is famous.