The Tengzug Shrine of the Talensi people

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The Talensi people of northern Ghana, are agriculturalist Gur-speaking people of the larger Gurune/Grunshie ethnic group living in the northern part of Ghana.

Part of the Gurune ethnolinguistic group now known as the Frafra cluster or Mabia family, the Talensi people are the famous amongst the Northern tribe when it comes to the study of anthropology in Ghana and the World. Their traditional ancestral worship revolves around the famous shrines hereby attracting many tourists across the world to come and study their culture and traditional beliefs.

Their location embraces most of the southern half of the district between the two Voltas and the western boundary. On the north it is demarcated only by an arbitrary boundary which extends in a wavy line from Zuarungu due east to the river. A typical section of the district, Taleland includes the Tongo Hills, the vicinity that harbours the oldest settlements of the country.”

It has been over time described as ‘parkland’, ‘savannah’, or ‘orchard bush’ country, terms which indicate the uniform forestation characteristic of this zone. Stretching irregularly and almost right across Africa, according to between the eight and the sixteenth parallels N. latitude, it merges into the Sahara on the north and is bounded by the tropical rain forest on the south.”

“The climate of the Sudanese Zone exhibits two defined seasons, a dry season lasting about half the year (October to March) and a wet season lasting the remaining six or seven months (April to October). A characteristic feature of the dry season is the harmattan, a hot parching wind laden with fine dust which blows from the Sahara, so strongly at times as to obscure the landscape in a haze which limits visibility to a few hundred yards.

History indicates that, the conquest states of Dagbon and Mamprugu lay to the south and those of the Mossi kingdoms to the North. By the time of European contact, the Talensi were settled group of people who grew ornamental plants, lacking a governing head. Tongo-Tengzug was recognized as an established site of sacred power with the arrival of colonial rule at the end of the nineteenth century. It was one of the last areas in Ghana to submit to British rule; only in 1911 did a British military expedition storm the hills and end the resistance.

The Talensi were evicted and access to the area banned. In 1915, the British found out that many people had clandestinely returned to the hills and a second assault was launched in the same year. By the 1920s many people had returned to the area because of its sacred power.

Talensi people speak the Talni language, which is a branch of the Gur language group of the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. Gurune, Nankani, Booni, Talni, and Nab’t together with some others are considered the major dialects of the Frafra people. However, Nab’t and Talni could also be considered dialects of Mampruli; Mampruli, Kusaal, and Dagaare are in turn considered to be sister languages to Gurune. There are obvious linguistic similarities among these and the other languages of the Mabia language group (Bodomo 1994; St. John-Parsons 1960).

Talensi history just follows that of their parent tribe, frafra. However, the oral traditions of the community at TongoTengzuk claim that their ancestors have always been there, or alternately, sprouted from the ground or descended from heaven (Gabrilopoulos 1995), as do the other indigenous Talensi living around the base of the hill. Those Talensi known as Namoos at Tongo, who are actually migrant Mamprusi, acknowledge the antiquity of the real Talensi living on the hill or at the foot of it, and affirm peaceful coexistence with their neighbours (Fortes 1945, Rattray 1932).

Talensi people are known for the following sacred beliefs.
It is required of tourists to be topless to observe one of their sacred rituals. With the smell of animal blood and feces bombarding their senses, man and woman alike must bare themselves to the sub-Saharan heat to enter the Tengzug Shrine in the Tongo Hills.

The rite of “sweeping” the patients with the white chicken. The bird is presented wings spread out for the “wife” to spit under the wing. Sweeping away Mansami’s evil Destiny.

Talensi people are also noted for their “Firstborns” showing special status in their tradition. “The reason for this strong emphasis on having a firstborn son or firstborn daughter is that a person can never achieve the fulfillment necessary to become a revered ancestor after death if he or she does not have children to carry on rituals.

The birth of a firstborn son or firstborn daughter makes a man truly mature and fulfilled, and it represents his ascendance to the highest position in the society.”(Fortes, Meyer (1969)

Fetishes protector of Tongo hills, north of Ghana. The secret of the magic Tongo hills north of Ghana: the village of Tengzug surrounded by fields of sorghum and sacred rocks and of holy shrines and meet Traditional priests, guardians of ancestral visit the cave where is kept a powerful fetish that attracts pilgrims from all over Ghana, need to discover the chest and go barefoot, before meeting the animist priest dressed traditionally with an animal skin.

The Tengzug shrine which is part of the shrines the people of Talensi hold dear to their traditions and one of the most famous in the region, was once a hideout for slaves evading their captors. Now, it is used more traditionally for religious animal sacrifices for good luck and to please the ancestors of the Talensis. With a guide, visitors can scale the rocks up to the Tengzug Shrine, remove their tops and witness the sacrifice of birds and chickens.

In the shrine, among the remnants of the recently sacrificed, visitors get a panoramic view of the region and the surreal world of the Tongo Hills. Giant Baobab trees and boulders define the dry landscape that draws both tourists and religious pilgrims. The Tongo Hills comprise only twenty square kilometers, but are richly packed with history, religious significance, and fantastic hiking.

Along with the many shrines tucked away in the rock formations of the area, the local population has rebuilt a number of classic Talensis homes. Shaped like cylinders and grouped into neighborhoods, the homes have miniature doorways, followed by a short wall inside the home that allows for protection from intruders. Other than the doorway and a few holes for smoke to exit the structure, they are completely closed off to the outside world.

The Tongo Hills where the shrine is located, gives visitors a window into the world of the Talensis, and visitors coming at the right times can experience one of the region’s vibrant festivals. In March, the Talensi celebrate the Golob Festival focusing on the sowing of the fields. The Bo’araam Festival in October and November includes drinking traditional beer and the sacrifice of donkeys, goats, and fowl.

The rock formations, caves and sweeping landscape of the Tongo Hills at Tengzug are enough reason to visit, but the village is also home to multiple shrines. The shrines draw people from across Ghana and neighboring countries who believe they have a sacred power to provide guidance and resolution of problems. Tengzug’s combination of natural beauty and cultural richness has resulted in it being short-listed for future consideration as a World Heritage Site by Unesco

Whispering rocks that adorn the area with its unique beauty are famous for its arrangement where one rock comfortably sits on another. The rocks are also known for making strange whistling sounds in November and December of every year.

The shrine is considered to be a resting place for the ancestors of the people of Talensis hence tourists are supposed to remove their shirts before entering the shrine. Once inside, sacrifices are made to the gods.
The rocks makes whistling sounds when hit by another stone during the Harmattan season in November and December.

The people in this area are not Christian or Muslim. Their religion is ‘traditional African’ and shrines, animal sacrifice, nature and symbolism all hold great importance. Many of their beliefs are very positive and mean people respect the environment. The Tengzug shrines are said to exert a great power of healing over those who visit.

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