Salt Mining in Daboya: A history forgotten but not lost

Daboya, located some 67 kilometres northwest of Tamale may not be a major household name in Ghana today, mostly due to the growth of commercial cities like Tamale and Wa in the northern part of Ghana. However over a century ago, Daboya was probably the most popular town in the Northern region famous for its mass production of salt and vibrant commercial activities.

Over a half of the salt consumption of Ghana in the 1700s and 1800s was supplied by Daboya as a majority of the women and men in the town were engaged in the salt mining business, making it one of the most active and commercially vibrant towns in Ghana.

Today, Daboya can no longer be regarded as the salt hub of Ghana. While salt is still mined and produced in the ancient town, it is in lesser quantity compared to centuries ago, and the salt production today is only meant for the local market and consumption.

The collapse of the Daboya salt market could be attributed to the desire for iodized and refined salt in the 21st century. The change in preference of Ghanaians resulted in the importation of granulated and refined salt from Europe, killing off the Daboya salt market which supplied unrefined salt in its natural state.

This, has however not stopped people from paying visits to the town to see the salt mining centres that once made Daboya a hugely successful commercial city in Ghana and West Africa.

The gradual decline of the salt business in Daboya gave way to another craft in the form of fabric weaving. Today, the town of Daboya is more famous for its hand woven traditional smocks than its production of salt. In fact, a majority of the fine hand woven smocks worn in the Northern region are produced in Daboya.

Daboya Weavers
Daboya Weavers

While the town is not the most visited in terms of tourism, Daboya has the potential to become a major tourism destination in Ghana considering its rich and storied history, coupled with historical sites such as salt mines and hand woven fabric centres. Daboya may be on the brink of being forgotten, but its rich history is not lost.

Short history of Daboya

Daboya, located some 67kilometres northwest of Tamale may not be a major household in Ghana today, mostly due to the growth of commercial cities like Tamale and Wa in the northern part of Ghana. However, over a century ago, Daboya was probably the most popular town in the Northern region famous for its mass production of salt and vibrant commercial activities

Over a half of the salt consumption of Ghana in the 1700s and 1800s was supplied by Daboya as a majority of the women and men in the town were engaged in the salt mining business, making it one of the most active and commercially vibrant towns in Ghana

Today, Daboya can no longer be regarded as the salt hub of Ghana. While salt is still mined and produced in the ancient town, it is in lesser quantity compared to centuries ago, and the salt production today is only meant for the local market and consumption.

The collapse of the Daboya salt market could be attributed to the desire for iodized and refined salt in the latter part of the 21st century. The change in preference of Ghanaians resulted in the importation of granulated and refined salt from Europe, killing off the Daboya salt market which supplied unrefined salt in its natural state.

This has, however, has not stopped people from paying a visit to the town to see the salt mining centres that once made Daboya a hugely successful commercial city in Ghana and West Africa.

The gradual decline of the salt business in Daboya gave way to another craft in the form of fabric weaving. Today, the town of Daboya is more famous for its hand-woven traditional smocks than its production of salt. In fact, a majority of the fine handwoven smocks worn in the Northern region are produced in Daboya.

While the town is not the most visited in terms of tourism, Daboya has the potential to become a major tourist destination in Ghana considering its rich and storied history, coupled with historical sites such as salt mines and had woven fabric centres. Daboya may be on the brink of being forgotten, but its rich history is not lost.

 

Who Founded Daboya?

Daboya, located in the Savannah Region of Ghana, was originally known as Burugu and was a very small and relatively unknown town.

The area was later conquered by the fearless Gonja ruler and warlord, Ndewura Jakpa who then made her daughter the chief and ruler of the town.

Her daughter who became known as Buruwuche meaning Chief of Burugu, is credited for taking Burugu, Daboya (formally Burugu) to greater height and also spearheading the development and popularity of the town in 1800 when it was at its peak.

The meaning of Daboya

Legends have it that Daboya was formally known as Burugu which simply means a well in the Dagomba language as the area had very good and clean water bodies where the people could drink from.

The area stretching all the way to the Western part of the White Volta River was conquered by famous Gonja ruler and warlord, Ndewura Jakpa who then placed the entire area under the leadership of her daughter who in turn became known as Buruwuche meaning Chief of Burugu.

According to the folktales, Buruwuche did a favour for a leper who visited the town and the leper gave her some instructions to follow which would result in her land becoming very prosperous. Buruwuche followed these instructions and the result was that the rivers and lands of the area became rich in salt mineral.

As years went by, Burugu became more and more prosperous due to the salt mining activities resulting in attacks by nearby Dagomba towns who wanted to take over Burugu and its salt mining business.

Fearing her people might be defeated and forced into slavery, Buruwuche went back to her father to seek for help in fighting off the Dagombas. It is claimed she took along some of the salt to give to his father and siblings and her siblings after tasting the fine salt exclaimed in Gonja ‘Nda peye bo anyie yea’ meaning ‘Our elder sister’s land has the best salt’. It is this Gonja exclamation that was shortened to become Daboya as we know today.

Daboya is in the Savannah Region of Ghana.