The Komaland archaeological region is characterized by four main ethno-linguistic groups,
namely ‘Konni’ (Kankpeyeng et al 2013: 478; Kröger and Saibu 2010: 1), ‘Mampruli’ (Rattray
1932; Zakari 2010: 2), ‘Sisali’ (Swanepoel 2004, 2008: 12) and ‘Buli’ (Kröger 1982). The
people of Tando speak Mampruli, a language of the Mamprusi ethno-linguistic group. Mampruli
is one of the Mole-Dagbani languages spoken in parts of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo (Naden
1985). The ‘Mampru Sabli’ (Black Mampruli), spoken by the people of Tando, varies slightly
semantically, but genetically it is similar to the Mampruli spoken in other places of ‘Mamprugu’
such as Walewale, Gambaga, Nalerigu, Lengbinsi.
The ‘Mampruli’ and that of their close neighbors, namely, Koma, Bulsa and Sisala peoples
belong to the same sub-group of the Gur language. Studies have revealed that the Kingdom of
Mamprugu developed as early as 1475 AD (David 1987). The Koma Land archaeological
region is drained by the Sisili and Kulpawn rivers, with several streams that run dry in the dry
season (November to June). The area has been given the derogatory name ‘overseas’ due to its
poor road networks (Anquandah 1998:7) and intense floods from the Sisili and Kulpawn rivers,
tributaries of the White Volta River. These environmental complications make it impossible to
cross the rivers without a boat, and strictly limit the inhabitants’ movement during the rainy
Over the years, the Koma Land archaeological research has unraveled divergent material
culture with varied interpretations. Among these archaeological finds are terracotta figurines,
ceramic discs, potsherds, stones, daub, flora and fauna remain and tobacco/smoking pipes
(Anquandah 1998, 1987; Anquandah and Van Ham 1985; Kankpeyeng and Nkumbaan 2008,
2009; Zakari 2010: 30). From the 6th to the 12th century AD the ancient Koma culture flourished
in this region (Insoll et al 2012: 26), with their cultural adaptation sheathed in settlement mounds
and stone circle mounds (Anquandah 1998, 1987: 173-174; Anquandah and Van Ham 1985;
Kankpeyeng and Nkumbaan 2008, 2009; Zakari 2010: 30). The distinctive feature of the stone
circle mounds is that their makers are still unknown.
The approach to this archaeological study at Tando was eclectic; it involved archaeology, oral
tradition, ethno-history, geography and ethnography. Prior to the excavations, there was a
surface survey in the entire village of Tando. This employed a method known as spoked wheel
reconnaissance survey. Using this technique, a datum point was located and sampling units were
identified. These units were evenly arranged along eight (8) radiating transect lines positioned at
angles of 45 degrees. Four (4) workmen from the research team lined up at arm’s length and
walked from the datum point to the extreme fringes of Tando. The team did indeed collect
artifacts (terracotta figurines, tobacco pipes, stone implements and potsherds) and recorded
features (mounds) with a GPS unit. Previous archaeological studies in the village of
Yikpabongo, 9 km north-west of Tando, have brought to light two forms of mounds, namely
stone circle mounds (Anquandah 1998; Kankpeyeng and Nkumbaan 2008) and settlement
mounds (Kankpeyeng and Nkumbaan 2008). Like in Yikpabongo, the mounds in Tando were
also comprised of stone circle mounds and settlement mounds. Whereas the stone circle mounds
(whose makers are still unknown in the archaeological region) reveal evidence of terracotta
figurines, potsherds and stones or impressions of stones on their surface, the settlement mounds
have manifested pieces of local ceramics and daub on their surface and are believed to be
associated with the present-day peoples. Excavations were conducted on one of the settlement
mounds (N10̊ 11' 13.6" W001̊ 30' 46.4") at Tando. On the mound, two pits were dug measuring
2m x 2m and 3m x 1m (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Soil profile of the west
wall of trench 1
Overall, the excavations and surface collections of the reconnaissance survey uncovered 3702
potsherds, 38 terracotta figurines, 4 tobacco pipes and 15 stone implements representing 98.5%,
1%, 1% and 4% respectively of the total artifacts. The terracotta figurines have enriched our
Fig. 3. Impressions of cowrie shells
on a terracotta objects
Tando and its environs as a probable branch of a regional trade route during the
Trans-Saharan Trade between West Africa and North Africa. For instance, a terracotta ritual
object came to light with stamps of cowrie shells
(Fig. 3). The significance of these stamps has
been mentioned in the historical records of Medieval Islamic Sudan as products of export from
Sijilmasa to earlier states of West Africa such as Kumbi Saleh (ancient Ghana), Gao, Jenne,
Kouga and others (Anquandah 1998:78).
Whereas complete pieces of terracotta figurines were collected during the spoked wheel
reconnaissance survey, the excavations uncovered potsherds, stone objects, tobacco pipes and
other artifacts from the archaeological record. The figurines have no connection
with the present-day people of Tando, thus indicating that the sites at Tando
were culturally adapted to the savanna area of northern Ghana and were occupied
by different groups of peoples at different times. The works of art known to the
present-day people of Tando consist of wood carvings imitating shapes of the
ancient terracotta figurines. Some of the carved pieces are significantly tied
to the cosmologies of the Tando peoples, some of whom would periodically perform
sacrifices to serve the needs of cosmic powers. Among the ancient art objects recovered from the
archaeological survey at Tando were 7 complete figurines and 9 fragments. Ornaments are
common on Koma Land art objects, some of them referred to as symbols of good luck and others
capable of warding off evil, the former; concept of power and instrumentality that is abundant in
the product of wildness (Fig 4).
Fig. 4. Terracotta art object from
The tobacco pipes recovered from Tando were made of clay. They were examined based on
Ozanne’s (1962) chronological (rather than typological) classification of the tobacco pipes’
design. These pipes were established as locally manufactured products beginning in the 18th
century, a time when the people of Tando probably migrated from Kpikpirigu to their present
The decorations of pots recovered from Tando provided insight into trade networks and
technological evolution of the people of Tando and beyond. These decorative characteristics
were roulette, wavy impression, incision, perforation and punctuation. Some of these pots also
showed the attributes of multiple decorations (e.g. Punctuation with wavy impression and incision
with cord roulette). An observation of rim types, body types and base types of the pot sheds light
on their utilitarian functions. The pots or vessels from the archaeological record complemented
by ethnographic observation revealed evidence of their being used for cooking, carrying local
alcoholic beverages (dazio) from one point to another, water storage, eating and for ritual
practices (Fig. 6, 7, 8 and 9).
This study has provided insights into diverse cultural practices of the settlers of Tando through
time and their relationship to people across the archaeological region and the broader West
African Region. It has unraveled evidence attesting to how commercially-minded Mande-speaking traders travelled to the forest margins of Ghana for goods. The relevance of
and the decorations of the pots from Tando has broadened our understanding of contacts with other
neighboring groups in northern Ghana. The establishment of contacts in northern Ghana and
beyond has also enhanced our understanding of the spread of cultural tradition and identity
construction within the sub-region over time.
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