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Origin of the Mossi Kingdom
The legendary origin of the Mossi Empire

Here's how the French historian Robert Cornevin explained the legendary origin of the Mossi and the creation of Tenkodogo, the cradle of the empire:

“In the thirteenth century the Dagomba, the Mamproussi and the Nankana, are ruled by a powerful leader Nedega, whose capital is then located at Gambaga (north of present-day Ghana). His daughter Poko (Yenenga) is distinguished by her Amazon like qualities. One day when her horse leads her too far into the forest, she is rescued by an elephant hunter named Riale, probably Boussansé and traditionally of royal origin. He wins the hand of Yenenga and takes her to live in the forest near Bouti.

The region of Gambaga is then overpopulated, the son of Yenenga named Ouedraogo (the stallion), in memory of the way his parents met, is a natural leader of the young people. He will found Tenkodogo, contracted form of Tenga Kodogo (old earth), where he has many sons ...”

Ouedraogo, “the Stallion”

On attaining adulthood, Ouedraogo left Gambaga to settle further north in Tenkodogo the “old land”, and founded a new dynasty. For the Mossi, this small town, south-east of Ouagadougou, is still revered as the cradle of the powerful Mossi Empire. The solid centralized political organization of the empire and its army of horsemen enabled it to dominate the entire region.

The children of Ouedraogo namely, Zoungrana who succeeded him to the throne of Tenkodogo, another, Rawa, went to the north and founded the Kingdom of Zandoma (later integrated with Yatenga). As for Lompo Diaba, he settled in Pama to the east of Tenkodogo, and founded the Kingdom of Gourma. Oubri, a direct descendant of Zoungrana, left with a strong army under his command for the conquest of other territories to the west. He attacked Kombentinga, “the land of warriors”, the capital of Nyonnyonsé and Gourousi people; the first inhabitants of Burkina Faso. It fell under the Moagha domination after heavy fighting. Determined to make it the capital of his new fiefdom, he renamed it Wogdo, “come honor me” (which became Ouagadougou) and proclaimed himself as Moogho Naba (Leader of the Mossi Empire), creating the first royal dynasty of Oubritenga, “land of Oubri”. He later shared his kingdom by giving a block to each of his three hundred and thirty-three descendants. The early Mossi kingdoms of Tenkodogo, Ouagadougou (Oubritenga) and Gourma were therefore created in the fifteenth century.

Organization of the Mossi Empire

At the top of the hierarchy was the Emperor: the Mogho Naba, a symbol of the sun, he was revered as a God. Elected by senior dignitaries of the court, he was chosen from among the descendants of Oubri. Infact, the Kingdom of Oubritenga immediately took ascendance over all other Mossi kingdoms. Power was concentrated in the hands of the emperor, who was at the same time head of armies, supreme judge and the general collector of taxes and levies. As for the empire, it consisted of kingdoms divided into provinces, which were subdivided into fiefdoms, each comprising several villages.

At the beginning of the last century, the French historian Tauxier notes: “The Mossi Empire was centralized. The infighting that often take place among other Black peoples, from village to village, district to district, and even soukala to soukala, did not exist in the case of the Mossi. So there was peace and internal security. In addition, the centralized power, which prevented anarchy, preserved the country from devastation by conquerors of fortune. Thus, while Djermabé plundered the Gourounsi country (...), they dared not attack the Mossi whose neighbours they were, fearing the ten thousand horsemen of Mogho Naba: domestic tranquility and external tranquility was assured (...). On entering the Mossi country one was struck by the absolute security in which people lived, while elsewhere war and the hunt for slaves left the villages desolate. And one noted with envy the Mossi peasants traveling alone to their fields, pickaxe on their shoulder, while elsewhere, the head of the family should have, night and day his weapons at hand ...”

The Kingdom of Yatenga

In the XIV century, when the first Mossi kingdoms flourished in peace, two brothers claimed to succeed their father, Naba Nassébiri of Ouagadougou. Koumdoumyé won the throne after he ousted his brother Yadega. The latter left Oubritenga and moved to Gourcy between Ouahigouya and Yako, in a samo village. From Gourcy, he began to conquer neighboring villages. His descendants
continued expansion of this territory which became the Kingdom of Yatenga.

In 1757, after three years of exile, Naba Kango, the ousted legitimate heir to the throne, reconquered the Yatenga as the head of bambara, bwaba and samos mercenaries. When he no longer needed their services, he simply eliminated his bambara mercenaries. Naba Kango Yatenga ruled as the absolute monarch for thirty years, struggling against robbery and a rebellious aristocracy. He managed to reinstall peace in the country, created a new Capital of Yatenga which he named Ouahigouya “come and bow down before me”.

However, Yatenga was soon divided by dynastic conflicts, and by the Peul invasions. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the kingdom of Risyma was annexed to Yatenga by Naba Yembe. Starting from 1877, the internal wars between members of the royal family escalated. Following a dispute with one of his cousins, Prince Bangrey, Naba Baongo, who reigned from 1885 to 1894, eventually had to seek the support of Captain Français Destenave. The latter who was a fine strategist, waited patiently for the opportunity to intervene. Naba Baongo was killed in combat and Prince Bangrey proclaimed himself king of Yatenga under the name Naba Bully. Threatened by other princes, he took refuge with Captain Destenave and signed a protectorate treaty with France on 18 May 1895. In the eyes of the people of Yatenga, this alliance was seen as a betrayal. Naba Bully was chased and a period of ten years of trouble followed. Calm returned only with Naba Ligidi’s accession to the throne.

The Gourma Kingdom

The roots of Gourma people are confused with the history of the Mossé of Gambaga and the creation of the Kingdom of Gourma (Biongo for Mossé) by Diaba Lumpo. Naba Lumpo conquered the regions to the east of Tenkodogo, occupied by unorganized populations that he united under his authority because of their common language, the Gourmantche. Very quickly, he proclaimed the independence of his kingdom. Thereafter, the Gourma, like the Mossé, conquered a large part of the current Burkina Faso. They still managed to repulse the neighboring peoples: Tyokosi, Peul, Hausa, Tomba, etc ... The Askia Ishaq, the last ruler of the Songhai Empire, even came to seek asylum from the Naba of the Gourma, even though he had repeatedly ravaged his country!

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Gourma country's capital, Pama, was transferred to Noungou (Fada N'Gourma). The kingdom was divided into provinces headed by chieftains who were under the Naba of Noungou. In the early nineteenth century, despite a rigid and well established hierarchical system, discord divided the descendants of the Naba of Noungou. There followed a century of anarchy.

In 1892, Naba Yentugury was murdered by his own brother, Batchande, who was expelled from the capital. After three years of exile, Naba Batchande allied himself with the French under Captain Decoeur with whom he signed a protectorate treaty on 20 January 1895. In return the French permanently rid him of his rivals. Naba
Batchande became the sole king of the Gourrma, but was submissive to France.

Between the Nazinon and the Mouhoun

Permanently threatened by the Peul of the Gondo plain, the Mossé of Yatenga and Dafing of Sourou, the Samo could still maintain their independence without giving up their social organization as autonomous villages. On the western shore of Sourou, the Peul of Barani threatened the Dafing in the north while the Peul of Dokwi pressurised the bwaba of the Mouhoun loop. Further south, the said “Gurunsi” population (Ko, Sisal, Lela, Nuna, Kassena) submitted to the moaga influence and still managed to maintain their independence. In 1872, Zerma warriors, mercenaries in the service of Dagomba sovereigns, penetrated into “Gurunsi” country. Their leader, Bahatu very quickly spread his authority over a vast territory. But from 1885, after a failure in the bwa country, the Zerma expansion stalled. The Zerma were finally defeated by the French in 1897.  



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