NaJeringa Defense Wall

Built in the mid-1700s by a legendary Mamprusi king to defend the capital of Nalerigu, the ruins of this wall still stand today.

Often (incorrectly?) called Nalerigu’s “Slave Defense Wall,” there is a lot of mystery and myth surrounding why and how it was built.

History of the Nalerigu Defense Wall

NaJeringa (Naa Gyɛriŋŋa) was a Mamprusi king who reigned around 1740-1752. [1] He was the son of NaAtabia (Naa Atabiya) who is known for moving the chieftaincy from Gambaga to Nalerigu. [2]

At some point after his enskinment in the mid-18th century, NaJeringa commenced this massive project to build a wall around the western side of Nalerigu. It is said to have been originally 11 feet high, though now what remains is about 6 feet at its highest point.

We don’t know for sure why NaJeringa built the Nalerigu wall, but there are a few theories:

  • It was a defensive wall to fortify the capital of Nalerigu due to civil wars. NaJeringa’s father Atabia had reigned for 50 years and fought many wars. [1]
  • It was built to keep out hyenas. [3]
  • NaJeringa built it so that his name would be remembered because his only son had only one eye and was therefore disqualified from becoming a king. [4]
  • It was a defensive wall against slave raiders. [5]

The Legend of the Wall

Nalerigu Defense Wall

In addition to the legend of the king’s lineage being unable to continue due to his only son’s missing eye, there are some other mythical stories about the wall.

While it is made of mud and gravel, some people claim that shea butter, honey, milk [2, 4], or even pito (local beer) [3] were added to the mixture as binding agents.

It is also said that wall was built by forced labor. Anyone who refused to work or because tired or ill during its construction was executed and their body was added to the wall. [2]

Visiting the Wall

The NaJeringa Wall is easy and free to visit. It is located just off to the right of the main road into Nalerigu on the west side of the town’s reservoir. There is no physical sign marking it but it can be found on Google Maps. It is located among an orchard of mango trees which were planted around it in recent decades to prevent erosion.

Please do not climb on or break pieces off of the wall. It is very old and in a fragile state!


Discrepancies in Dating the Nalerigu Defense Wall

One will often see information about the Nalerigu Defense Wall being built in the 16th century. This dating is based on an estimate that was made by Dr. Oliver Davies in the 1960s. [6] At the time there had been 18 kings since NaJeringa and he had estimated its age based on an average reign of 20 years (360 years).

However, there were several paramount chiefs in the 20th century that reigned for very short periods of time thus making his estimate inaccurate. Even R. S. Rattray noted that he met a man in Gambaga who had been alive through seven paramount chiefs whose reigns only spanned 65-80 years [3] (page 458). That’s a much lower average reign.

Additionally, historians have written evidence that NaAtabia died in Nalerigu in 1741, which means his successor NaJeringa would have taken the skins around 1742. [7]

Mampruli Resources

Oral Tradition

NaJeringa’s throne name means “viper” (gyɛriŋŋa), a particularly aggressive and venomous snake that will hiss and puff itself up when agitated. There is a Mampruli poem that children are taught to remember the story of NaJeringa. This poem reinforces the war theory as well as the legend that NaJeringa wanted his name to be remembered.

Gyɛrimbeaa fuusiya sɔkpaŋŋa.
Ka sufu du tisi ka napɔnkpaasi du taaba.
Nini nyaya ka niŋŋa kpi zuga.

Tɔptuusiriba ŋmɛ n-kpɛ na,
N-nya goomni n yɛnni zoori
Gyɛriŋŋbeaa ka’ali soori.
Doo kuli ya ka u yuuri ku bɔrigi.
Wicked viper puffed by the road.
The heart rises and the heels jump together.
The eyes see and the body goes limp.

Warriors fought and came
And saw the wall and said it was a mountain.
The wicked viper had blocked the way.
The man has gone home but his name will not be lost.

Excerpt from Salifu Wundow’s “Mamprusi Beginnings” (1992) [2]

Naa Atabiya kum nyaaŋŋa, u bii Yamusa, Naa Gyɛriŋŋa, n daa zinni u gbana maa ni. Naa Gyɛriŋŋa daa mɛ la goomni n-gyiligi Naaleerigu nti ta’ai u niriba zaŋŋi n-kyaŋŋi u dindaandima zugu. Naa Gyɛriŋŋa daa kyɛka u niriba zaa la’am la tanni, siiri ni kpaam ka ba daa zaŋŋi a m-paasi m-mɛ goomni maa. Goomni maa ka ti boonni “BIRIN GOOMNI” la. [8]

Naa Gyɛriŋŋa bii yinni Alaasani daa mari la daŋŋa, ka lala zugu daa ku kyɛka u paai u ba yiri. Naa Gyɛriŋŋa ŋɔn daa baŋŋi lala maa, u daa zaŋŋi u n-diisi la Wuŋŋu. Ŋɔn daa n nyɛ WunNaaba Alaasani la. U daa na zaŋŋi u bii yinni yaasa, Fuseeni, n-diisi Kurugu.

Naa Gyɛriŋŋa gba daa ka ni la Naaleerigu.

After NaAtabiya’s death, his son Yamusa, NaJeringa, sat on his skins. NaJeringa built a wall around Nalerigu to protect his people from his enemies. NaJeringa had his people gather dirt, honey, and shea butter [literally, oil] and they added it to the wall. The wall was called “Birin Goomni.”[8]

Alaasani, one of NaJeringa’s sons, had a wound and because of it he couldn’t attain his father’s post. When NaJeringa realized this, he took him and enskinned him “Wungu.” He then became WunNaaba Alaasani. He likewise took his other son Fuseini and enskinned him as Kurugu.

NaJeringa also died in Nalerigu.
————————– Translation by William Haun

Excerpt from R.S. Rattray’s 1932 “Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterlands, Vol. ii”, page 547 [3]

Atabea’s son, Yamusa (alias Na Jarena, Red Snake), succeeded his father. He built the wall round the town of Naleregu because he did not wish hyenas to enter it. The clay with which the walls were built was mixed with honey and beer which he made his subjects bring. He sent North, South, East, and West and collected one thousand girls and one thousand youths and paired them off in huts and gave them clothes, but said they need not do any work. One of his sons, Asani, became Chief of Wunu; another son, Shaene, was made Chief of Kurugu. Yamusa died and was buried in his house at Naleregu.

Excerpt from Dr. Anthony Naden’s “Small Texts” (GILLBT)

NaaGyɛriŋŋa doo yɛla ka teaari. Ŋɔn daa kyɛ ka ba mɛ goomni n-gyiligi Naleerigu. Goomni maa na zɛ lugaluga n-gyiligi ka, kani ka ba boonni ‘Birimi’ [8] la. Bɔ n daa lee n-kyɛ ka ba mɛ ka maa?;

U daa mari la biiya, bii maa min daa mari la nimbiri yinni. Ŋmampurigu kaari, nimbiri yinni daana bu diri naam. Dinzugu ka u daa dooni n-teesi nti gbaari la goomni maa meebu.

Ba yɛliya, ni, ŋɔn daa mɛ goomni maa nti yɛnni, ni, u gyɛ ni; ba daa yi zaŋŋi u ni n-gyɛri tanni maa ni m-paasi m-mɛa. Tanni, ni siiri, ni bisim ka ba daa zaŋŋi m-mɛ goomni maa. Ka na zɛ pampaŋŋɔ n-gyiligi Birimi.  

Chief Jeringa is famous man. He had them build a wall around Nalerigu. A wall still stands in places surrounding it, the one they call ‘Birmi’.[8] What happened that caused this wall to be built?

He had a son, and the son only had one eye. In the custom of Mampurugu, a one-eyed person cannot be chief. And he lay down and thought and formed the plan of building the wall.

They say that anyone who built the wall and then said he was tired, they would take him and mix him with the ‘sand’ and build. They used mud, honey and milk in the building.

To this very day it still stands today around Birimi.
————————– Translation by Tony Naden, William Haun


[1] Davis, David C. “THE MOSQUE AND THE MARKETPLACE: AN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY ISLAMIC RENAISSANCE IN WEST AFRICA.” Islamic Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 1996, pp. 135–163.

[2] Wundow, Salifu., Ŋmampurugu Piiligu Yala. Tamale: GILLBT Press, 1992

[3] Rattray, R. S. The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland, Vol ii,. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932, p.547

[4] Davis, David C., “Themes in History of Dagban and Mamprugu”, 1979

[5] The town of Gwollu in the Upper East Region has a similar wall built in the 19th century as a defense against slave raiders. It is often confused with the Nalerigu wall and may be why some assume the Nalerigu wall was built for the same reason. The inaccurate 16th century origin also contributes to the slave defense theory since that was the height of the slave trade in West Africa.

[6] Personal notes at Ghana Museum and Monuments Board by archaeologist Oliver Davies from his time of service in Gold Coast from 1951-1966

[7] Kitab Ghanja is an 18th century Arabic chronicle that notes that in 1741 or 1742, “Atabya, the king of GhBGh (Gambaga) died. It is said that he reigned fifty-odd years.” Original Arabic published with translation is available from Cambridge Univ. Press.

[8] “Birni” means “walled town” in Hausa

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