The Upper West Region of Ghana may be remote and small, but it holds rewards for anyone who makes the effort to visit. The region is located in a guinea savanna vegetation belt, and the terrain consists of grass dotted with drought-resistant trees such as the baobab, shea, dawadawa, and neem. Visitors will find wildlife, wonderful religious architecture, and lots of history revolving around slave trade and tribal cultures.
The region was a part of the Upper Region until it was separated in 1983 in an effort to boost development. The city of Wa is the regional capitol and has good accommodations and restaurants.
The economy in the Upper West Region is agricultural-based, and the main crops are cotton, groundnuts, millet and sorghum. In fact, the local drink is a sweet, mildly alcoholic beverage made from sorghum called pito. It is sold in open-air bars and drunk from calabashes.
The weather consists of a wet and a dry season. The wet sets begins in April and lasts until October, and the dry season goes from November until late March. The dry season in noteworthy for the presence of the Harmattan, a cold, dry, and dusty trade wind that blows over the West African subcontinent.
The three major ethnic groups are the Dagaba, the Sisaala, and the Wala. The Dagaba live in the western part of the region, the Sisaala live in the eastern areas, and the Wala live in the city Wa and some of the nearby villages. The three major religions in the region are Christianity (36%), Islam (32%) and Traditional (29%). The Sisaala and Dagaba are mostly Christian and traditional, while most Wala are Muslim. The city of Wa is mostly Muslim and traditional and is the largest predominantly Islamic city in Ghana.
Houses in the region are mainly constructed with mud, and the rooms are usually rectangular, as opposed to the Upper East region where the rooms are predominantly round. The architecture of the region has been influenced by Muslim immigrant traders from Northern Africa, mainly Mali, who later settled in Wa and built the Larabanga Mosque.
Things to See
Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary – located about an hour by taxi from Wa in the extreme northwestern corner of the Upper West Region, the sanctuary runs along the Black Volta River on the border between Burkina Faso and Ghana. The sanctuary is not a national park – it is instead a cooperative effort by the local people to protect the hippos and encourage tourism. Guides will canoe visitors up and down the river in the hope of seeing hippos, reptiles, and birds. Visitors can spend the night in the Hippo Hide Tree House and wake up to a dawn filled with the singing of birds.
Gbelle Game Reserve – located south of the town of Tumu, the reserve is part of a migratory route for elephants, buffaloes and the country’s largest herds of Roan antelopes going to and from the Naziga Game Ranch.
Other wildlife reserves include The Bat Sanctuary (Sombo) and the Sacred Royal Python Sanctuary (Jafiiri). Another interesting attraction in the region is the smoothly polished mushroom-shaped rock formation leaning on its side in Wuling.
Gwollu Slave Defense Wall – this wall was built in the 19th century by Gwollu Koro Limann as a defense against slave traders for the local residents of that time. The wall is a heartrending reminder of the 300 year-long slave trade and ancient slave routes that led through the region and devastated the population. Portions of the ruins of the slave defense wall have been preserved at a few places in town. Gwollu is also the hometown of the former president of Ghana, Dr. Hilla Limann.
Wa Mosques – the newer, towering central mosque sits just in front of the ancient mosque built in the mud and pole Sudanic style. With the permission of elders, guest made by allowed to climb up the ladders to the roof of the central mosque for a view of Wa. Surrounding both mosques are the narrow, winding streets of the kasbah
Nakore Mosque – dates back to 1516 and is slightly taller than the Larabanga Mosque of the northern region. The mud and pole construction serves as a a prime example of Sudanese architecture.
Wa Naa’s Palace – this 19th century palace built in Sudanese architecture that dates back to the 16th century. It is the official residence of the Wa Naa, the traditional chief of the Walas, and in front of the palace are graves of previous Wa Naas.
Jirapa Naa’s Palace – in contrast to the Wa Naa’s Palace, this palace was built using local architecture and is the first multi-storey mud building in Ghana.
Caves and Slave Camps – a major feature of the Upper West Region is its ancient caves. The caves found in Bulenga, Dahili and Sankana were places of refuge for the inhabitants who were fleeing from the slave raiders. Also, slave camps can be found at Pizaga and Dolbizon, and there is an old slave market at Kassana.
Damba Festival – this harvest festival typically takes place in late September and is the main traditional event in Wa. The highlight of the festival is the ceremony meant to usher in the new year in which the Wa-na chief steps over a small cow lying on the ground. According to the traditional belief, if any part of the Wa-na or his clothing touches the cow, the Wa-na is likely to die within the year. If the Wa-na steps over the cow successfully, the Wa-na is guaranteed a successful coming year.
Kokube Festival – this harvest festival is celebrated in late November – early December by the people of Nandom to thank family gods and ask them to bless the soil, protect the people during the farming seasons.
Kobine Festival – celebrated by the people of Lawra in the first week of October to offer thanks to God through the ancestors for blessing them with a bumper harvest. One of the highlights is a dancing competition.
Paragbiele Festival – this festival is celebrated in the last week of January by the Tumus as a thanks to God and their ancestors for their guidance during the farming season. It features farm produce, festive music, and dancing.
Willa Festival – celebrated at Takpo on 27th April, the purpose of this festival is to thank the ancestral shrine ‘Will’ for guidance and protection and continued blessing.
Zumbenti Festival – this festival is celebrated to give thanks to ancestral gods, to cleanse the land of evil spirits, to pacify the gods, and to reunite families. It is also considered to be an opportune time to contract traditional marriages.