Do in Leaves and Wood Among the Bobo and the Bwa

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

The Dafing:

The Dafing are an intrusive Mande people who also call themselves Marka, and are closely related to the Marka Soninke in Mali between the border with Burkina Faso and the banks of the Bani River.

150,000 Dafing live in Burkina. They speak a Mande language. 

The Dafing are descendants of the ancient empire of Ghana, which was defeated in 1076 by the Moroccan Almoravids. The Dafing occupy a region of north-central Burkina Faso between the cities of Nouna and Tougan in the north, south as far as Boromo. There is an important concentration of Dafing villages along the valley of the Sourou River. The Dafing moved into an area occupied by the Samo and Bwa soon after 1600 as a result of the destruction of the Mali Empire in the valley of the Niger and Bani. The valley of the Sourou, which joins the Black Volta just north of Dedougou, seems to have been the primary route followed by the Dafing when they penetrated the area they now occupy.

The Dafing are typical of groups that have penetrated the upper basin of the Volta Rivers and adopted the cultural institutions of peoples they encountered, superimposing the traditions of these peoples over older beliefs, forms, and styles.

In contrast to the leaderless groups among whom they settled, the Dafing created small-scale, politically centralized states, with a chief in charge of several villages. The position of village chief was achieved, rather than inherited: an elder who had demonstrated his skill as a warrior, trader, and diplomat was selected from a council of local lineage elders. During the 18th and 19th centuries such a state, centered at Ouahabou encompassed several southern Bwa and Winiama villages and extorted taxes from the conquered peoples (Tauxier 1912: 409-13).

Dafing merchants have specialized in trade in cloth, salt, beef cattle, and (formerly) slaves, that were sent south to Ghana and Ivory Coast in exchange for gold and kola nuts. Slaves and gold from the gurunsi and Lobi areas were also traded north to San, Segou, and Jenne. Dafing merchants carried salted fish from the Niger, Bani, Sourou, and Black Volta Rivers to the forest areas in the south. Vegetable butter from the karite was carried south in large quantities to trade for kola nuts, but this trade ceased with the development of the palm oil industry in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. [20]


[20] I would like to speculate that the Dafing and the Jula, including the Jula of Kong, share a common origin, and that the trade each group carries on stems from common needs and common accessibilty of markets.