Identification. The people now known as the "Mamprusi" occupy the East and West Mamprusi districts of northern Ghana. Their name is linked to "Mamprugu," the name of the kingdom with which they are associated. Until recently, "Mamprusi" was a term mainly used by outsiders. They called themselves "Dagbamba," a term also used by their southern neighbors, known in English as "Dagomba." Mamprusi called these people "Yooba" (people of the forest) or "Weiya," in reference to the marshy areas also occupied by these neighbors. Similarly, their northern neighbors, the Mossi, were named for the grassy bush ( moo ) that characterizes the ecological zone to the north. Mamprusi usage of the term "Dagbamba" as an autonym, combined with their reference to their neighbors in terms of a characteristic habitat, reflects their view of themselves as inhabiting a central and civilized place in the universe of peripheral peoples. Since their southern neighbors have appropriated the name "Dagbamba" and its English equivalent "Dagomba," the former Dagbamba have become Mamprusi.
Location. The East and West Mamprusi districts (formerly the South Mamprusi District) extend west some 320 kilometers from the international border dividing Ghana and Togo. Some 80 kilometers separate the Nasia River, in the south, from the White Volta River, which marks the northern boundary of this area. In the northeast of the region, the Gambaga escarpment rises 450 meters above sea level at the southward bend of the White Volta River, and continues eastward into Togo. It is likely that in the precolonial period, the Mamprusi zone of influence followed this escarpment.
The region falls within the climatic zone of the Guinea Savanna. The rainy season falls between April and September, and there are no second rains. January and February are characterized by a harmattan season, during which a cold, dry wind sweeps through the country. South of the Gambaga scarp, wooded slopes contract with the arid land and lathyritic soils, lying immediately to the north, or the deforested continuation of the scarp to the northwest. In the south, southeast, and western margins of the districts, land is periodically flooded by tributaries of the Nasia, Oti, and Volta rivers. In the 1960s the Mamprusi districts marked the northern margin of the yam-growing region of Ghana. Deforestation, periodic drought, and increased population pressure have caused some damage to the environment since then, and yams are now said to be much more difficult to grow. Land-fallowing periods are generally shorter than they were in the 1960s, and there is less uncultivated land.
Linguistic Affiliation. Mampruli is one of a number of Mole Dagbani languages spoken in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Many languages of this group are spoken by contiguous populations; neighboring peoples are likely to speak mutually intelligible variants of a common tongue. Given frequent intermarriage of Mamprusi with their non-Mamprusi neighbors, many Mamprusi speak several Mole-Dagbani languages. Those who have traveled south, in Ghana, often speak Twi. Many traders speak Hausa, and all schoolchildren learn some English. Familiarity with French is increasing. Muslims are learning to speak as well as to read Arabic.
Demography and Settlement Patterns. In 1960 the population of the Mamprusi districts was roughly 104,436 in an area of 7,790 square kilometers. Population increase has raised the density from 14 persons per square kilometer in the 1960s to over 20 in the 1980s. In the 1960s most Mamprusi lived in settlements of 500 persons or fewer, but, by the 1990s, several large villages with populations of more than 10,000 had emerged. The relative proportion of different ethnic groups in the population has remained roughly constant, with the exception of an influx of Yoruba and Mossi peoples, who were expelled from Ghana in 1973. The Mamprusi, although still less than a majority of the population, continue to constitute the largest single ethnic group. Mamprusi settlements, in contrast with those of neighboring peoples, are nucleated rather than dispersed; often they are clustered near a chief's compound. Larger settlements are divided into sections ( foanna; sing. foango ). In the neighborhood of Nalerigu, the present capital of the Mamprusi ex-kingdom, there are the remains of an ancient wall that appears to have partially surrounded the king's village, leaving it open to the north and northeast, where the land rises rapidly, but protecting the lower-lying parts of the village. The wall enclosed streams and farmland as well as a residential area.