The History Behind the Name Ghana and Where it Came From

Did you know that “the Republic of Ghana is named after the medieval Ghana Empire of West Africa? Ghana means king in the Soninke language, Islamic and European scholars named it after the king because it seemed the king controlled everything

The empire became known in Europe and Arabia as the Ghana Empire after the title of its emperor, the Ghana. The Empire appears to have broken up following the 1076 conquest by the Almoravid General Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar. A reduced kingdom continued to exist after Almoravid rule ended, and the kingdom was later incorporated into subsequent Sahelian empires, such as the Mali Empire several centuries later.

Following that, Ghana was the title of the kings who ruled the kingdom. Sundiata was one of the powerful kings of the Empire of Ghana. He controlled it in 1240 AD! Perhaps, I dare say: “if Sundiata were alive today, Ghana as a nation would have even been more powerful than the United States under President Obama.” Why this comparison at this time?

What happened to Africa before the slave trade and the colonization of that continent by some Europeans? Does the independence of the Republic of Ghana have any relevance to African Heritage and the total emancipation of the Black people in Diaspora? Remember the famous speech of the First President of present Ghana on the eve of independence, that,


The months of February and March see Ghanaians in Diaspora celebrating African Heritage (Black History) Month and the Independence Anniversary of Ghana every year. What meaning do we make of these celebrations? And what contributions do we bring to make these landmarks in history MORE MEANINGFUL to the world? Maybe, a little bit of history will help.

History is very extensive. It talks about the past, the present and the future!

The Mamprussi, the Dagoma, the Gonja and the Akans of present Ghana as well as the Mandikas of Senegal/Gambia are believed to have had ancestors linked with medieval Ghana.

As history has it, before March 1957, Ghana was called the Gold Coast. During the 15th Century the Portuguese visited the coast of Ghana. They discovered that the land between the rivers Ankobra and the Volta was full of gold that they named the land Mina- meaning Mine. The Portuguese built a castle at Elmina in 1482 to trade in gold, ivory and slaves.

The Dutch also joined them in 1598 and built forts at Komenda and Kromantsil. Other European traders from Britain, Denmark and Sweden also joined in by mid-18th Century. However, many of them withdrew later and Britain colonized the Gold Coast by 1874. The British made the North and the Ashanti a protectorate by 1901.

It must be mentioned that Ghana since the 1800s had had sons and daughters who had always been in the forefront of constructive movements. I remember names like Dr. Aggrey, George Ferguson, John Mensah Sarbah, Nana Ghartey IV of Winneba, Otumfuo Agyeman Prempeh I, and Ohemaa Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu.

After the Second World War Dr. J. B. Danquah formed the United Gold Coast Conversion (UGCC) in 1947. He invited Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to come to be the General Secretary to this party. The party which included great sons of the land such as Akuffo Addo, Paa Grant, William Ofori Atta, Obetsebi Lamptey, Ako Agyei and J. Tsiboe was to fight for independence for the Gold Coast. Eventually, this objective was achieved on March 6, 1957 under the leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who had broken away from the UGCC to form the Convention People’s Party (CPP).

Thus, the Gold Coast on the eve of its freedom from British rule became known as Ghana-named after the medieval Ghana Empire of West Africa. Besides the rule of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) whose vision to unite Africa in the 1960s was cut short by the imperialists, there have been both military and civilian rulers in Ghana.

The fortunes of Ghana though interrupted by military take-overs, have been fluctuating under two main political parties-the present National Democratic Party (NDC) which was born out of a revolution under former President John Jerry Rawlings who used to be a soldier with socialist inclinations and the National Patriotic Party (NPP) which is an offspring of the Danquah-Busia tradition (UP/PP), mainly pro-capitalist.
Great Rulers of Medieval Ghana:

HOW WAS AFRICA BEFORE SLAVE TRADE? That is an interesting question indeed. It has a big answer. We know of the Egyptian Civilization to the North of Africa which built the great Pyramids of Egypt; the powerful kingdom of Abbysinia to the East of which stood Ethiopia which was never colonized; and the Zulu Kingdom to the South which suffering at the hands of colonization has produced brave men for Africa.

There were these great Empires of West Africa among which was medieval Ghana. However, for lack of space and the fact that a Republic in Africa which is named after the medieval Ghana Empire celebrates its 59th Independence Day Anniversary soon, I would like to use a brief case of the medieval Ghana Empire of West Africa to answer the immediate question raised above.

Medieval Ghana which occupied the area between Rivers Senegal and Niger could be traced about 500 miles north of present Ghana. It existed from the 4th to the 13th Centuries. The position of the Kingdom gave it control over the trade of salt from the North and gold from the South. Its rulers instituted strong economic, political and social laws that help the empire to prosper.

They relied on their own resources to build and protect the kingdom. Sundiata was a great leader who totally controlled the kingdom in 1240 AD and absorbed it into the lager Mali Empire. The Mali Empire reached its peak of success under Mansa Musa around 1307.

Obviously, West Africa had great empires built and ruled by powerful leaders like Sundiata and Mansa Musa (Mari Jata). The great empires of Ghana, Mali and Shonghai were destroyed only by tribal wars. This must be a great lesson to the countries of Africa. Together we succeed, divided we fall. God bless Ghana, God bless Africa and God bless the peoples of the world.

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