Posted by: Dr. Y. | May 28, 2018

Why the Name: Ouagadougou?

Ouagadougou in 1930_Mittelholzer

Ouagadougou in 1930

I always loved the sound of the name Ouagadougou as it rolled off my tongue: it felt like a mouthful, but like a happy mouthful, the one you say with love: OUA-GA-DOU-GOU (WA-GA-DU-GU). Remember this is the capital of the land of upright people, the land of this proud son of Africa, Thomas Sankara. Yes, you know, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Originally, the city was called Kombemtinga, or the “land of princes.” It was founded on the 11th century by the Nyonyonse people.

WestAfrica1530

West Africa in 1530, with Mossi kingdom on the bottom right (Wikipedia)

The name Ouagadougou dates back to the 15th century when the Ninsi tribes inhabited the area. According to the Larlé Naba, the holder of the Mossi Empire‘s secrets, the city founders were in constant conflict with neighboring people until 1441, when they were forced to seek the protection of the Mossi Emperor Zoungrana, who was then living in Tenkodogo. In 1441Wubri, Zoungrana‘s son, and an important figure in Burkina Faso‘s history, led his tribe to victory. He then renamed the area from “KombemtingaorKumbee-Tenga“, as the Ninsi had called it, to “Wogdgo” which meant “Come honor me“.

Mossi Cavalry

Mossi cavalry, ca 1800s

It is this appellation which has evolved to “Woghodogo,” then Ouagadougou from the French. Others say that the name was changed by Wubri from “Kombemtinga” to “Wage sabre soba koumbem tenga“, meaning “head war chief’s village“.  The city then became the capital of the Mossi Empire in 1441 and the permanent residence of the Mossi emperors (Moro-Naba, Mogho Naaba) starting in 1681 with Naba Sanem. The Moro-Naba Ceremony is still performed every Friday by the Moro-Naba and his court to this day. The French made Ouagadougou the capital of the Upper Volta territory (basically the same area as contemporary independent Burkina Faso) in 1919.

Burkina Faso_Moro Naba

The Mogho Naba, king of the Mossi people at court in Ouagadougou, ca 1910 (Source: AdireAfricanTextiles.blogspot.com)

The name was originally « Woogrtenga » and « Wogodogo » to mean « where we receive honors, respect».  Ouagadougou grew around the imperial palace of the Mogho Naaba. Being an administrative center of colonial rule, it became an important urban center in the post-colonial era. First the capital of the Mossi Kingdoms and later of Upper Volta and then Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou became a veritable communal center in 1995. Affectionately called Ouaga by most, it is the center of the African film festival, FESPACO.

Ouaga2000 Memorial

Ouaga2000 Memorial – Ouagadougou today

So if you visit Ouagadougou, remember that you are visiting the original land of the princes, and the place where we receive honors and respect. Isn’t it a name worthy of the capital of the land of the upright people (Burkina Faso)? Enjoy the video below about Ouagadougou.

 


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