Wa is the capital of the Upper West Region of Ghana and is the main city of the Wala people. The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim. It is the seat of the Wa-Na, the Paramount Chief of the Wala traditional area. Features of the town include several mosques, the Wa-Na Palace, a museum and a nearby hippopotamus sanctuary. The town serves as a transportation hub for the northwestern part of Ghana, with major roads leading south to Kumasi, north to Hamile and Burkina Faso, and northeast to Tumu and the Upper East Region. There is also a small airport.
Wa has been inhabited for several hundred years, first by Lobi and Dagaare people, and then by Islamic scholars and traders who settled there in order to participate in the trans-Saharan trade. These newcomers adopted the Dagaare language and to some extent simplified its grammar, as well as incorporating numerous loan words from Hausa, such as lafia (satisfactory) and alabasa (onion). (Both of these Hausa words are ultimately Arabic in origin: lafia comes from the Arabic العافية, al-'afiyya, health or well-being, while alabasa comes from البصل, al-basal, onion.) The name of the town means 'come' in the Waali language. Wa also holds the mortal remains of Sir Ekum Ferguson, the British-Fante who worked to bring the north under British Jurisdiction as well as that of Babatu, a notorious slave raider well known for his raids in this region during the late and early 19 century.
Wa is in the southern part of the Sahel, the semi-arid area south of the Sahara that ranges from Senegal to the Sudan. Average annual rainfall is around 1000 mm, almost all of which occurs between May and October. Following the May–October rainly season is a cool dry period called the Harmattan (in Waali sesiao sanga) when a steady, often dusty, north wind blows from the Sahara. The hottest period of the year is in February and March when daytime temperatures often reach 110 °F (42 °C).
Food and agriculture
Despite its urban status, Wa is in many ways still an agricultural community, and many people make a good portion of their living in small scale farming. The main crops are corn, millet, yams, okra and groundnuts. Upland rice is also farmed in a few areas. The major fruit crop is the mango. Shea nuts are collected from wild trees, for food or refinement into oils and cosmetics.
The staple food of Wa is known as T-Zed in English. This is an abbreviation for the Hausa expression tuo zaafi, meaning 'very hot'. In Waali, this food is referred to as sao. It is a thick porridge of corn flour eaten like fufu - by tearing off a chunk and dipping into a soup, usually of okra.
The Wa chieftancy
The paramount chief of the Wala people is known as the Wa-na (na means chief in Waali.)
The Wala chieftancy has an unusually long recorded history, in various documents in Arabic and Hausa. A dispute over the order of succession for the Wa-na began with the death of the Wa-na in 1998. This acriminous and sometimes violent controversy was partially resolved in 2003 with the enskinment of a new Wa-na. His unfortunate death in September 2006 leaves the future of the Wa-na again uncertain.
The Wa-na's palace is a good example of traditional Sahelian architecture, with an exterior similar to that of the main mosque of Bobo-Dioulasso.
The Dumba Festival
The Dumba festival was the main traditional event of Wa. It was typically held in late September to correspond with the harvest. The highlight of the year was a ceremony in which the Wa-na stepped over a small cow lying on the ground. According to traditional belief, if any part of the chief or his clothing touched the cow, he would probably die within the year. If on the other hand he stepped over the cow successfully, he was guaranteed a successful coming year.
The City of Wa pays host to a few renowned educational institutions. The biggest Senior High School in the Upper West Region, Wa Senior High School (formerly, WASSEC), is in this city. WASSEC had some tumultuous times in the past due to mis-management and indiscipline which decreased the school's standards. However, the school has recently been recording major improvements in students' general discipline and performance in the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination. The school was made a model school under the previous NPP government, which has boosted its infrastructural capacity thereby making it an attractive destination for students and teachers. Wa also has St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary. Built in the 1960s, Xavier has produced a plethora of successful young men for the service of the country and the world. St Francis Xavier Junior Seminary, arguably the best secondary school in the country, has scored 100% on the SSSCE for a very long time. Wa also hosts the campus where the majority of students of University for Development Studies (UDS) are based. The three faculties present in Wa are:
Integrated Development Studies;
Planning and Land Management;
Education, Law and Business Studies.