The Sudanese style mud mosque is quite common in West Africa, but this one claims to be very old. Guidebooks debate the age, some arguing the building dates back to the 14th century. The huge tree adjacent to the building is obviously younger than the building, since it has infringed upon the mosque foundations, but other than that its difficult to argue age in a mud building such as this. The building requires considerable maintenance of it's stuccoed exterior, and unless the supporting timbers are scientifically tested, nobody knows for sure how old the building is. However, since I have also seen other such mosques, such as the largest in Djenne, I would guess that this one is perhaps a couple of centuries. Bear in mind that making a claim as the oldest building in Ghana isn't too difficult, since the tropic climate regularly destroys the wood and thatch buldings further south. British Colonial buildings aren't very old, as they date mostly to the late 19th and early 20th century. We were able to examine this mosque both outside and in. Many mosques are not open to non-Muslims. Ask for a tour of from one of the youth, if they don't offer first.
The Imam's son invited us to walk to his father's house to meet him. The old man was comfortably seated, but blind. The son actually spoke good English, but his father knew only a couple greetings, but we were flattered by his efforts to show good hospitality. During the walk back, we passed a prisoner shackled for some crime. Later, I asked my Ghana friends more about this strange judicial practice. It was universally agreed that any sort of serious crime--theft, murder, etc--would not be treated in such a manner as the judicial system reaches even Larabanga. However, it was suggested that perhaps the encarcerated person was psychotic or a pedophile--some kind of local anti-social behavior.
The main attraction in the village of Larabanga is the old and famous mosque. It is said that the mosque was built here in the beginning of the 15th century, and therefore it eould be the oldest mosque in Ghana.
The building is very typical for Northern Ghana with its mud and sticks architecture. To make sure that you won't be disappointed when you visit it: it is small, much smaller then I expected it to be with only 8 by 8 metres approx. And you are not allowed to enter it.
The mosque has four entries: one at each side, all with its own purpose. Every year after the raining season the villagers have to repair the building, because the mud partly gets washed off by the rain. Next to the building is a sacred boabab tree that is told to be just as old as the mosque itself.
The viewing fee for the mosque officially is 10.000 cedis, 1 dollar. But there are people that try to fool you by asking much more then that!
The magic stone from the Larabanga myth is a standard part of a tour through the village. The stone however, has nothing special what so ever, excpet for its vague history. Read more about this myth in my general tip "History of Larabanga".
The Larabanga Mud Mosque does indeed merit more than just 5 photos, so enjoy these others. Note that the timbers emerging from the mud are both part of the structural building, and scaffolding for replastering the mosque, which probably needs to be done annually.
It is possible to have a guided walk through the village. It's of course also possible to do so without a guide, but then you will not be able to see the special places, and it is easier to take pictures of the locals when there is a guide accompaning you.
Larabanga is typically Northern Ghana with only mud houses with flat roofs. During the walk you can enter those houses and climb the roofs, to have a nice view all over the city. You will see the women preparing fufu, the men hanging around in the scarse shade and the children playing outside in the narrow streets.
At the end you are asked to pay a tip for the guide, and if you liked it like I did, a tip of about 10.000 cedis (1 dollar) would be a very good amount of money.
The mosque at Larabanga is reputed to be the oldest mosque in Ghana, and one of the oldest in West Africa. It is assumed to date from 1421, but there appears to be some disputes over the origin of the mosque – when it was built and who built it.
Legend tells how an Islamic trader called Ayuba was travelling through the area when he discovered the mystic stone on the outskirts of Larabanga. For some inexplicable reason, he deided to throw his spear while standing next to the stone, and sleep wherever it landed. That night, sleeping in the designated place, he had a strange dream about building a mosque, and when he awoke in the morning, the foundations for this mosque had mysteriously appeared during the night. He saw this as a sign from Allah and completed the construction of the mosque and settled in Larabanga. His remains are buried under the baobab tree next to the mosque.
The mosque at Larabanga is one of several such mud-and-stick build Sudanese style mosques along an ancient well-established trade route through northern Ghana. There are four entrances to the mosque, one each for the chief, men, women and the muezzin. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter. There is an illuminated copy of the Koran belonging to Imam Bramah, dating from around 1650 still preserved inside the mosque. 100% of the community here at Larabanga are said to be Muslim, which is quite unusual in Ghana.
Every two years the mosque needs restoration. Being of adobe construction, the rains cause untold damage to the mud bricks. Hence the little wooden poles sticking out of the walls. A large group of local people help in the restoration project, using mud and cow dung to rebuild the walls, then whitewash them. This project was taking place while we were there, and although we have seen several adobe mosques before and heard about this bi-annual reconstruction, this is the first time we have actually seen it for ourselves, and we found it very interesting.
The path to the mosque involved passing through the private residential area of town. There were a number of interesting homes and among them, goats and other animals.