Featured Image Source: Sathyan Velumani, Under Creative Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Larabanga_Mosque_Ghana.jpg
Larabanga Mosque is one of the oldest surviving mosques in Western Africa. It is the oldest mosque in Ghana. The Larabanga Mosque stands in the same named town in the northern part of the country. The northern part of the country has a higher number of Muslim people than the more Christian southern part of the country.
Larabanga is a small town about 450 kilometres away from the capital of Ghana, Accra. Larabanga is in the West Gonja district in the Northern Region, one of the 9 regions of Ghana. Larabanga is about 4 kilometres away from the capital of the West Gonja district.
The Larabanga Mosque sits about 100 metres away from the Sawla-Damongo Road, one of two asphalted roads in the town. The Mosque was likely built in 1421 by a trader called Ayuba. Although this is not known for sure.
Stories surrounding the Mosque
There are two stories surrounding the mosque, the first being about its construction. It is said that Ayuba was travelling through the area when he encountered the Mystic Stone. He decided to sleep there next to the stone and while he slept he had a dream about a Mosque. When he awoke the foundations were already in place and he decided to finish the Mosque as it had been shown to him in his dream. It is said that he is buried under the Baobab tree that stands next to the Mosque. The date of 1421 comes from this story so it is difficult to tell its accuracy. The second story is about how the Mosque got it’s oldest Quran. It is said that the Quran was gifted to Yidan Barimah Bramah in 1650 from heaven. He was the Imam of the Mosque at the time.
The Mosque was most likely built by traders during the 13th century while they were trading on the trans-Saharan trade route. The Mosque is one of the few rural Mosques that has quite such an exquisite design. The building was probably not built and designed by a skilled craftsman but by someone who only had a limited knowledge of the strict rules that are kept too while building Mosques. The Mosque was most likely built in the same style as other important Mosques around West Africa like the Great Mosque of Djenné. In general, these rural Mosques were built from memory by someone who had seen mosques in other towns and cities. This does mean that the quality of the structure is not always great.
With the design of Larabanga Mosque, we see a focus on aesthetic quality, making the mosque look like a mosque, rather than on the usefulness of the building. For example, to keep the ratio of the door height to building height similar to what is seen in other larger mosques, the doors are very low, one must stoop while entering. The building is built in the Sudano-Sahelian architecture. Its wooden stick ornamentation is a good example of this.
There are four entrances to the Mosque, each serving one group or person, namely, the village Chief, the men, the women and the Muzzin. There is one minaret and one mihrab which faces towards Mecca. On both of these towers, the top of the tower is adorned with a small decorative wooden object.
There are 12 smaller towers which act as buttresses to hold up the structure. The exterior is fitted with sticks for decoration. The lowest part of the building is painted black with around the corners of the buttresses a small triangle of ornamentation. The rest of the building is painted white. At the entrances, there is more decoration above the doors in the form of a triangle of black diamonds.
The building is constructed mainly of mud and reeds and uses almost no wood to strengthen the building. This is the reason for the size and amount of buttresses. These hold up the heavy walls and roofs to keep the building up.
The building is one of the greatest examples of a rural mosque in western Africa. It is one of the holiest sites in West Africa and is often called the ‘Mecca of West Africa’ and it is not hard to see why. The building is strong and sturdy in its construction and wonderful in its strong lines.
Sources: Wikipedia (Larabanga village), Ghana Museums & Monuments Board, Ghana by Philip Briggs, World Monuments Fund (Larabanga Mosque), The Architecture of Islam in West Africa by Labelle Prussin, Wikipedia (Sudano-Sahelian Architecture), The Vintage News,