Larabanga Mosque: Architectural wonder of Africa
We had previously discussed that As-Sahili returned with Mansa Musa from Mecca and his architectural style of building influenced architecture in western Sudan. Interestingly, this architectural style actually spread to other parts of Western Africa and the Larabanga Mosque just happens to take on such style – the Sudano-Sahelian design, better still known as the Sudanese architecture.
The Larabanga mosque is located in the village of Larabanga, precisely at 196, Sawla-Damongo Road, Larabanga, Ghana. It was built in 1421 and it is the oldest mosque in Ghana and one of the oldest in West Africa. It is referred to, by the locals, as the “Mecca of West Africa” and it has been a pilgrimage site for some of the Muslim population in Ghana.
Legends Surrounding the Larabanga Mosque
According to legendary sources, in 1421, Ayuba, a Moorish trader, was traveling across the Sahara. On one occasion, he decided to spend the night in the village of Larabanga. He is believed to have received instructions in a dream to construct a mosque in the village. Surprisingly, when he woke up, the foundations had already been set for him. He built the mosque, from mud and reeds, in the Sudanese architectural fashion. He continued to stay and live there till his death. The locals also believe that the old Qur’an in the Mosque was a gift from heaven to Yidan Bramah in 1650. Yidan was the imam of the mosque at that time and the gift is believed to be a result of his prayers.
The Larabanga mosque is comparatively small compared to other mosques and it is built primarily from packed earth. The Sudanese architectural style is mainly characterized by the use of horizontal timber, pyramid towers, buttresses, and triangular perforations over the entry portals. It is one of only eight mosques built in this manner. The northwest corner of the building features a minaret, a mihrab, and a niche in the mosque wall at the point nearest to Mecca, the Qibla- prayer direction of the entire Muslim population across the globe. Each side of the building bears a separate entrance: one for men, one for women, one for Larabanga’s chief, and one for the Muadhin- the one who says the call to prayer.
Preservation of Larabanga Mosque
By the 1970s, the mosque had deteriorated badly and was in need of reconstruction. An attempt was made by plastering the walls with cement with hopes of strengthening them but unfortunately, the mixture only allowed for moisture penetration around the ancient wooden beams. In addition, a termite infestation followed and a storm made the already weakened minaret collapse. However, with the intervention of the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, the Mosque was able to be revived. The WMF employed the local artisans to fix the previous mistakes.
The cement was carefully removed and a mud paste was reapplied, just like Ayuba had made use of some 549 years earlier. The minaret was rebuilt, the walls of the mosque were whitewashed, and just like before, the prayer place was reinstated to its former glory. Now, the Larabanga mosque is maintained by the local community. They have adopted a greater responsibility and are committed to building a community center that will accommodate the growing population of tourists and Muslim congregations.
The move by the WMF resulted in a newly trained local workforce and a more historically and environmentally relevant building. The building is now structurally sound and historically authentic. It now serves a growing congregation and visitors are attracted by the unique design. In fact, the use of traditional building techniques has sparked a renewed interest in the craftsmanship of mosque construction. The community also reaps the profit derived from the inflow of tourists visiting the holy site. The official viewing of the mosque is said to be about 1 Ghanaian Cedi and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque.
The Larabanga mosque can be seen on the reverse side of the 5 Cedis Ghanaian banknote.
(Written by Zainab Sulaimon)