Since we moved to Nalerigu in 2014, I’ve attended the Damba Festival at the NaYiri’s palace every year. It is the penultimate cultural event in Mamprugu.
This year when Damba was held in Nalerigu on November 18th, a large group attended from Bawku in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Leading them was the Gbangraana (or regent) of Bawku and the newly enskinned Dambanaa of Bawku. They made a special request of the NaYiri asking him to allow them to hold their own Damba in Bawku to celebrate peace in the region.
Bawku has a very long history of conflict between the Kusasi and Mamprusi. A thorough explanation is well beyond my ability but I can recommend the paper ‘The Kusasi-Mamprusi Conflict in Bawku: A Legacy of British Colonial Policy in Northern Ghana‘ by Felix Y.T. Longi which was very helpful to me in understand to the age-old issues and nuanced historical and political events at play. I suppose short summary of the issue is:
The Kusasi have enskinned a Paramount Chief of Bawku but the Mamprusi claim historical authority over the area and enskinned their own chiefs of Bawku. The current Mamprusi Regent is the son of the last Mamprusi Chief (Naan’s Zangbeo, 1967-1981) and is recognized by the NaYiri as the ruler of Bawku but has not been officially enskinned as chief to avoid inciting violent protest by Kusasi opposed to his authority.
Attending the Bawku Damba Festival
Two weeks after our Damba Festival I found myself called on by members of the NaYiri’s court. I was asked by the king to be part of an official royal delegation sent to Bawku to participate in their festival. What an honor!
The drive to Bawku took about three hours of rough riding along the Nakpanduri-Garu-Bawku road. Upon arriving in Bawku we all changed into our best smocks and proceeded to the Regent’s Palace. Greetings from the NaYiri we passed on to him and he cordially welcomed us all. It was obvious he was quite pleased with the representation the NaYiri had sent.
We broke for lunch and then came back to find the festivities in full swing in front of the palace. It was said that this was the first major Damba to be held in Bawku since 1981 so it was a huge event. There was a military presence for security and lots of reporters from Ghanaian news agencies.
One television station from Tamale (Sagani TV) interviewed me and had me speak in Mampruli. At the time I had no idea how many folks would end up seeing that. You can see their coverage of the festival on their Facebook page. (note, this isn’t the interview but I’m shown dancing at 2:04).
The next day I found lots of posts of Facebook of attendees that had snapped photos and shot video of me. As the only white guy at the festival I was quite the novelty.
*update* six months later and I run into strangers all over our region that recognize me from that TV interview!