My First Corn Crop

sowing-corn-northern-ghana-IMG_0002This farming season I was able to help a friend with all the stages of the farming process. We sowed the corn, weeded (several times) and finally harvested.

All the steps involve multiple members of the family and sometimes even extended family. The sowing is definitely the easiest part and the weeding is by far the hardest. Long days were broken up by a lunch break in the cool shade of a tree where we ate bean cakes his wives prepared right there on the spot (from scratch!).

weeding-corn-northern-ghana-IMG_9974This corn harvest is extremely important to the family since it will be their primary food source for the next year. They will grind it to make a flour which will be cooked as sa’abu (or tuo zaafi), the main staple in the region. This bland mash is eaten daily with various soups made of leafy vegetables.

Traditionally, it’s the husband’s job to provide the staple and the wives’ responsibility to provide the ingredients for the soups to accompany it.

2015 Nalerigu Fire Festival (Bugum Kyuu)

20151023-whaun-7719The Fire Festival is not only one of our favorites in Nalerigu, but it also serves as our one-year marker. Hard to believe that we arrived in Nalerigu just before last year’s Fire Festival.

Once again we were able to use the festival’s legendary backstory as an opportunity to share Christ’s words about the lost sheep in Luke 15 in Mampruli. Even cooler was that now that we are one year into language learning we were able to do it all in Mampruli!

This year I mostly shot video instead of still photos of the festival, so here are some freeze frames from the footage.

Yuuri gaari diibu.

“A (good) name is better than food.”

Mampruli Proverb

Dɔ n-dari ka vi.

There’s no shame on birthing day.

Mampruli Proverb

Alafia n-su laari.

Health owns laughter.

Mampruli Proverb

Bugum Kyuu (Fire Festival)

This past week Mamprugu celebrated the Bugum Kyuu (Fire Festival). This annual event has a long (and controversial) history in the region. Each year the people come out at night with bundled straw torches which they light and run around town with. All the men who own guns come out and shoot their guns in to the air. It’s a pretty loud and wild event.

Part of the controversy over the festival is the number of injuries and crimes that occur during it each year. This year the hospital only had 3 patients (that I heard of ) come in with burn injuries. One was very severe because his gun has misfired on him. In the large city of Tamale south of us, gangs of youth get pretty rowdy during the festival attacking innocent bystanders and harassing young women. In years past the municipal government has tried (unsuccesfully) to ban the festival.

The Muslims (primary in the Dagonba region south of us) claim the tradition goes back to when Noah’s sons came off the ark and lit torches to see if anyone had survived. The Traditionalists refute that idea and say that the tradition pre-dates the arrival of Muslims to the area. In Nalerigu, everyone I talked vouched for the traditional story and said the Muslims had simply accosted their tradition in order to make it a Muslim holiday.

Here is the traditional story as it was told to me by several Mamprusi friends:

Many years ago, the king’s son was out playing with his friends. He became tired and lay down under a tree to rest. He fell asleep and the others forgot about him.

That night after supper the king and the mother realized the child was missing when they called him to go to bed. They had each thought he was with the other parent.

The king ordered his people to go around the village looking for the missing son. There was no electricity so they all lit grass torches for their search. Fearing that a wild animal had taken him, the men brought out all their guns.

When they came to the edge of the village they found him under the tree in a deep sleep. Thinking that the tree (or an evil spirit in it) had stolen the child, all the people threw their torches on the tree to burn and shame it.

To celebrate the occasion the king decreed that every year they should commemorate this happy event. Then the people annually gathered at the king’s palace, where he would emerge with a torch and throw it down. All those with guns would bring out their guns and fire them off. Then the people would light their torches and go outside the village to throw them into the bush.

04-bugum-fire-festival-ghana-whaun-2439The Nayiri opens the festival by throwing the first torch.

Today the festival involves lots of guns being fired, drums being played, and a general chaos of people running rampant with flaming torches. Unsurprisingly, the attendance was 98% male. The older men seemed very occupied with the traditional ceremonial events. The young men and boys were just having a hayday playing with fire.

Over the centuries the festival has evolved and acquired a few more superstitious elements. Now when people light their torches they twirl them around their head three times in order to have good luck in the new year. Some traditionalists slaughter a cow, sheep or goat and leave pieces of meat on the walls of their family compounds as sacrifices to their ancestors. Additionally, a large bowl of water is brought out from the Nayiri’s palace and chaos ensues as a mob fights over it. The belief is that anyone with any sickness or disease who baths with or drinks the water will be cured (that reminded me a bit of this story).


I had a friend who practices both Islam and traditional African religion tell me the legend of the king’s lost son. Then I was able to share with him a story my King told about a shepherd who cared so much for one lost sheep that he left 99 others to find it. When he did find it, he brought it back rejoicing and called all this neighbors to celebrate with him.

Oh, that the lost sheep of Mamprugu would cry out to the Good Shepherd so that he may bring them home and we may rejoice together!

Finding Folk Art

I went on an excursion today with Dr. Femke Veldman, Elisabeth Faile, and two nurses. We headed to Nakpanduri to meet two local healers (herbalists, witch doctors, what ever you want to call them) and find out about their medicines and techniques. I’ll write more on that later.

This post is about the amazing art I saw at one of the healers’ home. We had been visiting with a woman healer and she asked us to greet her father (who taught her everything about the trade). She asked me to go in the room to take his picture. Thank goodness I brought my flash because there was no window and no light – it was almost pitch black. Read More