These Are My Friends: Ibrahim

Ibrahim’s photo studio is right next to Kolbugri’s shop so I see him daily. He seems to have a better grasp of English grammar and syntax than most so he is very helpful with my language learning as he can sometimes explain why something is said a certain way. You also may recall that he took our 13th wedding anniversary photo last December in his studio.

Like all the other photographers in town that I have met, he has no interest in photography as art. We’ve had some interesting discussions about this. Photography is simply a source of income to him. His camera is just a tool that gets the job done. His clients are the same; they appreciate his work because he gets the job done quickly and affordably.

These Are My Friends: Kulibidaana

Two months ago my friend BaaMejida was enskinned as a chief and given the name Kulibidaana (“Little River Owner”). Here in Mamprugu it is the custom to only call him by his new name. In fact, it is considered so disrespectful to call a chief by his old name that you can be sent to the court of the paramount chief and fined.

Kulibidaana is a quiet, elderly man with a brilliant smile. Even with his new chieftaincy title, he is still humble and puts up with me accidentally breaking protocol when greeting a chief. He also has the furriest dog in town and Trey is quite fond of it.

In the portrait above, he is sitting on his new chieftaincy skins. The day a chief is enskinned (think “crowned”) a cow or sheep are killed and skinned. Those skins are the ones he sits on from then on and are symbolic of the weight of his title.


These Are My Friends: Saaibu

Son of Kambɔnluŋŋa Yakuba, Saaibu is always hanging around Kolbugri‘s shop. He doesn’t speak a lick of English and loves to joke around.

His favorite past time seems to be to stump me with new Mampruli phrases and words that I have no chance of knowing yet. He will stubbornly repeat them over and over and will tell people not to translate for me. Drives me crazy.

These Are My Friends: Yakuba

Yakuba was the Kambɔnluŋŋa, or Chief’s Warrior Drummer, for many years. Now he is retired and spends most of his time in his family compound behind my pal Kolbugri‘s shop. He has a bad back and can barely walk but he greets me with such joy every day and always mentions how happy he is that I am learning his language. The first time he saw me wearing a traditional smock he went into his room and returned to give me one of his own traditional hats to match it.

For his portrait he pulled out his old smock, drum, and rattler. He doesn’t have the strength he used to but he closed his eyes as he gently tapped the drumskin recreating the days of his youth.

These Are My Friends: Mercy

Mercy runs a chemical store (a bit like a pharmacy) across from Kolbugri’s shop where I hang out most of the time. When Trey comes in to town with me she lets him hangout on her shop’s porch and play wari (mancala) with her son Hamad and other kids. She also has a ridiculously adorable daughter named Fatima (hidden on her back in the above photo).

These Are My Friends: Kolbugri

Back in action after typhoid, I recently started making portraits of some of my best friends here in Nalerigu. Hopefully this is the first in a series of portraits.

This is my good friend Kolbugri. Back in 2007, I nicknamed him “Nido” because I would buy powdered milk from him for Trey who was just 1yrold at the time. This past month he called me every day when I was sick with typhoid and came by to visit several times. We sit for hours and hours on that bench to the left and he patiently waits for me to struggle through sentences in Mampruli. He’s definitely my “cultural insider” who fills me in on the do’s and don’ts, traditions, and beliefs of his people. Plus he’s got a great sense of humor. I really love this guy.

Mubarak the Furniture Maker

Mubarak runs a small furniture business in Nalerigu on the hospital road. They build sofas, armchairs and beds out of wood, add latex padding, and then do the upholstery. Their little operation has about 8 employees and they display their finished products right outside on the side of the road.

Like most craftsmen in West Africa, Mubarak was more than happy to show us his work and be photographed with it.