Damba Festival

Damba festival celebrated by most of the tribal groups of Muslim origin in Northern Ghana. This festival is celebrated by the chiefs and people of Dagbon, Gonjas, Mamprusis, Nanumbas and the Walas. The main aim for the merriment is to remember the birth and naming ceremony of the Holy Prophet Mohammed. Damba is celebrated in the months of March, June and July, among the various ethnic groups mentioned, thus it varies from one community to the other.

Damba festival is a twin festive namely; “Somo” Damba and “Naa” Damba. “Somo” Damba is celebrated to commemorate the birth of the prophet and Naa-Damba is held to mark his naming ceremony. Approaching the months named, Chiefs, elders and family heads not forgetting the local folk are always on the lookout for the moon of Damba. It is therefore common to see people raising their heads towards the sky each evening desperately awaiting the moon to shoot up. This is the month the Mamprusis call Damba “goori” or “billai”, the Gonjas term it as Damba “be-kuful” and the Dagombas call it Damba “gooli”. It may interest one to know why the ascent naming between the Mamprusis and the Dagombas appears to sound similar, it is because the two tribes were founded by the children of the legend Naa-Gbewaa, a rich history you would want to know more about among the Mole Dagbani states.

Once this said moon is seen in the month that has been chosen for the celebration is due, it marks the beginning of the ten day of the festival which all families happily receives it with smiles and merry making. Most importantly, the festival is also a time of unity amongst all the chieftaincy gates of Mamprugu. All unsettled grudges in the gatesare brought to the chief house for settlement before lifting the ban for the celebration of the festival. Broken marriages are reviewed and settled for the betterment of all.

The celebrations

The first day of the festival is the “peebudari”( the day of cleaning) just as it is done for the fire festival. The night before the day, a gong gong beater is sent to all the community sections to announce in the hearing of all the locals that they are supposed to come to the chief palace for the general cleaning exercise. On this day all parts of the town is cleaned such as; cleaning of choked gutters, the lorry station and all public areas. Most importantly, ‘the Dandaba” (the chief priest house) is thoroughly cleaned till it is spotless since it is the abode of all the Gods in Mamprugu. Aside that, the belief is that “Gbang-gbanzeo”, the god of the land will not come for the festival if the land is not clean and will strike many dead as a form of appeasement for disobeying its orders hence the importance of this aspect of the celebration.

The second night is the “Tizaadari” (everybody’s night). It is the first official night of the festival. Youthful folk of Sakorana, Gambaarana, Nagboranaa and most especially Jangdanaa gathers each night at the paramount chief palace for rehearsing of praises, songs, drumming and dancing. It is also the night when all who are visitors are given the opportunity to register their names to partake in the dancing ceremony as well as the nascent ones taught the styles and techniques. If it has always been your long awaiting dream to learn how to dance one of the northern Ghana dances, this is a big opportunity for you. Leave your comfort zone and take a trip to northern Ghana in March.

The third, fourth and fifth night are the “PaabaYunng” (the women’s night). The women’s night is a night one would not want to miss. A night when all beautiful ladies of Mamprugu appears in their beautiful batakali dresses, wonder at the beauty of northern ladies. They gather to plan on how preparation of the visitor’s food will be done. This is followed by the rehearsals of songs and dances. The night is ended by the throwing of “Zaamba”(blackening of the foot of the ladies) led by the princesses of the various paramount chiefs of the land.

The sixth to eighth night are still meant for rehearsals prior to the grand durbar, but for both gender.

The ninth night is always scheduled as the night of historical account of the land of Mamprugu. This normally start in the afternoon usually 3.00pm after the Moslems of the land had prayed. A night meant for old historians of the land to gather to orally present in the hearing of all the historical underpinnings of the land. The names, ages, achievements of all the past chiefs are chronicled.Come and hear more about Naa-Saa, Naa-Zuulum, Naa-Sheriga, Naa-Gamni and many more.

Whatever that has a beginning has an end, of which Damba is of no exception, the grand durbar to the ceremony is the “Gengani”which closes the activities of the ten days ceremony of Naa-Damba. Early in the morning the ceremonial bullock is slaughtered accompanying the pouring of libation, incantations and other rituals. This is followed by the rice picking ceremony where some quantity of rice is cleansed for the ceremony. Later in the evening, invited guest, all and sundry, princes, princesses, rich and the poor are seen in their richly and decently worn smocks ( “batakali”orfugu) to grace the occasion. The horses of the various chiefs are dressed in rich regalia and well decorated with gold ornaments differentiating the king’s from his followers. The Kambon-naaba beats then “Tinpani” (a big drum) for the start of the “Gengani. This is a ceremony when the King exhibits his powers by turning gunshot bullets into pebbles or water, varnishing and turning into different forms of creatures. It is also a day when the best Damba and “Takyi” dancer is chosen. It must be acknowledge that this is actually the best part of the festival which attracts large number of people. It is usually not surprising to see people on trees or roof tops in quest to catching glimpse of the paramount chief’s dance. It is also a day for the Bawku dancers. These are dancers who dance to the tune of the drummers as it is supposed to be done. Come and witness styles of dancing which makes memories worth repeating. Their dancing closes the evening “Gengani”and ushers in the “Waaniabeoo”

Damba “Waaniabeoo” is a ceremony of the night, meaning dance till the next day. This starts around 12.00am. This is because, after the evening’s program, all and sundry go back to relax and to prepare for the night program. This is the time people consult their ancestors, gods and also performs rituals for guidance during the program. Getting to 11.30 pm the gong gong beater beats the “Timpaani” three times indicating that it is time for the ceremony. Different forms of dances such as “Taakai”,”Durunga”,” Toowaa” among other dancing forms from different traditional villages troop to the site setting the grounds for dancing. All have the liberty to participate. Getting to 5.00am the paramount chief is brought out on his horse for dancing display. The dancing continues till the last Timpaani is played and the chief prays and brings Damba to close.

After the ten days period, the nest two days ushers in the Naa-Damba, marking the naming ceremony. On thetwo days there is merry making with all sub-chiefs amidst dancing groupsfrom the surrounding villages paying homage to the paramount chief. It is also a period of home coming where all northern indigenes all over the world travel that were not able to come for the Naa-Damba come home to join in the celebration of the festival. In closing the ceremony, an amulet is tied to a tree indicating that all witches are rendered useless.

The second day is meant for the Muslim community to commemorate the birth of the prophet Muhammed. A big ram, free from any form of defect is slaughtered as a sign of his moving into the world. This is followed by a congregational Muslim prayer led by the Imam to thank God for a successful ceremony. This brings the closure of both Naa-Damba and Somo-Damba.

How to get to Nalerigu for the festival

The Naa-yiri’s palace in Nalerigu is a major town hosting the Damba festival. Nalerigu is 230km northeast of Tamale, northern regional capital, 60km south of Bawku, 75km of Bolga and 6km east of Gambaga. Board either the day in Metro mass public bus from Tamale or Bolga at cost Gh₵5.50 and Gh₵5 respectively, your arrival is assured. In case you miss that one, you can board a tro-tro to Walewale and continue with a direct tro-tro for just a two hour drive and take an opportunity to enjoy a terrific experience of the ragged paved road to Nalerigu. The king of the Dagombas is Yaa-Naa, whose palace is located in Yendi where the Dagomba’s celebrate theirs. Yendi is about 100km from Tamale. There is a direct Metro Mass Transit, trotros and taxis moving to fro of Yendi.