Culture & TraditionDagomba Festivals

Damba Festival: Unveiling the Rich History and Exploring the 7 Key Activities

The Damba festival is the most widely celebrated festival in the northern part of Ghana. Among the Dagomba ethnic group, Damba is a fetivity that showcases Dagbon traditional dances and serves as an occasion for the glorification of chiefs and royalty.

For this reason, the Damba festival holds great importance in Dagbon. Its essence is displayed through traditional pageantry, primarily focusing on the celebration of chiefs. Needless to say, the occasion is marked by feasting and merrymaking.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

During the Damba festival, the King of the Dagbon Kingdom, Yaa Naa Gariba II, sits in state during the Shinkafa Gahimbu ceremony at the Gbewaa Palace in Yendi, symbolizing the significance of the festival to the royal family and the community.

The term “Damba” originates from the root word “Damma mba,” which translates to “Shake my father.” This name emerged from the drummers’ request for Yani Kpamba to shake themselves or “dance” to the beat of the Damba drum. Therefore, Damba not only represents the name of the festival but also refers to a dance move for the Dagbon people.

Even today, when the drummers invite dancers into the dancing arena, they beckon them with the sound of the drums, saying, “Zaɣala Zaɣala, wam’ Damba” – meaning, “So and so, come and dance to the Damba.” Some also believe that the name “Damba” was derived from the name of the prominent dance of the Wangara people, known as “Dumba.”

In addition to Dagombas, the Damba festival is celebrated by the people of Wa in the Upper West region, the Mamprusi ethnic group in the North-East Region, as well as the Gonjas in the Savanna Regions of Ghana.

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History Of The Damba Festival In Dagbon:

The Damba festival holds a significant place in the history of Dagbon, and its roots can be traced back to the celebration of the birth of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Mohammed (S.A.W). While it began as a religious observance, the festival has transformed over time to embrace rich traditional customs and rituals.

Although many historians attribute the Damba festival to the reign of Naa Zanjina, historical evidence suggests that it was celebrated even before Naa Zanjina assumed the esteemed position of Yaa-Naa, the paramount chief of Dagbon.

Let us delve into the intriguing story of how this cultural extravaganza came into existence. When Naa Titugri, the 14th king of Dagbon, relocated the capital from Yani dabari (abandoned Yendi) to its present location, he encountered a group of Hausa settlers who were known to the indigenous people as “Laabansi” or “laribanga.” The term “laribaawa,” meaning an Arab-speaking person, gradually morphed into this corrupted form.

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These settlers were followers of the Islamic faith and played a pivotal role in shaping the festival we know today as the Damba. Kamshe-Naa Mahamaru Zanjina, the leader of the Laabansi, became a spiritual advisor to Naa Titugri, fostering a close bond between them. This connection led Naa Titugri to honor the Kamshe-Naa by naming his two sons Laagbandan Zanjina and Naa Zanjina, who later became the 18th king of Dagbon.

As time went on, the Kamshe-Naa welcomed the Kambarinsi, forming a unified community known as Kambala-yili. Subsequently, Wangara clerics at Sabari joined this group, followed by the inclusion of Yidan-moli and his people. The arrival of these Islamic clerics marked a significant turning point in the traditions of the Dagomba people.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

These Muslims observed the birth of the Prophet of Islam, known as “maulid,” within their homes and communities. Despite practicing their Islamic faith, they approached the indigenous traditional Dagomba people with respect, refraining from imposing their religion upon them. As a result, the Damba festival continued to flourish without direct involvement from the royal family, maintaining its authentic cultural essence.

The Damba festival stands as a testament to the rich heritage of Dagbon, blending religious significance with cherished traditions. From its humble beginnings to the present day, this vibrant celebration serves as a reminder of the unity and diversity that define the culture of Dagbon and its people.

Damba Festival Gains Prominence:

Although Naa Zuu Titugri permitted the Damba festivity to take place without interference, it remained less popular among the Dagomba people. Only a select few elders were invited by the religious clerics, and the majority of the Dagbon population did not seem to be actively involved, as they had no roles to perform in the celebration.

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When Naa Titugri passed away and Naa Zagli assumed the position of Yaa-Naa, the religious “Maulid” festival continued to remain unpopular. The festival did not thrive under Naa Zokuli either, as he barely stayed in Dagbon before embarking on a journey from which he would never return. Naa Gungobli, his predecessor, also did not contribute to the growth of the Damba festivity.

It is important to note that during the reigns of Naa Titugri through to Naa Gungobili, the Damba festival was a singular event observed on the 11th day of the Damba month. It lacked traditional involvement and was merely celebrated by Muslims in their respective homes.

The turning point for the Damba festival came with the ascension of Naa Zanjina as Yaa-Naa. Naa Zanjina, actively worked to steer the Dagbon people towards embracing a new Islamic civilization. He oversaw the construction of the first mosque in Yendi and revitalized the Damba festival.

However, even under Naa Zanjina’s reign, the Damba festival did not attain the status of a state festival until Naa Gariba (I) assumed the throne. It was during Naa Gariba’s reign that the Damba festivity transformed into a State function and was officially moved to the Yaa-Naa’s palace for celebration.

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Through the efforts of successive kings and the recognition of its cultural significance, the Damba festival embarked on a journey of evolution and gained prominence within the Dagbon community. It stands today as a cherished celebration that unifies religious observance, tradition, and the rich heritage of Dagbon.

How Does Dagombas Celebrate The Damba Festival?

The Damba festival is characterized by a rich tapestry of traditional and religious customs. This vibrant festival encompasses a range of rituals and practices that hold deep cultural significance for the community. Let us explore these cherished traditions that make up the Damba festival.

  1. Sighting of the Damba Moon:
  2. Damba Yila Bohimbu (Learning of Damba Songs)
  3. Binchera Damba (Rug Damba)
  4. Shinkafa Gahimbu (Rice Harvesting):
  5. Somo Damba
  6. Naa Damba:
  7. Bieli Kulisi:

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  1. Sighting of the Damba Moon

 The celebration begins with the sighting of the new crescent, marking the first day of Damba.

When the Damba moon is sighted, the official reporter to inform the Yaa-Naa is the Yidan-moli. Even if the Yaa-Naa is already aware of the new moon, he has not officially seen it until the Yidan-moli reports it to him.

The Yidan-moli also informs the Kuga-Naa, the Zohi-Naa, and other important traditional elders. Only then is the sighting of the Damba moon officially recognized as the first day of Damba.

  1. Damba Yila Bohimbu (Learning of Damba Songs)

On this particular night, after the evening meal, the wives of the various chiefs gather to sing the Damba songs. This is known as “Damba yila bohimbu” or the learning of Damba songs.

The purpose of this gathering is to renew and polish their skills in singing the various songs that will be performed on the Damba day. Some of the songs they sing are praise names of the chiefs’ great-grandfathers and their achievements in battle.

This event also provides an opportunity for children to learn these Damba songs for the first time. The Damba yila bohimbu takes place from the first day of Damba until the 10th day.

  1. Binchera Damba (Rug Damba)

Another prominent event of the festivity that takes place at the various chiefs’ palaces in Dagbon is known as “Binchera Damba.” The Binchera Damba is not officially part of the Damba festival ceremony. It is a dance ceremony that occurs from the 1st day of the Damba month until the 10th.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The Binchɛra Damba, also known as the rug Damba, is a dance-learning event where everyone comes out wearing an old smock to rejuvenate their dancing skills.

Therefore, the Binchɛra Damba is essentially a Damba dance learning ceremony. It takes place in the evening of each day until dusk, after which everyone returns to their respective homes.

  1. Shinkafa Gahimbu (Picking of Rice Debris)

Shinkafa Gahimbu is a unique activity during the Damba festival in Dagbon. The rice harvesting occurs two days before the Somo Damba and a day before the Naa Damba.

The first rice harvest takes place on the morning preceding the Somo Damba festivity. The Yidan-moli collects the cultivated rice from the Yidan-Gorma and presents it to the Yaa-Naa at his palace.

Historically, the tradition of rice harvesting was introduced into the Damba festival during the reign of Naa Gariba by the Yidan-moli. The moli (Mossi) initially settled with the Kamshe-Naa before establishing themselves at what is now known as Moli-yili. They introduced rice to the Dagbon diet, and the Dagbamba people refer to rice as “Mo’chi” (Mossi millet) for this reason.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The Yidan-moli advised Naa Gariba to incorporate a new diet into the Damba festival instead of the usual traditional meal. The rice was cultivated by a man known as Yidan-kormoli and sent to Yendi for the celebration.

Since the Dagomba people were unfamiliar with rice handling, the Yidan-moli organized his clerics to prepare the rice for the Damba celebration by removing stones and debris. This event gave rise to what is now known as “Shinkafa Gahimbu.” The Yidan-moli, along with leading Islamic clerics and royal elders at the Gbewaa palace, still perform this event to this day.

In other parts of Dagbon, the Shinkafa Gahimbu is led by an Islamic cleric known as the Somo. Rice picking takes place in the morning, with the Islamic clerics led by the Yidan-moli reciting Quranic verses as blessings while they harvest the rice. The drummers known as Lunsi of Dagbon accompany this activity with drum beats. The harvested rice is then presented to the wives of the Yaa-Naa to be prepared for the Somo Damba.

  1. Somo Damba:

The day following the rice picking is the Somo Damba. At the Gbewaa palace, the Yidan-moli is responsible for initiating the Damba festival. In other parts of Dagbon, this role is performed by the Somo. There are two events that take place during the Somo Damba:

  1. Recitation of the Quran, also known as Asiba Damba.
  2. Waa wabu (dancing), also known as Zaawuni Damba.

The Yaa-Naa provides a cow for the Quran recitation. The cow is sacrificed to God as an offering to seek peace, good weather, and a long reign for the king and his lands.

The chief of the town circumambulates the cow three times, places his leg on it, and then it is slaughtered. During the circumambulation, the drummers accompany the chief with the drum beat of “Sokam mali o yɛla” (Everyone should focus on their own problems). This drumming style is known as “Damba Sochandi” and is played while walking instead of dancing.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The meat from the cow is shared among prominent personalities in the town according to specified order by the Yidan-moli. The remaining meat is cut into pieces and given as alms to pacify the land.

The second event during the Somo Damba takes place in the evening and is known as Zaawuni Damba. It is a dance display involving the best dancers and elders of the community. The dancing concludes when the chief enters the center stage. The chief’s dance is usually brief, and after his performance, no one else dances, marking the end of the Somo Damba event.

  1. Naa Damba

The Naa Damba is the most important day of the Damba festival and occurs on the 17th day of the Damba month, exactly one week after the Somo Damba. It is observed as the naming ceremony of Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W).

The Naa Damba was introduced into the Damba festivity during the time of Naa Gariba to ensure the traditional authority had a significant role in the festival. There were concerns that the Islamic clerics were overshadowing the traditional authority, so the Naa Damba became a ritual to recognize the local participation in the ceremony.

The Naa Damba is an event solely dedicated to glorifying royalty, and the Islamic clerics do not play a major role in this event. After the morning recitations of the Quran, they depart for their respective homes. The second “Shinkafa Gahimbu” (rice picking) is performed by the Islamic clerics on the 16th day and is accompanied by drumming. The harvested rice is then given to the wives of the chief to prepare for the Naa Damba.

The ritual of slaughtering a cow and reciting the Quran is repeated at the chief’s palace. This is followed by the main event in the evening, which is the most revered part of the Damba celebration. People from all walks of life participate in this event, and family members from other parts of the country return to their native homes to celebrate the Naa Damba.

The occasion is marked by magnificent displays of traditional attire. Men wear their finest hand-woven mocks with trousers called “kurugu,” accompanied by leather boots known as “Mugri,” primarily worn for dancing. Women tie thick cloth around their waists known as “Tan mangli,” which can also be sewn like a dress, and wear a headwrap.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

On this day, people dress in their best attire and prepare delicious meals to commemorate the occasion. The Naa Damba is also an opportunity for men to seek potential wives, while young ladies dress attractively to catch the eye of potential suitors.

At the Gbewaa palace, the Yaa-Naa and his chief drummer, the Namo-Naa, wear similar outfits. However, no one’s outfit should outshine the Yaa-Naa. The Yaa-Naa’s horse is also dressed in regalia.

The horse’s body is adorned with “Turizima,” a new stirrup (galisurugu) hangs from its saddle, its eyes are covered with leather braids called “ninpobirigu,” and its feet are decorated with henna (zabila) with the front legs tied with “Gbingbiri lorigu,” as the Dagbamba call it. Other paramount chiefs similarly prepare their horses in this manner.

Another captivating scene during the Naa Damba is the horse dance. The Youth Chief (Nachin-Naa) gathers the best horse riders in the town to pay homage to the chief. They ride through the town to the palace and engage in an energetic horse dance called “Wɔribalisili.” Accompanied by drumming, the horses form a circle and perform an impressive synchronized dance that garners admiration and cheers from the crowd.

While all these activities unfold, the chief sits in state, and sub-chiefs and titled chiefs pay homage to him, taking turns to enter the dance ground.

Elders of the chief also take their turns in the dance arena. Before a dancer enters the dance, they seek the chief’s blessings by kneeling before him and whispering the name of the dance they intend to perform to the lead drummer. The lead drummer initiates the drumbeat, and the other drummers follow suit.

Some of the popular dances witnessed during the Damba festival include Nagbiegu, a dance in honor of Naa Abdulai I; Naaningoo, a dance in honor of Naa Andani Naanigoo; Ʒim taai kuliga, a dance in honor of Naa Alaasan Tipariga; and Nantoo Nimdi, performed in memory of Naa Yakubu Nantoo. When requesting a particular dance, individuals may do so to showcase their family lineage or simply choose a dance they are proficient in.

The Naa Damba concludes when the chief of the town enters the dance arena. Once the chief performs his dance, it signifies the end of the Naa Damba.

  1. Bieli Kulisi: – Bidding Farewell To The Year’s Damba:

The final stage of the Damba festival is known as Biɛli Kulisi. It takes place on the day following the Naa Damba, on the 18th day of the Damba month. This day serves as a farewell to the year’s Damba festival.

On the Biɛli Kulisi day, all sub-chiefs gather at the palace of the paramount chiefs. Paramount chiefs from the surrounding areas of the Royal town of Yendi also assemble at the Gbewaa palace to pay homage to the Yaa-Naa, the lion king.

The paramount chiefs, accompanied by the sub-chiefs, visit the homes of sectional chiefs to express gratitude for their prayers and dedication to the welfare of the town.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

Biɛli Kulisi marks the culmination of the entire Damba celebration and serves as a farewell to the year’s Damba festival. It is also a day when friends and loved ones visit each other to exchange pleasantries, renew friendships, and strengthen family ties.

Indeed, the Damba festival is of great significance to the Dagomba people. It not only represents the third month of the Dagbon lunar calendar but also serves as a month for naming children and hosting the glorious ceremony of the Damba festival.


Q1: What is the Damba Festival?

A1: The Damba Festival is a traditional festival celebrated by the Dagomba people of Northern Ghana. It is held annually to commemorate the birth and naming of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.Damba is a fetivity that showcases Dagbon traditional dances and serves as an occasion for the glorification of chiefs and royalty.

Q2: When is the Damba Festival celebrated?

A2: The Damba Festival is observed on varying dates each year, as it follows the Islamic lunar calendar. Specifically, it takes place during the third month of the Dagomba lunar calendar, specifically on the 11th and 18th days of the Damba month. it concide with islamic month Rabi’ al-Awwal (this website will help you to convert islamic calenar to western calendar

Q3: Where is the Damba Festival celebrated?

A3: The Damba Festival is primarily celebrated in the Dagbon region of Northern Ghana. The main festivities take place in the towns of Yendi and Tamale, attracting visitors from across the country and abroad.

Q4: What are the main events of the Damba Festival?

A4: The Damba Festival features a series of events, including the Somo Damba, which involves recitation of the Quran and traditional dances, and the Naa Damba, which is a grand procession led by the Yaa-Naa. Other activities include music performances, drumming, and cultural displays.

Q5: Can tourists participate in the Damba Festival?

A5: Yes, tourists are welcome to participate in the Damba Festival. It is a great opportunity to witness traditional rituals, enjoy vibrant cultural performances, and immerse oneself in the rich heritage of the Dagomba people. Visitors are advised to respect local customs and traditions during the festivities. Contact us to be your guide.

People Also Asked:

Q1: What is the significance of the Damba Festival?

A1: The Damba Festival holds immense cultural and religious significance for the Dagomba people. It serves as a celebration of their Islamic heritage, a time to honor their ancestors, and an occasion for community unity and engagement.

Q2: How long does the Damba Festival last?

A2: The Damba Festival typically lasts for about a week, with various activities and events taking place during this period. The festivities culminate in the Naa Damba, which is the grand finale of the festival.

Q3: Are there any traditional foods associated with the Damba Festival?

A3: Yes, traditional foods play a significant role during the Damba Festival. Some popular dishes includeShinkafa kpila (rice balls), Sagim (TZ) (millet or maize dumplings with soup), and various meat. These traditional foods are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Q4: Is the Damba Festival only celebrated in Ghana?

A4: The Damba Festival is primarily celebrated in Ghana, specifically in the Dagbon region. However, similar festivals with different names and variations can be found in other West African countries with Muslim populations, such as Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

Q5: Can women participate in the Damba Festival?

A5: Yes, women play an important role in the Damba Festival. They contribute through their participation in traditional dances, music performances, and various cultural activities. Women also have specific roles during certain rituals and ceremonies associated with the festival.

Abdul Malik Abukari

I have a strong passion for the diversity which exist among people from all walks of life. And same in the similarities which binds them together as human from the same ancestry. Indeed, I'm thrilled to share with the rest of the world, the heritage of my people, the Dagbamba ethnic group from Northern Ghana. My name is Abdul Malik and I live in Tamale -Ghana