Damba Festival: A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The Damba festival is the most widely celebrated festival in the northern part of Ghana. Among the Dagomba ethnic group, the Damba is a festivity for showcasing Dagbon tradional dances and an occasion for the g,lorification of chiefs and royalty.

For this reason, the Damba is the most important festival in Dagbon. Its essence is shown in the chiefly display of traditional pageantry. Needless to say, the occasion is marked by feasting and Merry making.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
The King Of Dagbon Kingdom, Yaa Naa Gariba II Sitting In State During The Shinkafa Gahimbu Ceremony At The Gbewaa Palace In Yendi

Damba is from the root word ” Damma mba”, which translates, Shake my father. This name emanated from the drummers asking Yani Kpamba to shake themselves or ” dance ” to the Damba drum beat. The Damba is therefore not just the name of the festival but a dance move for the Dagbon people.

Read More: The History Of Mole Dagbon State

That is why even today, when the drummers invites the dancer into the dancing arena, they invite them with a drum sound ” Zaɣala Zaɣala, wam’ Damba” – So and So, come and Dance to the Damba. Others believe the name ” Damba ” was taken from the name of the big dance of the wangara people, known a “Dumba”.

Aside the Dagomba, 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.

Origin of the Damba Festival in Dagbon :

Both oral and written history attributes the Damba festival to the celebration of the birth of the holy prophet of islam; Mohammed (S.A.W). This makes the festivity, fairly a religious one.

The Damba has however become more of a traditional festivity, with series of events rooted in customary rites, rather than religion.

Even though most historians attribute the Damba festival to the era of Naa Zanjina, available evidence indicates that, the Damba festival was celebrated earlier before Naa Zanjina took over the skins of Dagbon as Yaa-Naa.

Historical evidence points to the fact that, when the 14th king of Dagbon, Naa Titugri moved the capital of Dagbon from Yani dabari ( abandoned yendi) to its current place, he met a group of Hausa settlers, known to the indigenous people as “Laabansi or laribanga ” a corrupt form of the word “laribaawa” ; a term used to describe an Arab speaking person.

These settlers were muslims and are the foundation of the ” Kamshe Naa” today. The leader of the Laabansi, Kamshe-Naa Mahamaru Zanjina became a spiritual advisor to Naa Titugri (Tituɣiri).

The relationship between Naa Titugri and the Kamshe-Naa resulted in Naa Titugri, naming his two sons after the Kamshe-Naa ; that is Laagbandan Zanjina and the 18th king of Dagbon, Naa Zanjina.

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The Kamshe-Naa was later joined by the “Kambarinsi”, who formed the Kambala-yili, as it known today.
The wangara clerics at Sabari followed later and finally the Yidan-moli and his people.

The advent of these islamic clerics marked the beginning of major changes in the practices of the Dagomba people.

These muslims observed the birth of the prophet of islam as ” maulid” in their homes and communities. Though they practised the islamic faith, they virtually did little to convert the locals into their religion. They were careful not to offend the indigenous traditional Dagomba men, who to a larger extend, were adherents of the traditional African religion. And so the Damba festival went on without the involvement of royalty.

Damba festival gains prominence :

Though Naa Zuu Titugri allowed the Damba festivity to take place and did not interfere, the event was less popular among the Dagomba people. Only few elders were invited by these religious clerics and a larger of the Dagbon people did not seem to be part of this new practice, since they had no roles to perform in the celebration.

So when Naa Titugri passed on and Naa Zagli took over as Yaa-Naa, the religious ” Maulid” festival remained unpopular.

After Naa Zagli, Naa Zokuli became Yaa Naa but he barely stayed in Dagbon ; as he embarked on a journey, never to return. The Damba festivity did not thrive under his predecessor, Naa Gungobli either.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
Horse Riders At The Gbewaa Palace During the 2021 Naa Damba Celebration.

It is worth stating at this point that, the Damba festival under Naa Titugri, through to Naa Gungobili was a one event ritual and was observed on the 11th of the Damba month. There was no traditional involvement and so the festivity was merely a celebration for the muslims in their respective homes.

The Damba festival gained prominence when Naa Zanjina took over as Yaa- Naa. Naa Zanjina is accredited as the first king of Dagbon, who made conscious efforts to turn the Dagbon people towards a new islamic civilization. Under Naa Zanjina, the first mosque was build in Yendi and the Damba festival was rekindled.

However, even under Naa Zanjina, the Damba festival didn’t gain the status of a state festival until the reign of Naa Gariba( 1 ). It was under Naa Gariba( I) that the Damba festivity became a State function and was officially moved to the Yaa-Naa’s palace for celebration.

 

THE DAMBA FESTIVITIES:

The Damba festival bring on its wake, series of traditional and religious rituals and practices. The celebration normally starts on the sighting of the new crescent. This marks the first day of Damba.

When the Damba moon is sighted,the Yidan-moli is the official reporter of the sighting of the moon to the Yaa-Naa. Even if the Yaa-Naa is aware of the new moon, he still hasn’t seen it until the Yidan-moli reports it to him.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
Yidan Moli, Yidan Kaama and some leading Islamic Clerics Waiting For The Yaa Naa to Take His Royal sit.

The Yidan moli also informs the Kuga-Naa, the Zohi-Naa and other important tradional elders. It is only when this is done that the Damba moon is officially recognised as first day of Damba.

On this very night, after the night’s meal, the wives of the various chiefs gather to sing the Damba songs. This is known as ” Damba yila bohimbu” ( learning of Damba songs).

The purpose of this is to renew and Polish themselves in the various songs they’ll sing on the Damba day. Some of the songs they sing are praise names of the chief’s great grandfathers and their exploits in battle.

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

BINCHERA DAMBA :

Another prominent event of the festivity which takes place at the various chiefs palaces in Dagbon is what is known as ” Binchera Damba ” The binchera Damba does not form part of the official ceremony of the Damba festival. This is a dance ceremony held from the 1st day of Damba month to the 10th. The Binchɛra Damba ; which translates as rug Damba is a dance learning event. Everyone comes out with an old smock to rejuvenate his or her dancing skills.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The Binchɛra Damaba is therefore essentially a Damba dance learning ceremony. It takes place in the evening of each day until dusk, then everyone return to their various homes.

SHINKAAFA GAHIMBU – picking of rice:

Shinkaafa gahimbu is one of the unique activity of Damba festivity in Dagbon. The picking of rice is in two folds; A day before the Somo Damba and a day before the Naa Damba.

The first picking of rice is done in the morning of the day before 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, this event of picking the rice was initiated into the Damba festival during the reign of Naa Gariba by the Yidan-moli. The moli ( mossi) first settled with the Kamshe-Naa before moving to settle at what is now known as Moli-yili. They introduced the ” rice grain” to the Dagbon diet. It is for this reason that the Dagbamba people refer to rice as ” Mo’chi ” ( mossi millet).

It was the Yidan-moli, who advised Naa Gariba to allow him to introduce a new diet to the Damba festival, instead of the usual traditional meal.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
The Shinkafa Gahimbu Ceremony which is Led by Yidan Moli, and Elders From The Gbewaa Palace.

The rice was produced by a man known as Yidan-kormoli and sent to Yendi to be used for the celebration. The Dagomba people didn’t know how to handle the rice, so the Yidan-moli organised his clerics to prepare the rice for the Damba celebration, by picking out stones and other debris. This event gave birth to what is now known as ” Shinkaafa gahimbu”. And this event is still done by the Yidan -moli, some leading islamic clerics and royal elders at the Gbewaa palace till date.

In other parts of Dagbon, the Shinkaafa gahimbu is led by an islamic cleric known as the Somo.

The rice picking is done in the morning. The islamic clerics, led by the Yidan- moli recites verses of the Quran as blessings on the rice, as they pick. This is also accompanied by drum beat by the lunsi of Dagbon. The rice is then presented to the wives of the Yaa-Naa to be prepared on the Somo Damba.

Somo Damba :

The following Day after the picking of rice is the Somo Damba. At the Gbewaa palace, the Yidan -Moli is responsible for initiating the Damba festival. In other parts of Dagbon, this is done by the Somo. There are two events which take place during the somo Damba:

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

The Yaa-Naa provides a cow to be used for the Qur’anic recitation. The cow is used as a sacrifice to God, to solicit for peace, good weather and long reign for the king and the lands under his jurisdiction . The chief of the town circumambulate the cow three times, places his leg on the cow before the cow is slaughtered. In the process of circumambulating the cow, the drummers accompany it with the drum beat of “Sokam mali o yɛla” ( Everyone should keep to his own problem) .

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
Yidan Moli with pierced throat of the Damba Bull Slaughtered for the Somo Damba Festivity

 

This drum lines is part of what is known as “Damba Sochandi”; played when the person is walking, instead of Dancing.

The meat from the cow is then shared among prominent personalities in the town in specified order by the Yidan-Moli.

The rest of the meat is then cut into pieces and given as alms to serve as pacification for the land.

The second event during the Somo Damba is observed in the evening. It is known as Zaawuni Damba.
It is a dance display, involving all known best dancers and elders of the community. The dancing ends when the chief is brought out to take the the centre stage. The chief enters and exits in the same direction. His dance is mostly brief. Once the chief dances, no one dances after that and the event of Somo Damba comes to an end.

NAA DAMBA

The Naa Damba is the most important day of the Damba festival. It takes place on the 17th of the Damba month, exactly a 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 in the time of Naa Gariba. It was done to give the traditional authority some level of participation in the festivity.

It was feared that, the islamic clerics were taking over the roles of the traditional authority. And so the Naa Damba became a ritual for recognising the local participation in the ceremony.

The Naa Damba is therefore an event solely for the glorification of royalty. The islamic clerics do not take much part in this event. After the morning recitations of the Quran, they leave for their various homes.

The first event which begins the Naa Damba is the second ” Shinkaafa gahimbu” ( picking of rice), which takes place on the 16th. The event, which is done by the islamic clerics, as espoused earlier, is accompanied by drumming. The rice is then given to the wives of the chief to prepare for the Naa Damba.

On ritual of killing a cow and recitation of the Quran is repeated again at the chief’s Palace .

This is then followed by the main event in the evening. This is the most revered event of the Damba celebration. People from all all walks of life take part in this event. Family members, who stay in other parts of the country return to their native homes to celebrate the Naa Damba.
The occasion is marked by magnificent display of traditional attire.

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.
The Regent Of Nanung Kingdom

Men wear their best hand-woven mocks, with trousers known as the ” kurugu”. This is accompanied by the ” Mugri”; a leather made boots, mostly worn for dancing. Women tie their waists with a thick  cloth referred to as ” Tan mangli”. This can however be sewn like a dress, with a headwear to accompany it.

This is a day when people put on their best attire and prepare delicious meals to mark the occasion. The Naa Damba is also a day when men look out for potential wives, while young ladies dress to attract potential suitors.

At the Gbewaa palace, the Yaa-Naa and his chief drummer, the Namo-Naa appear almost with similar outfits. However, no one is expected to appear with outfits which outshines the Yaa-Naa. The Yaa-Naa’s horse is equally dressed to go with his Royal outfit.

The horse’s body is clothed with what is known as ” Turizima”. A new stirrup ( galisurugu) is placed on its back, hanging down its saddle, while its eyes are covered with a leather braids known as ninpobirigu. Even the very feet of the Yaa-Naa’s horse are decorated with henna ( zabila) and its front legs are tied with what the Dagbamba call ” Gbingbiri lorigu”.

This is how far royalty is exemplified on the Naa Damba. Other Paramount chiefs equally prepare their horses in this manner.

Another scene which beautifies the Naa Damba is the horse dance. The Youth chief ( Nachin-Naa ) gathers some of the best horse riders of the town to pay homage to the chief. They ride through the town to the palace and plunge their horses into a frenzy match dance known as ” Wɔribalisili”. Amidst drumming, the horses form a circle in a row and match magnificently to the admiration and cheers of the crowd.

While all these are taking palace, the chief seats in state, sub-chiefs and titled chiefs pay homage to him, while taking turns to enter the dance ground.

Elders of the chief equally take their turns in the dance arena. Before a dancer enters the dance, he seeks the blessings of the chief by kneeling before him. Theh then whispers the name of the dance to they intend to dance to the lead drummer, who then initiates the drum beat for the rest of the drummers to follow suit.

Most popular dances you’ll usually witness in the Damba 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
Nantoo Nimdi – in memory of Naa Yakubu Nantoo.. …
When a person request for a particular dance, he or she may do so to show the crowd his or her family lienage. Others just request for dances they know how to dance best.

The Naa Damba ends when the chief of the town enters the dance arena. When the chief dances, it marks the end of the Naa Damba.

BIELI KULISI – A fare well to the Year’s Damba

The last stage of the Damba festivity is known as Biɛli Kulisi. This is next day after the Naa Damba, and falls on the 18th day of the Damba month. This is the day when Dagbon people say goodbye to the year’s Damba festival.

On the Biɛli kulisi day, all sub-chiefs are expected to assemble at the palace of the Paramount chiefs. All other Paramount chiefs around the Royal town of Yendi gather at the Gbewaa palace to pay homage to the lion king ( Yaa Naa).

Damba Festival : A Celebration Of Dagbon Royalty.

The paramount chiefs, accompanied by sub-chiefs go to the homes of sectional chiefs to greet them and to thank them for their prayers and dedication to the welfare of the town.

This Biɛli kulisi climaxes the entire Damba celebration and serves as a goodbye to the year’s Damba festival.
This is also a day, when friends and loved ones visit each other to exchange pleasantaries and renew friendship and family ties.

Indeed, the Damba is a very important month of the Dagomba people, and serves as not just the third month of the Dagbon lunar calendar, but a month which the Dagomba people use to name their children and the month in which the glorious ceremony of the Damba festival takes place.

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Abdul Malik Abukari

I have a strong passion for the diversity which exist between people from all walks of life. And same in the similarities which binds them together as human from the same ancestry. Indeed, I'm trilled 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