History of the Fire (Bugum) Festival

Purpose and History This festival is held by many ethnic groups in the Northern Ghana. Most Muslims and Non-Muslims take part in the celebration. The fire (Bugum) festival is observed by the Muslims to mark the landing of Prophet Noah’s (Nuhu) Ark after the flood. It is celebrated in the night with bundles of grass used as torches. This is the period during which some non-Muslims make offerings to their ancestors and God, since the festival marks the beginning of a new year. The Islamists hold the view that following the great flood during the time of Prophet Noah (Nuhu), the Ark landed in the night and torches were lit to enable Prophet Noah (Nuhu) and his people to see whether they were on land. This festival is therefore held to mark this important night when the Ark landed after the great flood. Besides, the Traditionalist are of the view that, one great king lost his son and when night falls a search party had to light torches (flash lights) in order to search for the prince in the night. Therefore this occasion is remembered annually, thus, the fire festival is held to   mark this all important night. Mode of Celebration As the festival begins in the night, the bundles of grass used as torches are prepared in the afternoon. Lots of foods are prepared for supper. Traditionally, family heads perform rituals by offering sacrifices of fowls and some of the prepared food to their departed ancestors. They then pray for good health and prosperity during the coming year. After supper, inhabitants assemble at the chief’s palace. The chief lights his torch first, circles it round his head seven times while calling on his ancestors to grant him and his subjects good health and prosperity during the coming year. He then throws away the torch and everybody then lights his/her torch and a procession begins amidst drumming and dancing to the outskirts of the town or village. The processions converge usually around a big tree. The torches are thrown at the tree. The processions then begin to dance back to the chief’s palace. During the climax of the festival celebration, the chief Imam (head of the Muslim community) of the village or town and his entourage will pay homage to the chief and pray for success and prosperity to mark the end of the celebration. The festival is celebrated by the Mamprusi and all other tribes and groups that have their ancestral linage to the Mamprugu kingdom including the Dagombas, Gonjas, Nanumbas, Frafras, Kusasi and Kumkombas.

Alice returns to Ghana from the US

My trip was long, tiring and nerve-wrecking-starting in OKC at 6:am on Tuesday, September 15,  through Memphis, Detroit and JFK for the final flight to Accra. In addition to having to run as fast as I could each time to make it for my next flight, I had the shock of my life when a very mean Delta Airline agent at boarding time insisted that my hand luggage (and others’ too) was too big and I must pay $200.00 or leave it there. She was so mean and shouted at passengers like we were, I don’t know what? And, she did not even have receipt for me; just wrote it on the back of my boarding pass when I insisted I get one! I have spent the day sorting out my vehicle papers (the insurance and roadworthiness had expired) and investigating new phone company (Vodafone) modem for our internet service. With my approval, Baba stopped the service we had before with MTN as it was not working and they could not resolve the problem. Anyway, just found out the modem costs Ghc295.00 and I do not have enough money here to purchase it. I’m staying here so tomorrow I will see if I can gather some money for the modem. It’s critical for us. I also want to visit the Rotary Club here in Tamale before I leave.

Wailing and grief

I was awakened very early this morning by an eerie cacophony of sound. I could not at first place it. Although groggy with sleep, I suddenly realized what it was, and what it meant. Someone in the village had died. Indeed, the death was in our family compound, a young boy I learned later. The sounds were the wailing of the extended family members, particularly the women. Grief had stricken our village.

In the morning, I quietly asked Alice about it. The person who died was a relative, a young boy, Nasiru, who was about 16 years. He was going to school. He was in grade 4. Nasiru was Alice’s uncle's grandson. Alice’s uncle had died many years ago, when Alice was a young girl, as had her own father. But her uncle's male children (her cousins), now also married with children, have always remained in the extended family compound.

Nasiru had been sick for some time. He had recently returned from the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu. No one seems to know what his illness was. The hospitals here do not often explain the medical diagnosis in the local language. “His stomach was swollen”.  He had oedema, which spread to his limbs. We suspect liver problems. Nasiru’s condition declined rapidly after he was discharged from hospital.

He was only in Grade 4 because the primary school in our village, Bongbini only opened recently, and despite his being much older than the other kids in his class, Nasiru wanted to be educated.

All the men of our compound sat outside, on the logs under the tree, in grief, and to receive visitors offering condolences. The women stayed within the compound, by the Nasiru’s body, continuing to wail, but more quietly.

After breakfast in our room, Alice told me that we could not go out to our office. Custom is that no one goes to farm, or to work, until after the burial. She and I would need to remain in our room within the compound or join the mourners.

Preparations are being made for the burial. The animist or traditional customs prevail, but the Imam or Moslem prayer leader will also be called upon to perform ceremonies. There are adherents to all three religious traditions in Bongbini, indeed, even in our extended family compound (Traditional/Animist, Christian, and Moslem). Islam seems to fit better with the traditional religion

Nasiru died in a family member’s arms. All through the night, his immediate family were with him. This is also customary. Had he not died in someone’s arms, all sorts of other special ceremonies for “purification” would need to have been done. People feel it’s important to provide care to a dying person in this physical way, as they slip from this life into the world of the ancestors. If not, compensatory ceremonies are designed to assuage both the person who died alone, and the ancestors.

As people start to visit our compound to offer condolences, Alice quickly advises me that I need to learn the complementary greetings, used on a day when someone has died. The ubiquitous common morning greetings are not appropriate. “Dasuba” , “Te masim”, and “I sa gbisi wula”, need to be complemented by “ni ti fara”. Not sure yet what this means, (I’ll find out later) but when I utter these words, it seems appreciated by the dozens of people I’ve greeted so far this morning.

The quiet sobbing and wailing continues. As friends and relatives in neighboring villages learn the news, they will travel here to Bongbini to offer sympathy. The arrival of visitors will provoke fresh outbursts. The rise and fall of the wailing will continue to be heard throughout the day.

The burial is done…Alice and I take our leave.

Early rains, March 12 2008

We had the first rain of 2008 here last night. It was nothing to write home about; it was just a sprinkle but lasted the whole night! After such a long dry period, not even a small puddle formed. However, it did settle the Harmatan dust that had been hanging around and cooled down the temperature. We are at the beginning of the hottest season of the year here in the north.

Back in Ghana Feb 2008

Gambaga, 20 Feb 2008 Greetings from Gambaga. First day in the office after a long drawn trip to the US in December and January! I finally arrived in my village last Sunday, and got caught up with family and personal matters until now. My immediate (a bit extended family) is well. But I lost an uncle (mother’s cousin) who was in his mid-30s. It is Harmattan season here. From Nov to Feb/Mar. During winter in the Northern hemisphere, dry winds blow from the north down south, bringing with it a lot of dust/fine sand from the Sahara desert. The dust is so thick it looks like a thick fog outside right now, covering the sun and every thing else. For example, if you are outside for 3-4 hours the fine dust settles on your eyelids, nostrils, any hair, etc and all turn visibly brown. Dusting furniture and other things is a useless exercise at this time. In West Africa (not sure of the rest of Africa) we call this season the Harmattan Season. Coming from the north, the Harmattan is more severe in northern areas (countries, regions and districts) than in the South e.g. it is severer in Burkina than in Ghana and in northern than in southern Ghana. The Harmattan season is the coolest time of the year. The temperature may go down to 15 degrees Celsius (in Farenheit?) in the evenings and mornings. That is very cold for us here! It is time for building and repairing houses. Last year’s floods caused many mud houses to fall. Building and roofing is men’s responsibility in our area. Women may help with water but their responsibility is plastering walls and damming the floors. It is also the season for final funeral rites celebrations, especially for the elderly who passed during the past year or before. It is a good time because food from last year’s harvest is still available to feed family and relatives from far and near who gather for such celebrations. It is a time for family reunions and renewal/fostering of extended family ties. The Dawadawa (locus bean?) and sheanut trees, the two main economic trees in the north here, bloom at this time. The bean of the former is processed into one of the main ingredients for soups and sauces while sheabutter is extracted from the nuts of the latter and used for cooking and body cream. Indeed, sheabutter is used extensively in body creams, chocolates and for medicinal purposes. The Japanese are investing in sheabutter production/processing in the north for exporting. These two trees are perhaps the most important income source for rural women in our area. They roam in the bush and farms to harvest the locust beans and sheanuts, then sell unprocessed or processed. Judging from the blooms, the harvest looks promising this year. However, conventional wisdom has it that the excessive hamattan winds this year may damage them. The Harmattan is followed by the hottest time of the year i.e. Mar-April –May when temperatures may climb above 40 degrees Celsius here, just like hot summer days in Oklahoma! Enough about seasons and local goings on. Check in later for news about PAMBE Ghana.

Accra Feb 13 2008

Accra, 02/13/08 Things got rolling in Ghana and time just flew by and I neglected my blog for the longest time. My sincere apologies. My trip back to Ghana after a nice 2 months in the US went well. I made it here last night on British Airways. I had just a little tense moment in London Heathrow on how to get my two pieces of hand luggage on a wheelchair to the security check and beyond. My friend Caroline, was getting upset that the guy refused to push me and my luggage. (I do not blame him because...try to imagine my hand luggage!). The proposed solution was either I left one piece behind and go on the flight or go the following day when I will be able to check one hand luggage through. In the end, I just took my luggage and limped along his empty wheelchair through security and to the gate. The rest was a piece of cake. The flight was delayed one full hour anyway. The flight was a pleasant one. There was a wheelchair waiting for me when we desembarqued that took me from the tarmac through police, baggage claim, and out. In fact, no customs check at all! The guy back in and brought all my luggage and waited with me until my friend arrived to pick me. He helped put all the luggage in the car! Just incredible! I thanked him with ten Ghana cedis (about $10), too generous by Ghanaian standards but...... I am just taking it easy today at my friend's - Yacine's today. Yacine is a Burkinabe who I got to know in Canada. Yacine works at the Canadian High Commission in Accra. I will be here till the weekend. I am exhausted but happy to have seen my friends and to be back in Ghana.

Welcome to Ghana!

Friday, August 17 in Accra

Good morning, Friends.

The adventure has started well. I arrived safely, with all my luggage.  I had too much luggage so had pay quite a bit for it. Everything was checked through to Accra. Lucky that I was strongly advised in OKC to have ONLY ONE piece of hand luggage, including my computer, handbag, etc, so Peter ran back home and brought me a bag.  This is truly strictly adhered to in the London Heathrow airport.  Otherwise everything went smoothly. We arrived in Accra around 8:40 p.m. on Friday. I felt warmth in my heart walking from the plane to the departure hall! “Welcome to Ghana; Akwaaba!” I felt like I was walking into open arms, on to the bosom of Ghana, my Motherland!

I had my first pleasant interaction with the security guard at the airport, charged to keep non travelers outside. With my 5 pieces of luggage of about 65 lb a piece, I had to have two loads. I went through customs with no problem, and when I came out my uncle (‘my sister Sala’s’ Dad - Jacob Tampuri) who was to meet me had not yet arrived. (Jacob is my age mate so I call him Jacob). The security man gave me his cell phone to call my uncle. He also offered to look after my luggage while I went back for the 2nd load, giving me his badge as guarantee. When I came back out he and my uncle had connected.  He helped us our through the crowd and load the luggage in the pick up trucked, and advised us how we could get out safely. I was so impressed and thankful. Of course, I had no Ghana money and very few small $ bills. I gave him all I had - $8.00 and he was very happy and I was the happier. We spent the night at a relative’s house in Accra; Jacob knows them but I don’t.

The next day, Saturday we left at 5 a.m. and arrived in Kumasi at Jacob’s around 11 a.m.

I spent the afternoon with Jacob and others at a huge funeral celebration for the father of one of our ‘Mamprusi brothers’ here. He is a medical assistant (called doctor) who has been in the Kumasi area for over 25 years. [Yes, funerals for the elderly are really celebrations of the life of the deceased].  There were traditional Mamprusi dances as well as of other ethnic groups. It was wonderful. Of course, I forgot my camcorder. I did take some pictures.  I spent most of Sunday with my childhood friend who now lives here. I have just been taking in the sounds, smells, faces, indeed everything around me.


Monday, August 20-21

I finalized the purchase of a Nissan pickup vehicle and took delivery of it yesterday.  I also applied for a Ghana driver’s license that took forever to process. I am glad that Jacob came with me; we got through the whole process and I now have a temporary GH license to use until November when the real one will be ready.  I have a few little things to finish with the vehicle today.

I leave tomorrow morning to Tamale, a 7-hour drive. Cell phones are ubiquitous here. Everyone, almost, has one; at offices, in the market, at home; It is incredible! There are three main cell phone companies: Tigo, MNT (formerly areeba) and OneTouch, the oldest in the countries. None of these however is completely reliable or has nationwide coverage. So many people have two chips to stay connected. I have joined the crowd.  I have two phone numbers: + 233 20 701 9683 (OneTouch);  + 233 24 509 5457 (MTN)


Wednesday, August 22-23

I will find out more about internet connections in Tamale. There are possibilities here, but none extends beyond Tamale Metropolitan area.  I went to Oxfam UK, EQUALL (Education quality for All), School for life and ACDEP (Association of Church Devt Project) Secretariat to make contact. Unfortunately, all the lead people were out of town.  Will follow up next time I’m in Tamale.


Thursday, August 24

Arrived in Bongbini, native village. Surprised them because although they knew I was coming, they did not know the exact date.  The rain season has been exceptionally wet this year.  You have probably heard in the news about floods in parts of Africa.  Same in Ghana, especially in the North.


Friends, that is all for now. I hope I can send it from internet café in town.



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