More Guns, More Drums, and even more Dancing Horses!
When I heard the streets would be filled with twenty thousand people it didn’t quite register what kind of experience it would be. Twenty thousand almost feels like an understatement for the experience of the ‘Damba’ festival in Tamale. Celebrated by tribes in the northern region of Ghana, it is a time of music, dancing, gunshots, and screaming as all the sub chiefs of the surrounding villages come to greet the main chief of the city. Ghana still holds traditional chieftaincy positions which hold power similar to that of the local politicians. The chiefs respect the politicians and the politicians respect the chiefs, and my experience of this amazing day was a typical insight into the ‘raw-ness’ of traditional Ghana.
With the conclusion of the Muslim mid afternoon call to prayer, people started filling up the streets, attracted by the bangs of the guns and the rhythm of the drums. Fortunately I arrived at the Chiefs palace (mud huts in the middle of the city) early where I met one of the sons of the main chief. He was happy to give us a guided tour of what was happening, and even took us into the palace where we were sat in a small room to meet with the chiefs sisters and two of his four wives. It’s a real experience when you are sat in a small room, full of old Ghanaian women laughing at you, smiling at you, and greeting you in their local tongue. You can smile back and even laugh back, nodding your head and repeating ‘Naaa’, which is a positive answer used to return the greeting.
Anyway, soon after we were amongst the crowds, watching these chiefs dancing, and musicians swaying with the music they repeated over and over. Guns started sounding, these huge rifles that shake the ground below you, and a man tries controlling the crowd, pushing them back, but the crowd kept on growing. Sub-chiefs entered the city on horseback, with their entourages of hundreds, all carrying rifles, and guns, axes and all sorts of things; screaming, shouting, laughing, dancing, the crowd swayed this way and that. I had never witnessed such a huge number of people. As far as the eye could see the roads were packed. It truly was an experience.
Among the entourages were the young, often with drums of their own, beating away. The old, wearing traditional smoks which when they dance it twirls and flicks into the air. The horses danced through the crowd, and occasionally jumped at the sound of gunshot, and it was more than once that I jumped at the sound as well. There were even some men carrying snakes over their shoulders.
A festival is a great opportunity to witness the spirit of Ghanaian hospitality. I met a man and his brother, who with no reasoning whatsoever made it their mission to get me the best spots amongst the crowd, to ensure that I had enough space, and rite of passage through the masses. They guided me for about three hours, until the time that I had to leave. It is a common experience in Ghana, to be approached by someone who just wants to help you, to guide you, and sincerely be your friend. It’s my western mentality that puts the idea in my head that these people want to get something from me, but my experiences with people here, are teaching me to befriend first before I judge, and to speak to people with an open heart to receive what they want to give to me.
By the time the festival finished it was already dark, and now the sub-chiefs and their entourages were beginning the journeys back to their country villages. They all walked a few hours to get to the city, and now the journey back will see them home late in the night. But they continue to have their drums, their screaming ladies and the hundreds of followers to keep them company on the road. What a day!