World Damba Festival celebrates northern Ghanaian culture
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 07:09
The World Damba Festival 2012, a three-day celebration of the culture of northern Ghana, arrived at Tufts this weekend and featured a series of academic lectures given by speakers from around the world.
The World Damba Festival kicked off at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon in the Granoff Music Center with an academic panel entitled “History and Society of Northern Region.”
Sampahi-Naa Abdallah Zablong Zakariah, a professor from the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, emphasized the significance of the Damba festival, a custom which dates back to the late 16th century.
“This event energizes social relationships which bind together citizens of Ghana,” Zakariah said. “It reinforces beliefs, attitudes and values that underscore Dagomba culture, while providing a unique sense of identity and a unifying force for the state and its people.”
Zakariah said the festival traditionally lasts for over two weeks and features drumming, dancing, marching, singing and the sacrifice of a cow.
The events of Damba were designed to reflect contemporary issues of social, political and economic importance, and have thus evolved considerably over the centuries, he explained.
“In general, Damba is no longer the same festival today as it was in yesteryears,” Zakariah said. “No culture is static, and the same applies to the Dagbon people.”
Abdulai Iddrisu, a history professor from St. Olaf College, followed by addressing the significance of the Damba festival within the context of Islam in West Africa.
“The Dagbon is an epitome of the spread and legacy of Islam in Ghanaian society,” Iddrisu said. “The Damba festival is as old as Dagbon itself.”
Wyatt MacGaffey, an anthropology professor at Haverford College, discussed the disruptive effects of 19th-century British colonization on Dagomba customs.
MacGaffey praised the music and performances of the Damba festival, particularly those of the drummers, for reflecting the turbulence of the region’s history in their work.
“The drummer’s mission in Damba is to inspire their chiefs to emulate in battle the deeds of the ancestors embodied in their works,” MacGaffey said.
“They provide an account of the past which will serve as a guide for the future or an emulation of that possible future,” he said.
The panel’s final speaker, Ismael Montana, a history professor from Northern Illinois University, claimed that many areas of northern Ghana were relatively unaffected by the slave trade until the early 18th century, at which point devastation ensued as many Ghanaians were taken from their homes and forced into labor on slave plantations.
“By the time the Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807, disestablishment had occurred in Ghana that remains visible today,” Montana said.
Montana lauded the festivities of Damba as a representation of the unity and liberation that has manifested in Ghana since the abolishment of slavery.
Junior Connor Ring, who is currently enrolled in an ethnomusicology course, said the panel provided him with a new perspective on the Damba festival.
“It got me thinking about the wider social impact [of the World Damba festival], besides the musical aspects of it,” Ring said.