A History of the Buɣum Chuɣu (Fire Festival)

Buɣum Chuɣu is the first Dagomba festival in the year. It is celebrated in the first month of the Dagomba lunar year, the buɣum Goli (the month of fire), is celebrated on the ninth day of the month.

The origin of the Buɣum Festival dates back to the time when one king lost his dear grandson. My last year piece on the Buɣum Chuɣu stated that,the name of the king and the said grandson was no longer known. Some also claimed that the event even took place before the arrival of the ruling class in modern Dagbonŋ, Mamprugu and Nanunŋ. But what I discovered in my research on this topic points out that its origin can be traced to the era of Naa Zolgu whose grandson (Naa DariӠiԑɣu) went missing.

As I indicated in one of my previous stories titled Naa Luro I, where I outlined that Naa Luro was a prince of Naa Zolgu. Naa Luro’s father had five (5) of his princes ascending the Yendi skins. Naa Zolgu’s eldest prince was Naa/Zuu Zonŋ(  Zonŋ ŋmaya Ku shԑ mia). Naa Zonŋ as a prince had a son, Naa DariӠiԑɣu who was very handsome (without blemish as far as his physical stature was concern) and was thought to have many natural features associated with kings of Dagbong.

By the time Naa DariӠiԑɣu was born, his father Zuu Zonŋ had separated and relocated from the Gbewaa Palace. The features and signs associated with Naa DariӠiԑɣu as a child generated a lot of controversies and gossips among the elders of Yendi and lieutenants/confidantes (Naazo bihi) of Naa Zolgu when they bumped into him playing with his contemporaries. One day, the confidantes (Naazo bihi) of Naa Zolgu were as usual gossiping about the features associated with Naa DariӠiԑɣu whiles Naa Zolgu was around eavesdropping every minute of their gossip. During the gossip, one of the lieutenants were overheard saying “the child, Naa DariӠiԑɣu ought to have been a prince of Naa Zolgu not his first grandson (Yaan kpanŋ)”. When Naa Zolgu heard this it intensified his curiosity to find out who Naa DariӠiԑɣu was as his grandson.

Naa Zolgu had not had the opportunity of knowing who his grandson was because the customs of Dagbong prohibit a sitting Yaa-Naa from seeing his first grandson. This grandson is usually the eldest son to the prince of the king who may become the king’s regent when the king dies. Naa Zolgu requested, the child Naa DariӠiԑɣu be brought before him to ascertain the veracity of the gossip he had heard. He was vehemently advised against his decision and the customs that preaches against it was used to justify the lieutenants and elders disagreement.

One night Naa Zolgu was quietly hanging out by himself within the premises of the Gbewaa Palace which serves as a playground for children sometimes. He suddenly bumped into children who were seen playing in the Gbewaa Palace. Naa Zolgu while looking at the children was able to identify one of them with the features talked about by his lieutenants/confidantes and elders. Naa Zolgu requested for time alone with the child when he queried him about his name and parentage.The child answered without any hesitation that his father was Zuu Zonŋ though he carried the name of DariӠiԑɣu. In an attempt to verify the gossips of the lieutenants, Naa Zolgu sent Naa DariӠiԑɣu into his living room in the palace and adorned Naa DariӠiԑɣu with the custodian regalia and other chieftaincies regalia ( Salimata,Gamli etc.), and true to the lieutenants/confidantes(Naazo bihi) words, Naa Zolgu was utterly shocked and he laughed in surprise.

Naa Zolgu at this juncture fell in love and admired the rare qualities of Naa DariӠiԑɣu from that day onwards. On a subsequent Friday, elders of Yendi came to pay homage to Naa Zolgu. It was in the homage succession that, Naa Zolgu informed the elders about how he had broken the customary rule prohibiting a sitting Yaa-Naa from seeing his eldest grandson. He used that as an opportunity to serve them a word to maintain Naa DariӠiԑɣu’s father in the person of Naa Zonŋ as king of Dagbong. He believed that it was when Naa Zonŋ had duly served his role as the regent of the kingdom, that the way would be paved for Naa DariӠiԑɣu as a potential Yaa-Naa.

As a result of Naa Zolgu’s unflinching love for his grandson (DariӠiԑɣu),the Gbewaa Palace became the consistent place of stay for Naa DariӠiԑɣu as he was almost always seen lurking around his grand-dad (Naa Zolgu). One day, as the sun set, Naa DariӠiԑɣu’s presence could not be felt and his mother by name Mma Mayanka grew worried. Mma Mayanka put this development before her husband Zuu Zonŋ who also had no scintilla of idea about the whereabouts of their son Naa DariӠiԑɣu. Naa DariӠiԑɣu’s parents first point of inquirywas at the Gbewaa Palace where the prince was always seen with his grandfather (Naa Zolgu). Naa Zolgu declined knowledge of his grandson’s whereabouts and was immediately affected by the development. He could not sit much less talk of sleeping.

It was at that moment that Naa Zolgu, Zuu Zonŋ and Mma Mayanka all got to realize that Naa DariӠiԑɣu was not with any of them. Naa Zolgu ordered his subjects to go round the neighborhood in search of Naa DariӠiԑɣu. They did not find him either. Even, the children he had been going out to play with could not remember their friend’s whereabouts.

Naa Zolgu quickly assembled a dispatch team and told them what had transpired. The dispatch team were instructed to look for Naa DariӠiԑɣu. Since
it was during the night and dark hours, the dispatch team lit torches in search of Naa DariӠiԑɣu. Finally, he was found under an oak tree deeply asleep. They sent him to Naa Zolgu who was desperately waiting for his arrival. Naa Zolgu together with his parents(Zuu Zonŋ and Mma Mayanka) thought that the tree had stolen Naa DariӠiԑɣu and hidden him. They therefore considered the oak tree an evil tree and threw the torches they were carrying on that tree and shamed it.

The community at that time regarded that particular oak tree as an evil tree and many feared it afterwards. Naa Zolgu, we are told decreed that the event should be marked yearly to commemorate the event. Every year they assembled in front of the Gbewaa Palace to celebrate the festival. When they set fire, Naa Zolgu used to be the first to light the fire with his torch. The chief did not go far and dropped his torch and returned home.

Mokpala (torches) ready for the Buɣum Chuɣu

The people usually continued the march and would go to the evil tree and throw their torches on it. While marching to the evil tree, they played and danced the famous Ӡiԑm dance, a dance associated with the tindaamba ‘land priests’. The people would dress as and still dress as warriors when celebrating buɣum chuɣu in Dagbong. Ӡiԑm is a dance for the tindaamba. It is older than any other dance in Dagbonŋ. It is played with the gungonŋ , which is older than any musical instrument in Dagbong. The people also play Ӡiԑm when they are going to war.

The actual ceremony for the festival starts after the evening meal. The drum beater comes to the palace to sound the drum. He, through the drumming, summons the tom-tom beaters and the elders of the state to the in palace. As they arrive one after the other, the commoners also come along. When everybody is gathered outside the palace, the elders of state led by a wulana, the chief linguist, enter the chief’s court to invite him outside. Some of the elders lead the way and the chief follows. The rest of the elders follow the chief.

Before the chief comes out, everybody is ready with his or her grass torch. The chief is the first to light his torch. The chief goes a little distance away from where the crowd is gathered to cast away his lit-up torch. He moves back in to the palace as the multitude of people yell and chant in a war-like manner amidst the deafening sound of the tom-tom and drums. There is usually a spot at the outskirts of the town where the multitude of people move to for the celebration of the Buɣum Festival.

 

 

Everybody holds high his or her burning torch. To prevent drops of fire from falling onto their clothes and burning them, many of the celebrators make their clothes wet with water. Except for a few girls who are daredevils, women are hardly seen in the crowd. They usually stay in their homes or at the outside of the palace until the crowd returns. Then they join in the closing chants and dance for the evening.

The people hold not only their torches but also swords, cutlasses , knives, bows, arrows and cudgels as is custom in the preparation for war. The mood of the people is war- like. The atmosphere is heavily charged. It appears ominous to any person who has never witnessed the occasion but all of it is to commemorate the rare but historic occurence in the Gbewaa Palace.

 

 

About the Writer

Yarkadika Dipantiche is a well known historian who shares Dagbang history on his social media accounts particularly Facebook.

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