A protracted chieftaincy disagreement that pitched the Abudus against the Andanis and threatened the peace of Dagbon prevented the celebration of the much-cherished festival in the traditional seat of Yani (Yendi).The resolution of the dispute led to the eventual enskinment of a new Yaa-Naa earlier this year, thereby paving the way for the celebration of the festival.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the chiefs and the people turned up in their numbers to celebrate the festival.
The revellers, who came from far and near, trooped to the durbar grounds at the Gbewaa Palace, clad in beautifully woven smocks of varied colours, sizes and styles, some with hats to match, while some sub-chiefs rode on decorated horses with their respective retinues, amidst drumming, singing and dancing to popular traditional songs.
The event was on the theme: “A new Dagbon: Peace and unity for development”.
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; the Prime Minister of Barbados, Ms Mia Mottley; former President John Dramani Mahama, Ministers of State, Members of Parliament and other dignitaries graced the occasion.
The President called on the chiefs and the people of Dagbon to rally behind the Yaa-Naa to consolidate the peace in the area to enhance development.
He said although the government and various stakeholders were doing their best to ensure that Dagbon gained its past glory, the greatest work had to be done by the people because they understood the culture and traditions better.
“Decades of strife and mistrust among the Dagbon people cannot disappear overnight because we now have a Yaa-Naa; the effects of physical neglect and deliberate destruction will not automatically be mitigated because we have a peace road map handed out by the three eminent chiefs and endorsed by the government. It is the same way that the reluctance of outsiders to accept posting to Dagbon will not suddenly vanish because the President has brought in distinguished foreigners. I am counting on all of you to help transform Dagbon,” he noted.
“Saturday's festival is proof that the peace of Dagbon is holding and we can begin to point to concrete signs of the peace dividend,” President Akufo-Addo said.
He observed that the young people of Dagbon, who had known nothing but strife, now could see another and more attractive side of their heritage, the Damba Festival, which was no longer a tale of bygone years told by nostalgic old men and women, saying: “It is a real and living part of Dagbon life.”
Responding to an appeal by the Yaa-Naa to look into the Nanton chieftaincy dispute, President Akufo-Addo said he was aware of the incident and that the government and the security agencies would work hard to ensure the maintenance of law and order.
“The government and the security agencies will do all that is possible to guarantee the security and peace of Nanton and the greater work must be done by the people of Dagbon,” he stated.
While commending the chiefs and the people of Dagbon for upholding the peace since the installation of a new Overlord for the area, he assured them that they would have their share of development projects, saying that the Yendi water system project would commence soon.
The people of Dagbon conferred the chieftaincy title: ‘Dagbon Malti-Naa Abudani I’ on President Akufo-Addo in recognition of his role in bringing lasting peace to Dagbon.
The Prime Minister of Barbados was also decorated with a beautiful traditional apparel.
Appreciation and appeals
Yaa-Naa Mahama, in a speech read on his behalf by the Chief of Zangbulung, Naa Dr Yakubu Mahama, thanked the President and all Presidents of the Fourth Republic for their collective effort to ensure peace in the area and promised to work hard to consolidate it.
He appealed to the President to upgrade the Yendi Government Hospital and fix the deplorable roads in the area to improve on the lives of the people.
The Damba festival is celebrated by the people of Dagbon and Nanumba in the Northern Region, Mamprugu and Gonja in the North East and the Savannah regions who were formerly part of the Northern Region in the Dagomba lunar month of Damba, corresponding with the third month of the Islamic calendar, Rabia al-Awwal.
The festival is celebrated to mark the birth and naming of Prophet Muhammad, but the actual content of the celebration is a glorification of chieftaincy and not specific Islamic motifs.
The festival, therefore, starts on the 10th day of the month of Damba with the “Somo” Damba, followed by the ‘Naa’ Kings Damba on the 17th day, with the “bielkulsi”, which is the climax of the celebration, coming off on the 18th of the month of Damba.