Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bong Ngo Festival

Yesterday was the Cultural Day of the Bong Ngo Festival in Jirapa, the next town north of Nadowli. The arena was set up on the Chief’s land with awnings and seating and I watched the place come to life as people gathered to prepare food and make preparations. The arrival, seating and welcome for invited guests and numerous chiefs took some time. Each chief was escorted and sheltered under a large, bright parasol whilst the Regional Minister for the Upper West of Ghana swept into the arena in one of a fleet of 9 large SUVs carrying his entourage. 

The chiefs sat opposite the Regional Minister and walked across the arena to welcome him once he was seated on a rostrum. The programme listed a host of Introductory Speeches, Exchanges of Welcome, Addresses and Replies. 

Prayers were said and a libation was poured on the ground by village elders in respect of the ancestors. 

A group of Hunters appeared with a fine collection of skulls with antlers and horns as well as a pair of dried elephants ears. They livened up the proceedings by firing loud gunshots and explosions which made us all jump out of our seats.

Fortunately in amongst all these formalities there were some fantastic displays of traditional dancing. Music came from drums & wooden xylophones with gourds suspended underneath to deepen and enrich the tone. They were played enthusiastically as the dancers showed their amazing agility and stamina. I am so glad I took my long lens to capture images I can be proud of.

I discovered that the main reason for the festival being held at this time is connected with the harvesting of fruit from the Dawadawa tree. This fruit, which is like a bright yellow powder that comes in long pods and requires a lot of boiling, pounding etc before it can be used, is very precious due to its nutritional properties. In Jirapa, a town ban is placed on the harvesting until the pods are brown and ripe as early picking of green pods makes the fruit useless and a waste. This substance is high in protein in an area where many people cannot afford meat and fish. A spoonful of Dawadawa in their food benefits the children particularly. At this festival, the ban is lifted and the harvest can begin.

The spectators were many of all ages and their patience during the formalities in searing heat at the height of this hot, dry season is to be admired. They are used to it but I struggled!

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