Of Sharp Cutlasses and Blazing Fires

Dear Nii Kpakpo,

I have had to write this whole article again because I made a mistake and discarded the original article which was 3’whole days of research and writing and I cannot recover it. These gadgets nowadays need to have systems of recovery once the work goes into it but maybe there is that I don’t know about.

You know I’m tech savvy and when it comes to gadget use, it’s what I can use it for that matters. It has to suit my needs and what I intend to do with it. Apart from that I don’t really care what kind of gadget it is or what brand name it has. Chale! I have been known to stream live events fro my little Techno smartphone whilst people with tabs just use it for social media text messages and calls. One silly girl even got lost when she had the google map application on her phone. But hmm, that’s not the topic for the day.

The last time I told you about the activities in the savannah but I keft one important one that deserves a letter I’m it’s own. This is the Fire Festival of the people of Dagbon. The history of the fire festival is outlined by WikipediaWikipedia so I will not delve into it. It is good that the people have adapted the story to one of looking for a lost prince but from the way the celebrations go, even for a thousand years, that prince will never be found.

As at 2am on the day of the festival as I was going to bed, I could swear that I heard loud singing and drumming with ‘jama’ songs which are usually songs composed about social issues, hero worship, history of the people or just plain rhythmic noise making. But I didn’t bother to think about it because the body needed to sleep.

Another thing that led to my not being interested is that here in the savannah I don’t listen to radio maybe because of the culture of political debates that have become the culture of the major cities. Early morning radio shows are all characterised by political debate and harangues that are rather pointless to the development of the nation. Politicians now have a culture of self service and seemingly don’t have the interests of the people who put them there at heart. This is rather unfortunate and thus making it obvious that the people will have to fend for themselves.

It was only after a friend of mine of mine was driving us home that I heard the announcer at a local station plead with people to comport themselves at the festival that same evening.

Then it made sense the preparation I had seen during the day of people carrying haystacks shaped in the form of a scarecrow, wooden effigies and others carrying fire crackers en masse all over town. It was all I’m preparation for the evenings fire festival.

Usually the expectations are high because the procession through the major streets is massive and throngs of people participate especially local youth. There are several youth bands in the savannah and these groups all come together in their own way to celebrate the festival. They all organise bands with drummers and some even use brass bands in e procession. It is a colourful procession of fire, sharp cutlasses and lots of crackers and gunshots – musket fire.

Symbolically the sharpened cutlasses are supposed to be to cut through the scrubs, whilst the fire is to light the way.

Kpakpo, the procession looks dangerous but it is really amazing how they are able to maintain a minimum of casualties with all the organised chaos going on. For a people who are perceived to be violent it is rather amazing that the youth bands don’t end up fighting each other but rather collaborate to have as much fun as possible at the event.

There was one youth group who had music but no girls to dance to it and coming face to face with another group which hag girls just singing on their own mixing together for a colourful presentation of gyrating dance skills and I tell you, these savannah people can twerk. Their whole dance is concentrated in their waist movements.

Nii Kpakpo, as for the observers, there are plenty. There are the youth who are in the savannah to attend school, both secondary (thanks to computer placement) and tertiary (polytechnic and university) from various parts if the country and their curiosity for the event drawn them to the festival. Usually such people are afraid and as such stay a safe distance from the street procession. They end up standing on the stairs and balconies of storey buildings so they can be safe from the screaming shouting cutlass wielding throngs of revellers.

Another group of participants are the tourists and white volunteers or even foreigners from all over the world. With what they hear about Africa they want to be close to the festival but also stay a safe distance from the activity so they rather stay guardedly on the pavements and very carefully take pictures as events unfold. Such people are afraid of being mugged and therefore are afraid at first to whip out cameras to capture the events.

Kpakpo, it is only after they see local folk like me walk through the crowds with our Nikkons and iPads chronicling the events that they have the confidence to bring out their own gadgets to take pictures.

It is very difficult not to be drawn by the crowd since there are youth groups sitting on the back of motorcycles brandishing cutlasses and women carrying pots of fire, drummers drumming with lots of singing, and all this time the firework display goes on with crackers and musket fire. This is what I describe as the organised chaos Chale.

Papa Nii, like I said earlier it is amazing that there are hardly any people ‘disturbing the peace’ because mob justice is at work. This is the only time and only place that I have seen mob justice used for positive reinforcement in a society. In other places and festivals I have witnessed, there is always a clarion call for comportment of the people during the duration of the festival. In this instance however, the people themselves make an individual commitment not to do anything to disrupt the festivities and whenever there is a misunderstanding, if even there are any, the mob intervenes and it is settled quickly and instantly.

Kpakpo, I tell you I was pretty much shocked by one guy’s apology when he stepped on my foot after he had been startled by the huge boom of a canon. Guy was so effusive in his apology that I had to tell him it was okay. Really!

Heck! At a festival in one of your hometowns around the city, a guy stepped on my toes without any provocation and he rather wanted to beat me up for not getting out of his way quickly enough. Apparently he had taken me for an outsider because of my quiet demeanour but when we had exchanged a few choice words in ‘our language’ he just stalked off, without an apology of course. And this was at home somewhere in Bearded Mayor’s jurisdiction Nii Kpakpo.

The display of various skills have always been massive. The skills are so varied they leave onlookers in awe. These include mock knife fights, rollerblade displays and motorcycle stunts. Some of these stunts are death defying stunts and they have been honed to perfection for a whole year. There is stiff competition in these stunts and the ultimate prize is bragging rights for the whole year.

This year however most of the death defying stunts were conspicuously missing. The rollerblade boys were scarcely seen and they were individuals as opposed to the various groups that have participated every year. Same as the motorcycle stunts. I don’t know if they were missing because of the ‘first gear’ state of the economy when living conditions and fuel prices are escalating at fourth gear conditions.

It was basically an individual display of skills and what it meant is that usually things were likely to go wrong. As it did when one biker lost control of his bike and let it run into an onlooking crowd. There were no series injuries though. The mob stepped in to whisk the culprit cyclist off.

Another interesting feature was the street jam version of the festival. When the processing thronged were tired and usually at a time when the festival was to fizzle out, some dude drove in a contraption that was playing loud music and people converged around it and it began to serve as music for the street belting local popular dagbani mad hip life hit songs. It was mad fun.

And Kpakpo, these northern girls can twerk! Damn! I think it’s because most of the native dances are centred around the waist.

Kpakpo, truly I learnt a lot of lessons from this fire festival. The most important lesson was that when we put our minds to something as individuals, we can achieve positive results as a collective. Everybody at the festival didn’t want to be the one to be blamed for disturbing the peace and this individual resolve led to a fun filled festival.

Another important lesson from this festival is the that working together can achieve marvellous results. The collaboration between youth groups led to them having more fun at the festival. With everybody pitching in, it was generally not only a success but loads of fun.

Nii Kpakpo Thompson, these festivals are the last vestiges of our tradition and culture and we have to do everything in our power to keep these traditions. Our culture is our identity and when we lose our identity we are nothing and nobody.

I believe we can all contribute in keeping our identity by understanding the cultural systems and not condemn by looking through the lenses do our western style education and influences. If nations like China and other Asian folk have been able to do it, we should be ale to do it too.

Kpakpo, our festivals are always fun and worth the education. The sharp cutlasses should cut through all the crap in our system and the blazing fires burn all hypocrisy in this our land of our birth.

Till I write again keep keeping well.

You Cousin in law
Savannah Boy

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