Buɣim Chuɣu Festival: Marking the Dagomba new year with fire and tradition

Stories and facts

The Buɣim Chuɣu, or Fire Festival, marks the beginning of the year for the Dagomba people. Celebrated on the ninth day of Bugum Goli, the first month of the Dagomba lunar calendar, the festival commemorates an ancient event known as the "lost son of a king" in Dagbon history.

The traditional origin story of the Bugum Festival dates back to a time before the unification of Dagbon by Naa Gbewaa. According to legend, a king’s son went missing after playing with other children and falling asleep under a tree. When the parents realized the child was not with either of them, the king ordered his subjects to search for him.

The searchers, using torches to light their way in the dark, eventually found the child asleep under the tree. Believing the tree had hidden their son, the community deemed it evil and set it ablaze with their torches. To commemorate this event, the king decreed that it be remembered annually, leading to the tradition of lighting torches and gathering at the king’s palace.

An alternative origin story links the festival to the Prophet Noah. Some Muslim Dagombas believe that when Noah's Ark landed on Mount Arafat, passengers lit torches to navigate and search for Noah's son who did not board the Ark. This version, however, is disputed since no similar festival is observed in the wider Muslim world and the Dagomba do not originate from Arab tribes. Despite these differing narratives, the celebration persists, blending traditional and Islamic elements.

During Bugum Chuɣu, participants dress as warriors, carrying torches, swords, cutlasses, and other weapons, creating a war-like atmosphere. They dance the ziem, a traditional dance for the tindaamba (land priests), accompanied by the gungong drum. This dance is historically significant, being older than any other in Dagbon and played during various communal events, including wars and funerals.

Preparation for the festival begins on the ninth day of Bugum Goli, with the community engaging in essential activities only. Men visit each other’s homes to exchange New Year greetings, while boys prepare and distribute torches to their elders.

Families feast on fowl, guinea-fowl, goats, or sheep, sharing meals with friends and relatives. The evening meal includes a soup made from puhuga (Tamarindus Indica) leaves, and offerings are placed on house walls for ancestors and God, accompanied by vows and declarations.

The actual ceremony starts after the evening meal when the drum beater summons the tom-tom beaters and state elders to the palace. The chief lights the first torch and leads the procession, throwing his torch to signal the beginning of the festival.

The community then moves to the outskirts of the town, holding their torches high and chanting in a war-like manner. The celebration concludes with women joining the closing chants and dances.

The Bugum Chuɣu is a historic and charged festival, blending historical tradition with contemporary practice, and is celebrated by Dagombas of all religious backgrounds, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Dagbon.



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