The Bugum Chugu (Fire Festival) is the first Dagomba festival in the year. It is celebrated in the first month of the Dagomba lunar year, the Bugum Goli (the month of fire), and is celebrated on the ninth day of the month.
The origin of the festival dates back to the time the Prophet Noah landed his Ark on Mount Ararat. According to Dagomba traditions, when the Ark of Noah landed at the end of the floods the passengers lit torches to 1) find their way around and 2) to find the son of prophet Noah who failed to enter the Ark when it set out with the believers. To buttress their claim of the origin of the Bugum Festival, the Dagombas further claim that they are descendants of the Aad, a prehistoric Arab tribe that succeeded Noah and his people.
The celebration of the festival starts on the ninth day of Bugum Goli. Normally, except essential services such as fetching of water, grinding of flour, sale of meat and taking care of the sick, no work is allowed to be done on any Dagomba festival day. So on this day everyone (men, women and children) stays at home. The men start the day moving round each other’s homes to say good morning and Happy New Year. Everyone is heard saying “Ni ti yuun palli” (literally and our new year). After a brief exchange of the new year greetings, people sit at home and engage in normal conversation. The young boys look for dry grass to prepare long torches for distribution to their grandparents, grand aunts, grand uncles and maternal uncles.
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 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 liguist, 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 torch of grass. The chief is the first to light his torch. The chief is led a little distance from where the crowd is gathered to cast away his lit-up torch. He moves back into 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.
The people hold not only their torches but also swords, cutlasses, knives, bows, arrows and cudgels. The mood of the people is war-like. The atmosphere is heavily charged and disturbed. It appears ominous to any person who has never witnessed the occasion.