Drummers: Historians of the Dagomba People

  • January 26, 2021      Friendly Borders Staff

Accra – In modern-day Ghana, ten regions are home to various ethnic communities. One of them, the Dagomba, or Dagbamba, as they are sometimes called, live in the northern area. Their people once lived under the Dagbon kingdom, which is now under the Ghana government’s administrative rule.

The Dagbon kingdom was founded in the 14th century by northern invaders. However, now, it is divided into seven districts. The Dagomba people have their communities in Tamale, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nanton, Yendi, Gushiegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatale, and Saboba/Chereponi.

As dwellers of the northern region, the Dagomba have a vast land of dry savannah. They became expert farmers who planted corn (maize), millet, peanuts (groundnuts), millet, sorghum, and yams. Moreover, the Dagomba practiced hunting and fishing. However, there is still a lot to learn about these indigenous persons.

Dagbani Language

The Dagomba people’s language, Dagbani, helped them pass wisdom, appreciation, and continuity of their culture to the younger generations. Their Dagbani language is part of the Moré–Dagbani subgroup of the Gur languages. This particular language group stretches from southeastern Mali to northwestern Nigeria. This connection brought an addition to the complex history of the Dagomba ethnic origin, which presents the idea that they are not originally from Ghana but Nigeria.

Nonetheless, their language is a clear identifier to the three ethnic groups who share similarities with the Dagbanli language: Dagomba (Dagbamba), Mamprusi, and Nanumbra. Moreover, the Dagomba community’s use of the Dagbani brings life to their distinct and rich cultural tradition.

A Rich Cultural Tradition

Aside from sharing a linguistic lineage with the other ethnic groups in the region, the Dagomba have a distinct practice that has helped preserve their people’s history, culture, and identity. Among the diverse indigenous groups in Ghana, the Dagomba stands out with their intricate oral and musical tradition. They can preserve their people’s history and origin through the use of musical instruments and the special celebration that revolves around their oral traditions with drummers as the community’s expert historians. The people gather together and witness the story of their people through various festivities.

The Dagomba’s storytellers gather at events (sambanlunga) where they share engaging narratives accompanied by the playing of the drums. These narratives tell the deep history of the kingdom of Dagbon. It is no surprise then that the drums are even called “talking drums.” Aside from the drum’s musical function, it also represents the Dagbani language’s tonal nature.

The sambanlunga tradition also connects the special status of drummers within the society. As the drummers share their ancestor’s stories and wisdom, their role in the preservation and continuity of the Dagomba indigenous life is crucial. As the drummers share the colorful events of their people, they are considered the people’s main keepers of history.

With this in mind, it is important to have the members of the Dagomba indigenous group and even academic practitioners see the unique dynamics in this cultural practice. A better understanding of the roots of various musical and oral traditions can bring a new appreciation from local members and even foreign individuals. It may also encourage more to have a closer and deeper study of the Dagomba indigenous communities in the future.

Image from Virgyl Sowah, https://unsplash.com/photos/E9NPWGBXM9o

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