Yesterday was the Fire Festival, a celebration based on the Muslim holiday but like many aspects of Islam in Northern Ghana this one has taken on a much more traditional feel. And this feel is a huge moving block party that originates in all the communities that make up Tamale and then moves to the Chief’s house in central Tamale. I walked up my street to where the Kalpohin group was gathering when I heard drumming, trumpets and what sounded like cannon blasts. At a crossroads there was a huge moving mass of people illuminated by bundles of flaming reeds. At the center of this group were a group of drummers and dancers and then the remaining members of the group circulated around this. Also within this group were several people firing off ancient muzzle loading rifles, most often seen strapped to the bicycles of farmers, these were the origin or the cannon blasts, and when they were fired they enveloped the group in a shower of sparks and a thick cloud of smoke.
I followed this group into the center of town as more and more people joined in. Once arriving at the Chief’s palace, along with other groups, they began moving back and forth down one of the main streets. They were also joined by people shooting off badly aimed fireworks and people igniting aerosol cans. And if you did not have a gun you carried a machete, hatchet, or sword—groups of young boys with machetes would run around the outside of a group scraping their blades on the group creating a shower of sparks. In front of the Chief’s palace there were also erected several huge columns of reeds that were periodically lit on fire and then replaced.
In the past few weeks I have had a few sketchy experiences here in Tamale, including giving blood on Tuesday, but the Fire Festival might find itself at the top of the list. I cannot count on my hands the number of times a gun was fired within ten feet of me which would cause a crush of people diving away from the sparks and smoke—I can count the number of times I saw an aerosol can explode though. It was a wonderful experience and I will also rank it at the top of my crazy festival list—it’s a crazy feeling to be part of a huge over-excited group of people. A more accurate description would be a huge moving block party with multiple burn victims.
It also appeared to be an opportunity for all of the Queens in Tamale to put on their finest and hit the town with groups of children following them around and cheering them on.
I have also added photos to last week's post.