The Bugum Chugu which is “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 history of fire festival can be traced back to a time when one powerful king whose name has been lost in the story lost his loving prince.
The story has it that, the price went out to play with his colleagues in the bush but along the way got tired and went and slept under one tree, his colleagues after playing couldn’t find him so went home. In the evening, the parents (king and wife) did not see him. The king thought he was with the mother and the mother also thought the child was with the father. After supper that the mother called on the king to take the child to bed. It was at that moment that they found that the child was not with any of them.
The chief and his people started searching for the lost son and as it was dark. They did not find him. Even, the children he went out with could not remember. They lite up torches made of grass which gave them light.
After several hours of their search, they found the prince under a tree. The parents thought that the tree stole the child and hid him. They therefore considered the tree an evil tree and threw the torches they were carrying on that tree and shamed it. The community at that time regarded that particular tree as an evil tree and many feared it. The king decreed that the event should be marked yearly to commemorate the event. Every year they assembled in front of the king’s palace to celebrate the festival. When they set fire, the king or the chief used to be the first to lite the fire with his torch. The chief did not go far and dropped his torch and returned home. The people continued the practice and used to go to the evil tree and threw their torches on it. While marching to the evil tree, they played and danced ziem, a dance for the tindaamba ‘land priests’. The people used to and still dress as warriors when celebrating Bugum Chugu in Dagbon. On their way home they sung, drummed danced and fired local guns.
Bugum Chugu is a typical traditional festival celebrated with traditional and local tools such as torches and the celebrants dress like warriors. The gung beater announce, then the chiefs welcome the chief who stands away from the crowd. 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 in to 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. There is usually a spot at the outskirts of the town where the multitude of people move to for the celebration of the Bugum Festival. Everybody holds high his or her burning torch. To prevent drops of fire from falling onto their clothes and burning them, many of the celebrators wet their clothes. Except for a few girls who are daredevils, women are hardly seen in the crowd. They usually stay in their homes or at the outside of the palace until the crowd returns. Then they join in the closing chants and dance for the evening.