History Stories

Life Stories

Alhaji’s Life Story
Alhaji recounts his childhood training as a drummer, his apprenticeship with several highly respected drumming teachers, and his emergence as a popular young performer. After a period of rebellion, he resumes drumming and becomes employed by the Ghana government as a professional artist. When his father senses that death is approaching, he asks for Alhaji’s return to Dagbon so that he can help take care of the family.

Group Dances

Tora is among the oldest of the Dagomba drum stories. There came a time when a chief died having produced no sons, and they were forced to make a woman Yaa-naa. Another man who wanted the chieftaincy scared her out of the palace one night, forcing them to choose a new chief, and in accordance with his plan they chose him. The story of Tora is about the tragedy and misfortune that befell the man who violated tradition by scaring the Yaa-naa out of the palace to get the chieftaincy for himself.

Takai is one of the oldest drum rhythms of the Dagomba, and the story tells of how they came to be so close to the Mossi tribe. There was a war going on between the Dagomba and Mossi, and a Dagomba woman got lost in the bush and was eventually found by a Mossi hunter. Years later, when there was once again conflict between the Dagomba and Mossi, the woman’s history came to light, and because of this connection they halted the fighting. Combined, the drum language for all the parts says “chief says listen, stop the fight.”

Solo Dances

Praise Names

Nantoo Nimdi
Nantoo Nimdo, which means poisoned meaat, is the appellation for Naa Yakubu. The story tells of how Naa Yakubu became Yaa-naa because of the efforts of his zealous and powerful nephew, Idantoma. Because he had Idantoma as an ally, it would have been dangerous for someone to threaten Naa Yakubu, which is why he likens himself to poisoned meat. The drum language for Nantoo Nimdi says “I am poison for princes,” which a warning to those who don’t have the proper protections to stay away from Naa Yakubu.

Nagbiegu is the appellation for Naa Abudu. A Dagomba chief, Naa Tutuari, had taken Chemba land, and the present Chemba chief, Kofi, threatened Abudu that he would take the land back. Naa Abudu replied that he is a nagbiegu, a bad cow, by which he meant that he would come and take what he wanted from them and the rest would be spoiled. The drum language for Nagbiegu lists the bad things that will happen to someone who challenges Naa Abudu.

Naani Goo
Naani Goo is the appellation of Naa Andani. There was a tribe called the Chemba who were expected to pay a tax to the Dagombas. When Naa Abudu sent someone to collect the tax, the Chemba sent for help from the Zambarima tribe of Mali to fight against the Dagombas. Naa Abudu called his brother, Naa Andani, to help with the fight. When Naa Andani tried to round up the rest of his family, they refused and told Andani that Abudu was trying to get him killed so that he could make his own son chief. The drum language is a warning about not being able to trust others, and it stems from the brothers’ refusal to help Andani.

Tampima Dundon
Tampima Dundon is the appellation for Naa Alaasani. When Naa Andani died, the kingmakers convened and chose Naa Alaasani. The regent at the time disagreed with this decision, and wanted a different man to be Yaa-naa. This led to a stalemate that lasted several years. One of Naa Alaasani’s relatives, Kor-naa Bukali, enlisted the help of the British to kill the regent to make way for Alaasani to become Yaa-naa. The words of the song talk about having a house made of strong stone, by which Alaasani means that he is strong because of his family.

Zim Taai Kulga
Zim Taai Kulga is one of the appellations for Naa Alaasani. Before he was given a title, Alaasani behaved like a drunkard so that others wouldn’t see him as a threat for the chieftancy. Under that pretense, he was made chief of Karaga, a position from which he could eventually ascend to Yaa-naa.

Sanmarigon is the appellation for Naa Abudu-bla. After his father, Naa Mahama-bla, passed away, there were problems deciding who should be the regent, and later, the new Yaa-naa. Naa Abudu-bla kept a low profile as a child to avoid the jealousy of Mion-lana Tori Buni, who contested him for the chieftaincy after his father’s funeral. Sanmarigon is a poetic appellation, and refers to the fact that it was Naa Abudu-bla’s destiny to become Yaa-Naa, though he would have people trying to stand in his way.

Jenkuno is the appellation of M-ba Dogu Sheni, a key figure in the court of the Naa Abudu Satan. Dogu Sheni was exploiting his position as the intermediary to the paramount chief to collect excessive fees from visiting sub-chiefs, which led the sub-chiefs to avoid him when going to see the paramount chief. The drum language talks about mice sneaking by a sleeping cat, which is a warning to both the Dogu and to the sub-chiefs who were violating tradition by going around his back to see the paramount chief.

Jerigu is the appellation of Kar-naa Ziblim. When Kar-naa Ziblim’s father died, there were many sons who were eligible to replace him, most of whom were older and richer than Ziblim. Though lacking in wealth and stature, Ziblim was well known for his respectful and helpful character, and so was chosen to succeed his father as Kar-naa. The drum language for Jerigu says that a foolish man uses his money to buy gold, but a wise man uses his character to buy respect.

Zambalanton is the appellation of Kar-baa Bukali. When Bukali was young, he was warned that someone might try to hurt him. Later, he was given a royal smock by a chief as a gift, but he never wore it because suspected that it might be dangerous. One day, that chief’s son visited Bukali, and as a test he gave the smock back to the chief’s son to wear. The son died soon after donning the smock. The drum language of Zambalanton talks about someone trying to set a trap and catching themselves rather than their intended target.

Dambobugo is the appellation of Savelugu-naa Bukali Kantamparam. When Bukali was chief of Kpatenga, the previous chief of Savelugu and many people in the town tried in vain to prevent him from being promoted to that higher post. After he had gain the chieftaincy of Savelugu, the weather was particularly good for farming and the harvest was plentiful. The drum language for Dambobugo says he has defeated his enemies but continues to think good of everyone. God has rewarded his generous spirit by bringing rain so that big families can eat well and be satisfied.

Suligu is the appellation for Diari-lana Bukali. This story starts during the time of the last war between the Dagombas and the Gonjas. The Gonja chief, Kumpatia, was advancing on Yendi, and Naa Zanjina couldn’t get any support from the other chiefs or his brothers, so he sent Diari-lana to convince Naa Siali and his men to fight. The word suligu means hawk, and the appellation is a tribute to Bukali’s formidable strength as a warrior.

Doggu is the appellation of Tugu-lana Yemusa. Yemusa is the son of Naa Andani Sigli, and he was born on the same day that Andani killed Kumpatia, king of the Gonjas. Yemusa was made the regent when his father died. In a town called Bagli, there was another person named Yemusa who was also made the regent at his father’s funeral. His drummers told him to use one of Tugu-lana Yemusa’s appellations for himself. When Tugu-lana Yemusa found out that another Yemusa was using his appellation, he became jealous and went to Bagli to challenge him. Tugu-lana injured the other Yemusa in an effort to make him stop using the appellations, but he refused, and eventually Tugu-lana killed him. The drum language for Doggu means “he killed him because of a name.” Today, Doggu is used as an appellation for all regents.

Occupational Lineage Dances

Nakohiwa is the butcher’s dance. Butchers were incorporated into Dagomba society by Naa Dimani and have their own patrilineage similar to that of the drummers.

Dikala is the music of the blacksmiths and is one of the older drum compositions of the Dagombas. The blacksmiths were incorporated into Dagomba society by Naa Luro. Naa Darizeau, who preceded Naa Luro, was killed by the Gonjas but was never buried and the proper funeral rights were never performed for him. Naa Luro wanted to confront the Gonjas for his body, but had to cross a river to reach their land. The blacksmiths had to be summoned to fashion tools for the woodworkers to make a bridge. The drum language for Dikala says “if you refuse a chief you will be killed,” which is a reference to the fact that the blacksmith family was originally reluctant to be part of the royal court.

Festival Dances

Damba / Damba Sochendi
Held in the eleventh month of the lunar calendar, Damba is an annual Afro-Islamic festival that commemorates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. Ceremonies during the eighteen-day festival provide citizens of the Dagomba polity to give homage to their leaders and to reaffirm bonds of kinship. Damba has two items of repertory that bear its name: the slow-paced Damba Sochendi (literally, “walking Damba”) is for processionals and stately dancing while the intense Damba Mahile (literally, “real Damba”) is for lively dancing. I have written an entire book on my study of Damba with Alhaji (see Drum Damba: Talking Drum Lessons. White Cliffs Media Company, Crown Point, Indiana. 1990). Because the “Introduction” of Drum Damba contains a long account of the Damba festival, no History Story appears on this website.


The Story of Naa Zangina
Zangina was a son of Naa Tutuari. When Naa Tutuari passed away, he was succeeded by Naa Zaali, who was in turn succeeded by Naa Gungobli. After Naa Gungobli passed away, many of Naa Tutuaris sons contested for the skin. The elders had trouble deciding who to make the next Yaa-naa, so they went to ask the chief of the Mamprussis to help with the decision, as the Dagombas had once done for them. The chief chose Zangina, much to the dismay of his older brothers.
Note: Unlike other history stories there is no dance-drumming piece associated with the story of Naa Zangina. However, because of his significance in the history of Dagbon I asked Alhaji to narrate the story of this important chief.