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Bolgatanga, colloquially known as Bolga, is the capital of both the Bolgatanga Municipal District and the Upper East Region of Ghana, and has a population of about 72,000. Bolga is the major town between Tamale, 161 km (about 100 miles) to the south, and the border with Burkina Faso.

The Upper East Region is bounded by the Republic of Burkina Faso, 32 km (about 20 miles) to the north of Bolga, the Upper West Region 65 km (40 mi) to the west at the Sisili River, and the Republic of Togo, about 100 km (about 60 miles) to the east of the city. Bolga lies in the Red Volta River Valley (which serves as a major migration route of elephants), with the White Volta River and the cliffs of the Gambaga Escarpment to the south of the city forming the southern boundary of the region.

The Hon. David Apasera (PNC) is the Parliamentary Representative for the Bolgatanga Municipal District (as of 2006).

History of Bolgatanga

Historically Bolgatanga was situated at the southern terminus of the ancient Trans-Saharan trade route. The eastern route traveled through Northern Nigeria, converging with the Sahelian route from Mali via Burkina Faso, near Bolgatanga. Along the route, handicrafts—especially straw baskets, hats and fans, as well as leather goods, metal jewellery and indigenous attires called "Fugu" -- were exchanged for kola nuts and salt. Although present long before on a smaller scale, in the mid-19th century, Samori ibn Lafiya Toure of the Wassoulou Empire, and the Zarma leader of the Mossi state of Gurunsi, Babatu, had drafted many Hausa-Fulani, Dagomba and Gurunsi mercenaries in the area to capture slaves from local villages in the Upper East region for their own financial profit. Both Toure and Babatu's capture is celebrated by the people of Bolgatanga with the annual Feok festival in the neighboring town of Sandema.

The Upper East Region, where Bolgatanga lies, is part of what used to be known as the Upper Region. Between 1902 and 1960 the Northern Territory was a British protectorate; it was separated into the Northern and Upper Region on July 1, 1960. The Upper Region was apportioned into Upper East and Upper West Region in 1983 during the PNDC rule.

Life in Bolgatanga

The major ethnic groups in Upper East fall under the broad categories of Mole-Dagbon (74.5%), Grusi (8.5%), Mandé-Busanga (6.2%) and Gurma (3.2%). Among the Mole-Dagbon, the major sub-groupings are the Namnam (30.5%), Kusasi (22.6%), Nankani- Gurense (9.2%) and Builsa (7.6%). The major languages of the region are Gurene (Frafra), Kasina, Nankani, Buile, Kusal, Mampruli and Bisa.

Bolgatanga is the major city of the Gurene people (also called Gurunsi). When early Europeans arrived in Bolga, the villagers welcomed them warmly. They greeted the Europeans with the words Ya Farafara, words of lament in the native tongue. These Europeans, who could not understand nor speak Gurene decided to name the people of the region by the word "Frafra". Thus the people of Bolga became known as the Frafra people.

Today, Bolga is known as the crafts centre of northern Ghana, with a large central market. Apart from items found elsewhere in Ghana, the so-called "Bolga hats" are made and sold there. Bolgatanga and its surrounding villages also comprise the largest producers of leather works, straw baskets and smocks in the country. The artists sell their works at the Bolgatanga Market, which is open every third day. There is also a museum in the town which houses objects of historical importance of the region.

Major festivals in the region

The Sandema Festival, a war dance festival celebrated by the Builsa people, in December, marks the end of the slave trade in northern Ghana, and the capture of Samory Toure and Baba Ato (known in this region as Babatu). Both Toure and Ato had heavily ravaged the local area to capture and sell local people to the Trans-Saharan slave trade, in order to financially support the Wassoulou Empire further west in Mali and Guinea, and the remnant Gurunsi state of the Mossi Kingdoms.

The Samapiid festival is a thanks-giving festival celebrated by the Kusaasi people in December.

The Golob festival is celebrated by the Talensi people of Tongo in March to mark the beginning of the sowing season.

During the months of August to December every year, the following festivals are celebrated:

Gingana (Drums) - a post-harvest dance by the Namoosi people resident at Tongo Central, Yameriga and Sheaga who are believed to have originally come from the Mamprussi traditional area in the present-day northern region of Ghana. The people who celebrate this festival are from the royal house for the Tongo-Raan (The Tongo Chief).
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The Da'aga festival is celebrted by the villages of Baare (the home-village of a former Educationist, E.K Daraan), Yameriga, Sheaga, Yaagzore, Biung, Gbeega, Kpatia, Kantia and other villages in the Talensi sub-district. The Talensi area contituency is part of the Talensi-Nabdam district, the Honourable John Tia Akolgu of the NDC has been the MP for the area since 1992. The Constituency or sub-district comprises villages with chiefs that all owe allegiance to the Tongo-Raana. The headquarters of the Talensi- Nabdam district is Tongo and is also the Roman Catholic Parish Centre of the district. We have had two DCE's since the Talensi-Nabdam district was formed; first was Mr Tibil Bisnaab ( from 2004 to 2008) and Ms Vivian Anafo, whose reign started in 2009. These political figures take very great interest in all the festivals of the district. During these times, they have the opportunity to meet some of their constituents who live outside the district or even outside the country and come home for these festivals. For instance, Mr David Moore Kabzot Tembil (a Physics and Mathematics educator) who hails from the district, but works in Botswana could make time to visit the home- village around these periods, not only for family re-unions but the reunion among teaming school mates, class mates, friends and relatives. Getting connected at these festivals and recalling issues down the memory -lane make life refreshing at these festivals. Some People who are Traditional believers consider these festivals are spiritual renewal sessions. For majority who are Christians it is a period of merry -making.

The celebrations of the festivals naturally come with a lot of traditional drumming, singing and dancing. Some dances are the preserve of males and others for females only. For instance "Sankpigi" is the preserve of females, where women sing, take turns dance and perform bumps. The Yongo dance is done by men with motivation from praise- singing women, During the " Daa'ga " festival men usually perform "Yongo" dance at the Baare market by dancers from" Baare village "itself and "Yaagzooure". Transport is available at Bolgatanga market area to ferry teaming crowds to Baare to enjoy the festivities that come with the Yongo dance. These gatherings register higher rates of courtship and marriages than normal market days. About 4 cycles of the dancing and feasting usher in another festival celebrated by Talensis called Bo'araam. During " Boaram ", which literally, " pito for the gods " Goats, sheep, guinea fowls are slaughtered as sacrifices and feasting. There is merry-making, feasting on the traditional beer and meat after the offerings to the ancestral gods have been made. The villages that celebrate are Gbeogo, Wakii, Gorog, Shia, Tengzug and Gbezug. Yendore etc.

The Tenglebigre" festival is celebrated by the people of Sekoti, Duusi, Gare, Gbane, Datoko, Kulpeliga, Shea-Tindongo, Kpale, Zoog and Nyogbare. The festival is celebrated by four to five villages in the Nabdam contstituency and majority in the Talensi constituency. Many well- meaning inhabitants take these festivals seriously and make plans for home-visits during the period. Dr Albert Tenga whose home village is Duusi, would usually take leave from his duty as a lecturer at GIMPA and travel home to Duusi, to celebrate the festival of Tennglebigre- This is a time for reunion with old folks in the village.A time for the village chief of Duusi- Mr Lincoln Kambey to welcome and give thanks to the Almighty God in a Christian way even with a traditional festival. The veteran politician Honourable John Tia Akolgu, the MP for Talensi constituency comes from the Village of Duusi. Some time past, there use to also be grand 'Yongo" dance at the Duusi Tindana house, comparable in grand style to the "Yongo" dances in Sekoti and Baare. Presently festivities at Tenlebigre and other festivals seem to be going down with time, perhaps because of its closeness to the big Christmas season, and most likely because of Christianity. These festivals without doubt go along the old tradition of making sacrifices to the ancestors and gods of the land and households. With Christianity in the up-swing, most of the traditional practises are completely taken out of the festivals. Thus when Mr Robert Babanvo of (VRA, Tamale) or Mr George Gbinniya of AESC and Professor Bomber Tanzubil, Rector at the Bolgatanga Politchnic go to their home villages for "Boaram" in Wakkii, Gbeogo and Yendore respectively, the traditional slaughter of goats and sheep is minimally applicable. In the same vein when Mr Cletus Ngaaso or Dr Abraham Berinyu also travel to their villages of Duusi and Datuku respectively for the annual Tenglebigre festival they do so to with the hope of meeting the youngters and school children. Their presence in the villages at these festivals is enough to inspire the young ones to take education seriously. Dr Abraham Berinyu is the dean of the Wa campus of the University of Development Studies ( UDS) Mr Cletus Ngaaso is a lecturer at University of Education, Winneba. Village Development projects are mooted these festivals by Community Development committees such such as the "Rock union" of Tongo and the Nabdam Youth Association.

Around the month of December another dance festival call Wamma is held in the Talensi- nabdam district. It is so called because of a dance that goes with drumming of big calabashes inverted onto the ground and drummed hard, mostly by women. (In the Gurine dialect, a Calabash is called "Wan", the plural of "Wan" is "Wamma"). This festival is celebrated by the people of Winkogo, Balungu (the home village of veteran and business woman, Mariam Abagna-Khaldi) and Pusom-Namongo. At these festivals students of the Bolgatanga Secondary School (BIG BOSS), have free entertainment from Winkogo dancers. These dances take the students up to the end of year exams before they break for Christmas.

All these festivals are traditionally the preserve of the people of the Talensi-Nabdam district with a district headquarters at Tongo. The Tongo Catholic Mission has an array of Catholic Mission schools (Primary and JSS) aided by Government but managed by a Catholic appointed Area manager in Tongo.

 Architecture and sights of Bolgatanga

Sumbrungu Painted Houses

One of the most distinctive features in the Upper East Region are the traditional villages that dot the landscape. These villages generally feature round thatched roof huts, painted with decorative motifs in striking colors. A beautiful example of traditional paintings is found in the village of Sumbrungu, eight kilometers from Bolgatanga on the way going to Paga.
House in Tonga Hills, near Bolgatanga

Tongo Hills and Tengzug shrine

The Tongo Hills and Tengzug Shrine are located in the village of Tengzug, 17 kilometers (about 10 miles) southeast of Bolgatanga. With its landscape dominated by large granite formations, the Tengzug area evolved as the sacred centre of the Talensis people, an ethnic group in Northern Ghana. The Tengzug Shrine is located in the Tongo hills and is believed to grant luck and prosperity to all those who visit it.
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Other festivals include the BUGUM FESTIVAL OF THE BONGO PEOPLE.The major festival of the people of ZUARUNGU AND BOLGATANGA is NDAAKOYA which is a harvest festival just like the SAMAMPID.

Naa gbewaa shrine at Pusiga

The "tomb" of Naa Bbewaa, the founder of the Mole-Dagbon tribes, is located in the town of Pusiga. Legend states that Naa Gbewaa never died but simply vanished during a heated battle. The shrine was thought to have been built in the 14th century in commemoration of Naa Gbewaa, and is today a place of spiritual reverence.

Bolgatanga Library

The Bolgatanga library is a notable design of award-winning American architect J. Max Bond, Jr., who was influenced by Le Corbusier. Bond lived in Ghana for four years in the 1960s, escaping racism in the United States. The Bolgatanga library was his first major project while working for the national construction company. The design features perforated walls and an "umbrella" shaped roof, so the structure remains cool and well ventilated.

Paga crocodile ponds

Forty kilometres (about 25 miles) from Bolgatanga, along the Burkina Faso border, is Paga, home to the sacred crocodile ponds. These are purportedly the "friendliest" crocodiles in Ghana, and it is said that the souls of the royal family reside in them. The crocodiles roam freely throughout the ponds and it is unthinkable that anyone should harm them.

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