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 50,000 (2000). 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 miles) 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 Sandema festival.
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 Empire.
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’s resident at Tongo Central 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).
The Da’aga festival is celebrted by the villages of Baare (the 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 sub-district comprises villages that owe allegiance to the Tongo-Raana.
The Yongo dance is usually performed at the Baare market by dancers from Baare itself and Yaagzooure. Transport is available at Bolga to ferry teaming crowds to Baare to witness the Yongo dance. About 4 cycles of the dancing and feasting ushers in another festival celebrated by Talensis called Bo’araam. Goats, sheep, guinea fowls are slaughtered for feasting. The villages that celebrate are Gbeogo, Wakii, Gorog, Shia, Tengzug and Gbezug.
The Tenglebigre festival is celebrated by the people of Sekoti, Duusi, Gare, Gbane, Datoko, Kulpeliga, Shea-Tindongo, Kpale, Zoog and Nyogbare.
Around the month of December is the Wamma dance in a festival celebrated by the people of Winkogo, Balungu (the home village of Adokuma Abagna-Khaldi) and Pusom-Namongo.
It must be stated 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.
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 unique landscape, dominated by large granite land formations, the Tengzug area evolved as the sacred center of the Talensis people, an ethnic group in Northern Ghana. The Tengzug Shrine is located in the Tongo hills and is believed grant luck and prosperity to all those who visit it.
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 as a place of spiritual reverence.
The Bolgatanga library is a notable and unique 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, such that the structure remains cool and well ventilated.
Paga crocodile ponds
Forty kilometers (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.