Northern Heritage is highly pleased to bring to you an insightful and thrilling encounter from our My Northern Experience session as we engage Mr. William Haun who is a photographer, he has explored most of northern Ghana especially the North East region. He is well versed with the culture and traditions of Mamprugu and has contributed to the digital documentation of most of the festivals and special occasions of the Mamprugu kingdom. He is the founder of northeastghana.com, an online platform dedicated to documenting all the activities of the North East region.
Our guest was enstolled as the Sulimiisi Na'akyinaaba (Youth Chief of White men) in Nalerigu. And he is popularly referred to as the Chief of all the Whites in Ghana. He is currently residing in Nalerigu, where he is still working hard to explore and document the traditions of the Mamprugu Kingdom.
With the help of one of our moderators Bagura Shamuddeen, our guest will be taking us through his life journeys travelling across the length and breadth of northern Ghana. The northern lifestyles and values he has encountered and his perspectives on them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, fill your calabashes with Zom kom as we take you through a refreshing ride of the north.
Shamuddeen: As our forefathers will say "Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs." We are here today not because we have the keys to our problems but because we have wonderful experiences to share. We are glad to have you tonight on My Northern Experience.
Mr William Haun: First, a heartfelt thank you to the moderator of Northern Heritage for this great invitation to participate. I appreciate the great work your platform does to promote and unity the northern peoples of Ghana around their shared heritage. It is a huge honor to have my voice join the discussion about the wonderful aspects of northern Ghana. Thank you so much.
Shamuddeen: It’s a pleasure to hear these words of encouragement from you. And we are very pleased to have you tonight with us. To set the ball rolling, distinguished members will be glad to know who Mr. William Haun is?
Mr William Haun: My name is William Haun. I am a professional photographer / videographer and I shoot documentary work for NGOs. My wife is a surgical doctor and we have two children. We moved to Nalerigu, Ghana in 2014 where she works at the Baptist Medical Centre (BMC).
Shamuddeen: Wow. You have a lovely family. This has enticed our curiosity to know more about you. Can you please take us through your life journey, where you grew up, places you have visited and some exciting memories?
Mr. William Haun: I was born in the US, but moved to France at age 4 and then Côte d’Ivoire at age 5. I lived there until I was 18 when I went back to America for university. Growing up in West Africa made me love the region and its incredible cultural diversity and history.
My work as a photographer is a real blessing because I get to travel all over the world. I can’t count all the places I have been but in the last few years it includes India, Israel, Thailand, Germany, Kenya, Italy and Egypt just to name a few.
My trip to India was one of the most exciting. I was hired to document the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering on the planet. On one day, I was in a crowd of 30 million people! That is basically the population of all of Ghana – in one place. It was like nothing I’ve ever or will ever again experience.
Shamuddeen: This is very inspiring to hear. It shows your keen dedication to your work as a photographer and a traveler. So as a chip in question. Why Ghana and more especially Northern Ghana?
Mr William Haun: Northern Ghana is truly home to me now. When my wife, my son and I first came to Nalerigu in 2007 we stayed for three months and it was a wonderful experience.
The culture of the northern tribes is so rich and the history of the Mole-Dagbon states is so deep – I fell in love with the region. I’ve found that the people of the north are very happy when they see my genuine interest in their cultures and stories. That opens many doors for documenting things with media.
Shamuddeen: A splendid moment there. Can you please tell us the moment the picture above was taken?
Mr William Haun: This was taken one morning at the NaYiri palace in Nalerigu before entering to greet the paramount chief.
Shamuddeen: Great. I learnt you have a very good relationship with the Mamprugu King. We will like to talk about that later. However at the moment, how will you describe your experiences of the north?
Mr William Haun: As I mentioned, the rich history and culture has been so inspiring to me. It motivates me to get out and learn and document with media. Northern Ghanaians are so hospitable and excited to meet strangers who have a genuine interest in their culture and history.
Shamuddeen: The hospitality of the people is undoubted. Distinguished members will like to know which popular or tourist sites in northern Ghana have you ever visited?
Mr William Haun: One of the north’s challenges is that it has only a handful of well-known sites (Mole National Park, Larabanga Mosque, Pikworo Slave Camp, Paga Crocodile Pond). I launched the website https://northeastghana.com/ shortly after the creation of the new North East Region to try and make accurate information more readily available about its offerings for tourism. In the course of researching and documenting those sites, I did extensive travel across the region.
I also did a personal documentary project where I visited all the historic mud mosques in northern Ghana. Most people only know about Larabanga, but the Ghana Museums & Monuments Board said there were nine. Unfortunately, as I visited each of them, I found that only six are still remaining. You can read about them here: https://haunsinafrica.com/tag/ancient-mosques-of-ghana/
Shamuddeen: Thanks for the source. It will surely be of help to us here. You have really invested enough expertise in researching on northern Ghana. Since you are here for a long time please what is your favorite northern food and drink?
Mr William Haun: Living in the north certainly altered my eating habits! I am quite addicted to wagazii (fried cheese) and to pampam kokoo (coarse guinea corn porridge). I will eat those any chance I get!
Shamuddeen: Interesting we are enjoying your engagement with the footages. Please which northern festivals have you celebrated?
Mr William Haun: Our two major festivals in Mamprugu are Bugum (Fire) and Damma (Damba). I try to attend those every year. One year I traveled to Jirapa to see the Bong-Ngo Festival. I’ve yet to attend the Yam Festival celebrated by the Kombas in Gbintiri. I’ve also been working on trying to revive the Kpini Feebu Kyuu (Guinea Fowl Whipping Festival) in Nalerigu. It is a festival that has not been observed for decades. I’d like to document it in video and photos at least once so that it is not lost forever. I had arranged with the NaYiri’s elders to do it in June 2017 but then there was a tragic fire at the palace and my plans were spoiled. Maybe next year.
Shamuddeen: Nice. You have really explored our culture. A very good initiative in preserving our culture. So please why Mamprugu and What is your relationship with the Mamprugu Kingdom? Or was it a good coincidence.
Mr William Haun: I was very lucky to make a good contact who is a member of the Naa Sheriga gate. He is a direct nephew of Naa B?hagu. I had hired him as my language teacher and he was (and still is) a wonderful "cultural insider" for me. That man helped me to become close to the Overlord and his Elders.
Shamuddeen: Can you please tell us how your picture of the Mamprugu King became the official image of the damba 2020?
Mr William Haun: Oh, yes. Thank you. The overlord called upon me to photograph him before the festival. I was very honored that he would consider me for the task. It brings a smile to my face to see the image posted everywhere from Nasia to Nalerigu to Bawku!
Shamuddeen: That's great. You will really have a wonderful time in Nalerigu. It was indeed a great honour. So what's your perception of northern culture, traditions and unique way of life?
Mr William Haun: The Mole-Dagbon States (Mamprusi, Dagomba, Nanumba and Mossi) are very unique in how their cultural traditions are connected going back as much as six hundred years. This allows for a very interesting unity in their diversity. Over time they each evolved and even splintered off into smaller people groups (Frafra, Wala, Talensi, etc…). Each group is unique but also similar. This creates a complex cultural web of connections that could be explored endlessly. I adore that kind of exploration!
One observation I’ve had is that many traditions are quickly fading and even disappearing completely. I mentioned the Kpini Feebu Kyuu in Mamprugu. Another is the tradition of Dooru Doo. Fifty years ago, this masked parade/dance used to be common place during Ramadan throughout Mamprugu but now is gone. Interestingly, the Mossi have continued the tradition and it is known as the Dodo Masquerade there. I consulted with some elderly Mamprusi who remembered Dooru Doo from their youth and had them re-enact it for me to video and photograph – thus archiving the tradition for future generations to observe.
It pleases me to see more and more of Ghana’s northern youth becoming interested in documenting their forefather’s traditions and stories. This is very important to the future of the region as a whole.
Shamuddeen: Wow. Great lessons. This is even new to most of us. Thanks for the information and lessons. What is your fondest memory of the north?
Mr William Haun: One day I was hiking at Gingana on the Gambaga Escarpment where there are some prehistoric rock paintings. I came across a hunter and asked him if he knew of any other Nawuns?ppi (“God Writing” as it is colloquially called). He then led me to previously undocumented site near Sakogu that had some incredible ancient rock art. I was so excited to see it and be able to document it. I communicated with the Ghana Museums and Monument Board (GMMB) about it and they later sent an archeological team to begin studying it.
That is a fond memory because I felt good about being able to contribute to the preservation and research of northern Ghana’s history.
Shamuddeen: Amazing! This is indeed an incredible contribution. Can you please tell us something peculiar to your lifestyle that was as a result of the northern experience?
Mr William Haun: Many find it peculiar that I, as an American, speak and understand Mampruli well. However, this was not an easy task for me. Since 2014, I have a tutor that I meet with several times a week to learn, practice and improve my Mampruli. Language is a like an onion – every layer you peel off reveals another underneath! I can only go as deep in the culture as my language skills will allow so I am always striving to improve my proficiency in Mampruli.
Shamuddeen: Nice. That's a great dedication. Your dedication to understand the Mamprugu culture is very inspiring. In a brief statement is there something you want to tell us concerning your lifestyle that is related to the north? Something you will be glad to share with members?
Mr William Haun: Some people are surprised that I am a follower of Jesus Christ – an ordained reverend minister, in fact – yet I have such an interest in the culture and history of Mamprugu. Most assume the two are at odds.
Unfortunately, the white missionaries of the past committed some horrible mistakes – for that I apologize. They too often worked under the false assumption that to be a Christian means you must adopt Western culture – therefore they suppressed traditional African culture and ignored the history of the region.
To be a Christian simply means you repent of your sins against God and man and you believe in the free gift of salvation that Jesus offers. To follow Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning your cultural and traditions. It involves living a godly life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against those things! In fact, browse the thousands of Mampruli proverbs and you will see that these are all commendable character traits in Mamprusi culture and tradition.
I am so grateful for the many years I’ve spent in northern Ghana and I pray I have many more. I have learned so much from the lifestyles and cultures of the northern peoples and it has made me a better person.
Shamuddeen: We are very touch by your inspiring words.
QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS
Iddrisu Maani: Can you recall how your first northern documentary project was?
Mr William Haun: In 2008, I was hired to document the 50th Anniversary of the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. It was a week of events to celebrate that special occasion.
Mohammed Saani: How did you get the title Sulimiisi Na'akyinaaba?
Mr William Haun: I was friends with the Nalerigu Na'akyinaaba and he began calling me that. Then amongst the elders they also started using that title with me. One day they asked the NaYiri and he agreed that it should be my title. So since 2016, that is my name.
Sulemana: Interesting... We are glad you shared your experiences with us. I want to ask our guest if he can dance the damba?
Mr William Haun: haha. Thank you. Yes, I can dance Damba but I haven't practiced much.
We will be glad to have you on another program, where you could take us through a ride of the North East Region or lecture us on Mamprugu.
Our guest is very passionate of the north and has learnt a lot. He considers himself a student of Mamprugu. We hope that you have enjoyed this session and has learnt one or two things from his experiences.
There is a saying that "Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth." Indeed per your contribution to Mamprugu traditions our guest is sitting among the wise.
If you enjoy this interaction and wants more, please comment your suggestion and appreciation to our guest.
My Northern Experience is an interactive session on WhatsApp with a guest to project and highlight the peculiar northern lifestyles, this segment offers opportunity to members to share their experiences and encounters with northern lifestyles and culture.
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