Living Libraries: The Role of the Baansi in Preserving the Culture of the Dagbon in Northern Ghana.

Author:Plockey, Florence Dedzoe-Dzokotoe


Indigenous knowledge (IK) is vital information that is sadly diminishing at an alarming rate, Kargbo (2006), and as such, there is an urgent need to preserve it before much of it is completely lost. The consequent losses to indigenous knowledge cause cultural gaps between generations, and deny Africa of its rich and powerful heritage of indigenous knowledge traditions, formed by past generations (Macombu, 2004).

Libraries are among other functions, mandated to serve as rich repositories of historical and cultural collections, many of which may not be available anywhere else in the world. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (2003) urges that all libraries in the world should recognise and preserve their cultural heritage. On January 1, 2016, UN member states agreed to provide access to information indigenous and to preserve indigenous culture and knowledge.

Libraries are repositories of knowledge, and according to Kah (2012), traditional intellectuals like elders, clan heads, priests, historians, storytellers and musicians constitute libraries, or are librarians in their own spheres. This study therefore critically examines the role of one of the traditional intellectual bodies, known as the baansi, in their quest to preserve and sustain the culture and history of the people of Dagbon, in the northern region of Ghana, and how public libraries can complement the former's efforts at documenting and preserving the culture.

The baansi are made up of different categories of local musicians in Dagbon. These include lunsi (drummers), akarimanima (talking drum players) and goongenima (fiddlers), the focus of this study. The baansi are knowledge producers or court musicians who engage themselves in the art of praise singing. Baansi are not mere entertainers, but also holders of cultural wisdom and history. In fact, they live and relive the history of the people of Dagbon, much has been written about them, but nothing has been written about their role in sustaining the culture of the people. This is the gap this paper intends to fill.

Method and Objectives

This paper is a descriptive of the role of the baansi of Dagbon, in cultural preservation. It presents and analyses data collected from community-based interactions. A thematic approach has been used in reporting the findings. Main and sub-themes have been generated from the data collected, using acoustic appreciation, group discussion, observation, phased assertion, storytelling, and filed notes The questions asked during the interviews and focus group discussions surrounded, "what role do the baansi play in preserving the culture of Dagbon?"

The data was collected from June 2012 to August 2015; the population of the study includes the lunsi, akarima and goonje chiefs and their elders of Yendi, and the Dakpema and Buglana palaces in Tamale. In all forty people were interviewed. The study revealed that there were various forms of baansi, however the majority was inexistent. However, the most recognized and important ones that run through them are the lunsi, the akarima and the goonje. Our visits to Yendi, the palace of the Yaa-Naa, as well as the Dakpema and Buglana palaces in Tamale confirmed this. We will therefore concern ourselves with these three categories of baansi. Hence, the last of three in the study of the living librarians of Dagbon, with the first part of the study titled "Decolonizing Our Library System: The Living Librarians (Baansi) of Dagbon, Northern Ghana" focused on the various categories of the baansi, which can be found in Library Philosophy and Practice (, the second part presented at the 2nd Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana conference in Accra and centres on Knowledge Management Practices of the Living Librarians (Baansi) of Dagbon, Northern Ghana, and the third part focused on the role of baansi in preserving the culture of Dagbon.


The baansi of Dagbon play a major role in preserving and sustaining the people's culture and history. We therefore sought to examine their specific roles as a knowledge community. The results have been grouped into themes, which are analysed.

History raises people's curiosity about the past, and enables the young to see the diversity of human experience, and understand more about themselves as individuals and as members of society (Creative Learning and Environment Committee, 2013). History thus is understood as knowledge and practice of people (Fukuyama, 1992).

In African traditional society, the oral tradition has been the main source of the peoples' histories (Salifu, 2008). Such societies depend extensively on oral traditions, where practitioners use important language to tell or recount the histories of legendary traditional heroes. In Dagbon, the oral tradition places much premium on history. With the baansi acting as keepers of Dagbon history, they keep the past of the people of Dagbon in view and in memory. That is to say they are the recorders and articulators of historical and present events. For instance, the primary responsibility of the baansi is to preserve the history, which is stored in musical form through drum, poetry, and song. The baansi know and understand the relationships between the people who live in their society.

The history of the Dagbon nation has been kept by the baansi, who recount it at important ceremonies such as the rituals performed during the installation of chiefs, naming of babies, at funeral ceremonies, and indeed at all social forums. The baansi are important in many respects in the entire existences of members of their communities.

Their performances span the entire range of human existence and hence can be considered the 'rite of passage' of the Dagomba people (via the Kingdom of Dagbon, a traditional kingdom founded in the 15th century), from birth to death as well as the observance of rituals and during festivals. This is especially so during Samban Luna, an all-night oral poetry decantation session at the chiefs palace during major festivals.

Samban Luna, as observed, is an occasion where drummers gather in the forecourt of the chiefs palace, in the evening of the eve of major festivals in performances that recount the histories of legendary renowned personalities of Dagbon. The histories of such personalities are ultimately those of the Dagbon state. The narratives are often of celebrated Kings, warlords and other legendary figures. By virtue of this role, the Baansi...

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