The Upper East Region is one of the few regions in Ghana that has a lot of cultural diversity among its people. The uniqueness of each tribe’s culture teaches wisdom and portrays who they are.
No one can talk about the people of the Upper East Region without talking about their unmatched rich cultural heritage ranging from language, food, clothes such as the popular smock (fugu), festivals, baskets, drama, songs, dance, and storytelling among others.
Despite this huge cultural heritage and the unique cultural artefacts that characterize the numerous ethnic groups of the people of the Region, not much has been projected outside the region.
This is due to the lack of a Theatre facility in the region to empower the Centre for National Culture (CNC) to coordinate the rich cultural heritage and to pass it onto the younger generation as a means of projecting, promoting, and preserving the culture of the people. The deterioration of societal and cultural values such as respect, punctuality, honesty, patriotism, and humility could be attributed to this fact.
Theatre is the collaborative form of fine art which is using live performance to present the experience of the imagined or real event. Music, dance, object manipulation, and other kinds of performances are present in human cultures.
It is used as a tool for preserving heritage and shaping history. There are positive and negative aspects to every society, and theatre works to expose the negative and promote the positive through social change, interculturalism, and improvement to broken or nonexistent education systems.
State of Upper East Regional Theatre
Information gathered by the Ghana News Agency revealed that the construction of the Upper East Regional Theatre was started in the 1970s, at the time Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was Head of State.
The idea was to construct theatres across the country to preserve and promote the Ghanaian cultural heritage as well as promote the Creative Arts Industry.
When the Ghana News Agency visited the construction site beside the offices of the Regional Directorate of the Centre for National Culture (CNC) in Bolgatanga, it observed that the construction works had stalled.
It is only the foundation that has been constructed and left to the mercy of rain and scorching sun for more than five decades.
The GNA also observed that wood had been used to construct a structure on the foundation of the theatre which was being used as a place of worship for a church and animals were seen grazing around.
It was further observed that the popular Bolgatanga Craft Village which houses most of the handicrafts such as baskets, leather works, smock, and other unique cultural artefacts, have not also been completed.
Additionally, it was revealed that people use the place as a convenient place to smoke and defecate during the night, creating poor sanitation and an unhealthy atmosphere.
In an interview with GNA, Madam Elizabeth Adongo, the Regional Director, CNC, noted that the lack of theatre in the region was a setback on the cultural heritage of the region as her outfit could not carry out most of the cultural activities it intends to embark upon.
She said due to the lack of theatre, CNC does not have a gallery to effectively discharge its assigned mandate of preserving and promoting cultural heritage and it has over the years limited the effort of the region to display her rich culture.
Madam Adongo explained that the situation has placed a financial burden on the CNC as it has to rent places to carry out programmes, stressing “this does not enhance quality and wide coverage we intend to meet”.
“Upper East Region is one of the regions with the richest culture, you can talk about our food, dressing like the smock, festivals and many others but we do not have anywhere to showcase these potentials except when we are given the opportunity to participate in the National Festival of Arts and Culture.
“We have very notable festivals such as Azambene, Feok, Gologo, and Samanpiid among others, and CNC deals with the intangible aspects of our cultural heritage and there is no theatre, it becomes difficult to do anything meaningful,” she added.
Quite apart from the inability of the CNC to carry out its activities and educate the public about the cultural heritage of the people in the region, the lack of theatre has further crippled the Creative Arts Industry in the region.
The Regional Director noted that the region was blessed with a lot of talents both in the movie and music sectors, however, there was no place for them to unearth their potentials, adding “young people who are good writers, actors and singers find it difficult to progress because there is no place for them to start to, no place to display their potentials and be recognized”.
Apart from preserving the values of the diverse cultural performances that the region is endowed with, the CNC loses a lot of revenue as nothing is being added to the Internally Generated Fund apart from the small collection it makes from the Bolgatanga Craft Village which is not also completed.
The 1992 Constitution recognizes culture as a necessary tool for national integration and development. The 2004 Cultural Policy Document states that “Our Culture manifests in our ideals and ideas, beliefs and values; folklore, environment, science and technology; and in the forms of our political, social, legal and economic institutions. It also manifests in the aesthetic quality and humanistic dimension of our literature, music, drama, architecture, carvings, paintings and other art forms”.
An old African adage says, “anyone who does not know his history is doomed but if you know your past, you will be able to plan for the future and again another also says, what an elderly person can see sitting down, a child cannot see if even he climbs the highest tree on earth”. This means that the wisdom of the old is very paramount to the success of every nation.
The role of a regional theatre, therefore, especially in this era of globalization and contemporary technological challenges, in preserving these cultural values and history for national unity and development cannot be overemphasized.
There is no doubt that when the theatre is constructed or completed, it would create a platform for all the various ethnic groups in the 15 Municipal and Districts across the region to display their rich cultural potentials and play a key role in preserving them.
The Upper East Region is bordered by two countries, Burkina Faso and Togo, and therefore when the theatre is constructed, it would not only help sell the cultural heritage to the outside regions and world but would further promote cross border cultural exchange.
It would further attract tourists into the region and the country as a whole which would, in turn, boost economic activities for the local people, create employment for the youth as well as rake in huge revenue for the CNC to undertake its flagship activities.
“When the tourists come, they will not only come to entertain themselves and go back but they will buy some of our artefacts like our baskets, smocks, food, pots and many others which will create more jobs for the people and help reduce poverty,” the Regional CNC Director stressed.
For the region to take full advantage of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the government needs to take urgent steps to complete the construction of the regional theatre.
It would further be a fulfilment of this government’s promise to construct ultramodern theatres in each region across the country.