African Dances: The Symbolism of the African People
African rhythms and dances portrays in various dimension, depicting the identity, cultural value and way of life of the people. In this report, Taiwo Akintunde examines series of African dance that symbolises the existence and uniqueness of Africans.
As a clear means of communicating culture, love or even conveying sublime messages, dance is also considered a form of recreation, socialisation in Africa.
According to Britannica, African dance is the performing art deeply woven into the social fabric of Africa and generally involving aspects of music and theatre as well as rhythmic bodily movement.
The Cultural Context of African Dances
In African societies, dance serves a complex diversity of social purposes. Within an indigenous dance tradition, each performance usually has a principal as well as a number of subsidiary purposes, which may express or reflect the communal values and social relationships of the people. In order to distinguish between the varieties of dance styles, therefore, it is necessary to establish the purpose for which each dance is performed.
Often, there is no clear distinction between ritual celebration and social recreation in dance performances; one purpose can merge into the other
Some typical examples of dances existing in the fashion explained above include;
- The Gelede Dance
The Gelede ritual festival in the Ketu-Yoruba villages of Nigeria and Benin Republic begins at midnight. The mask dramatically appears to the expectant community, its wearer uttering potent incantations to placate witches. The dancer then moves into a powerful stamping dance in honour of the great Earth Mother and the women elders of the community. The dance continues as the performer pauses to sing the praises of people of rank, carefully observing their order of seniority. In this way a ritual act becomes a social statement, which then flows into recreation as the formal dancing by the Gelede team gives way to free participation by spectators until sunrise. The great Efe holds a central position, entertaining his audience with tales that make comic and satiric reference to irregular behaviour within the community over the past year.
Also known as the ‘Acrobatic Dance’ of Eastern Nigeria. The leaps, turns, jumps and intricate footwork of the dancers is certainly a sight to behold. The dance is usually performed at key events & ceremonies.
iii. The Ukwata Dance
The Ukwata Dance is one of the dances of the Abbi people of Delta State have during the Ukwata Festival. It comes with religious aspects that include dances and rituals to worship the gods. Throughout the festival, women make bonfires to keep evil spirits at bay. Toward the end of the festival, the Egwu, Igba and Ukele dancers dress in marine colors and wear costumes representing aquatic creatures like crocodiles, alligators, fish and iguanas. The dance patterns they form represent the origin of these aquatic creatures while suggesting the dance of mermaids.
iv. The Adamma Masquerade dance
This dance has a major character — the Adamma masquerade who is dressed in female attire but wriggles her body like that of a man. While the masquerade itself is feminine, most of the dancers are males. It is also noted that while the majority of the masquerades in Igbo land represent spirits, Adamma is believed to have none as the maiden spirit has no spiritual value like most masquerades.
The Nkwa umu-Agbogho Dance
This is also known as the “Maiden dance” and is synonymous with young maidens of marriageable age. It also helps the younger girls to keep their minds occupied and to abstain from sexual activities before marriage. The dance is a sight to behold and involves rhythmic movement from the chest and waist. It is also a seductive dance as they flirtatiously flaunt their bodies in seductive manners to attract suitors.
The Bata Dance
The Bata dance is prominent in the western region of Nigeria, home to the Yoruba tribe. It is associated with Sango, God of Thunder is believed to be athletic and overtly acrobatic. The dance emerged out of the need to soothe a king with a fiery and tempestuous nature. The dance is not fully achieved without the music from the bata drums, ilu bata.
- The Ekombi Dance
Ekombi is a traditional dance amongst the Efik people in Calabar, Cross River State – Nigeria. The movements are derived from the motions of the ocean. It is a graceful dance with incredible footwork, it’s a dance of peace and happiness. Ekombi shows a woman’s beauty and femininity.
- The Koroso Dance
The dance, which from inception, hinged on a particular pattern of steps and body movement, has evolved over time. The dance is a combination of movement from various traditional dances of the Fulani and Hausa people of Kano State, with the name derived from the rattle tied around the dancers’ legs.
The Ohogho dance comes from the Benin culture and belongs to certain strong and healthy age groups. It is a religious dancer that has its dancers wearing the waist gown – ebuluku and dance in circles with gongs or bells in their hands and around a bowl with burning medicinal leaves. It wards off evils and forms a part of major religious ceremonies.
The Swange Dance
The Swange is a form of urban recreational dance among the Tiv in which men and women dance together. This dance uses the circle formation familiar in village dances and adapts traditional musical themes to highlife rhythms played on a combination of Tiv and Hausa instruments. The climax of the evening is provided by a solo dancer who improvises freely, using movements from many styles.
Indlamu (South Africa)
This is a dance that is mostly associated with Zulu culture. It is derived from the Zulu warrior class of ancient times. It is carried out by men in full regalia; traditional head pieces, ceremonial belts, shields and spears.
This is one of the most famous traditional dances of the Massa performed during Eunoto, the coming of age ceremony of warriors. It is also known as the ‘”jumping dance” with each of the young warriors trying to jump higher then the previous one. Members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on how high one jumps.
A very popular form of dance that started from the highlife scene in the capital city of Accra but is now enjoyed throughout the country.
Pat Pat (Senegal)
The Pat Pat dance is the traditional dance practiced by the Jola people of Senegal. It involves rhythmically patting the body and fast leg movements.
From the Malinke people in Guinea, this dance is done by women who have overcome great adversity. The woman starts the dance wearing old ragged clothes. Accompanied by musicians she circles the village several times, singing and dancing. The women of the village follow her and sing too. The woman then changes her clothes and buries her old clothes in a special area.
Ewegh ( Niger)
The Ewegh dance is a dance form performed by the nomadic Tuareg tribe of North Africa. The Ewegh is strong dance performed by men in groups during festivals and ceremonial events.
Eskista is a traditional Ethiopian dance performed by both men and women. The dance focuses on rolling the shoulder blades, bouncing the shoulders, and contracting the chest. It is one of the most complex traditional dance forms in Ethiopia due to its technical nature.
San Dancing (Botswana)
The San tribe of Botswana are one of the oldest tribes in Africa. The San style of dancing is one that involves fast movement, singing and complexities of rhythms that can be found in many of the dances of the Africa diaspora.
The religious context of African Dances
Thought systems traditional to African cultures are rooted in a world view in which there is continuous interaction between spiritual forces and the community.
Spiritual beings may inhabit natural elements or animals and may also take possession of human mediums. This possession of persons is usually temporary and confined to ritual, as when the priest of the Yoruba god Shango dances into a state of deep trance at the annual festival, expressing the wrath of the god of thunder with the lightning speed of his arm gestures and the powerful roll of his shoulders.
In Zimbabwe the Mhondora spirit mediums, who relate the Shona people to the guardian spirits of the dead, enter a trance through the music of the mbira lamellaphone, to which they sing while performing simple, repetitive foot patterns. Thus, the dances of priests and mediums confirm their ritual leadership.
Dance is used as therapy by ritual societies in many cultures. Hausa women, for example, find healing through dance and spirit possession in the Bori cult.
Among the Jukun of Nigeria, a similar organization is called the Ajun, whose elders deal with hysterical disorders in women by exorcising evil spirits in initiation ceremonies.
During a three-month period in a house shrine, the sufferer is taught songs and dances that have a therapeutic function culminating in a ceremony in which the initiate publicly joins the members of the society to perform the Ajun-Kpa dance.
The female spirit mediums of the Kalabari in the Niger delta, using dance and song as an essential part of their therapy, are also credited with powers of healing.