African dance by Kariamu Welsh-Asante

By Kariamu Welsh-Asante

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Igunnu tilts, bends, widens, and contracts; twirls, swirls, bounces, stands upside down, and assumes numerous positions. Nigeria’s Nkwa Ese is a dance-play that takes place at an elder’s burial and is a reenactment of the heroic deeds of the deceased. It is a reminder that his heroism could invoke the wrath of old individuals attending from other villages whose relatives had been his victims. This could lead to a serious battle instead of a mock battle. Sons and other male kin of the deceased dance the Nkwa Ese.

Gbon is a dance for funerals or initiations performed by men who wear high raffia polychrome collars that hide the base of a helmet-like mask. q 3/25/04 8:34 PM Page 59 West African Dances wraps are attached to a full-bodied, dome-shaped mass of cream and crimson raffia. Koto is a Senufo funeral dance where the male and female performers wear a tight-fitting knit suit made of cotton cord yarn, black in color, with wrist and ankle attachments. Ewoh-ologba is a circle dance of the Egede society of Nigeria.

The dance may relate any of several legends about fire and Molimo. For instance, one story professes that women originally possessed the Molimo fire and that when an elderly woman stokes the fire, she symbolically gives it to the men to rebuild and revitalize with the dance of life. These legends bear witness to the importance given to fire by the Mbuti. In hunting groups, fire is essential to process food. q 3/25/04 8:36 PM Page 64 64 AFRICAN DANCE songs of devotion and praise to the forest god.

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