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By Elizabeth A. Hanley

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The Igunnu is known for stretching itself up to 12 feet or more and for being able to spin, expand and contract, bend, stand upside down, and put itself in many other different 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 who might be attending from other villages and whose relatives had been his victims. This could lead to a serious battle instead of a mock battle.

Dancing and drumming are rich, artistic activities that play central roles in many traditional cultures in Africa. African dance and drum traditions are two distinct expressions of the same entity: rhythm. Both dancing and drumming require accompaniment. Dancing demands physical involvement, while drumming demands human participation. In other words, the use of the human body is required in both dancing and drumming. Rather than the material separation of the arts from each other and the physical distinctions between the played and the player, African culture relies upon a holistic integration that encourages the collective and the communal.

Groups of people who lived in every village. First there were those you could see—walking around, eating, sleeping, and working. Second were those waiting to be born, and third were those who had passed on—the ancestors—to whom funeral dances pay homage. Gona, a dance of the Dogon people, is performed at funerals and Dama ceremonies (special death anniversaries held every two to three years). The Dogon dances are ethnic dances but are performed more today as theatrical dances for tourists in Mali.

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