By Sarah Friswell
Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Ghana in West Africa. It's commonly referred to as "Africa for beginners" since it has been a very stable and peaceful country for over 10 years. While in Ghana, I had hoped to learn about the dance culture and rituals and I stumbled across tons of awesome dancing. Kumase, the second most populated city and the center of the Asante (ah-shan-ti, ah-san-ti) culture was bursting with markets and art of all sorts.
|Photo Credit: Brie Zupko|
The Asante people are ruled by an Asantehene, an elected king. At one time, a qualification of his election was that he was a good dancer. The Asantehene is called "master of the music and the drums" or "master of the dance", since drums and dancing go hand in hand for the Asante people. The most accomplished drummers have the ability to make their drum "talk" to the dancers and communicate what the dancer should do with his/her body.
The Asantehene is expected to dance in front of his people to display his royalty and to honor the ancestors, who are very important in Asante culture. There is one dance, played by the fontomfrom drum, that beats out a challenge to the Asantehene as if to say, "Some men fight, some men run away. Which kind of man are you?". The Asantehene then returns the challenge with his own choreographed display of strength as he jumps, hops, stamps, turns, and sways. He makes motions to say, "These are my people, I gather you together. I sit on you, I am your chief". He does not move fast because they say a king is more majestic when he moves slowly.
Once the Asantehene has danced, chiefs, leaders, and anyone who wants to pay homage, may dance in the drum circle. These dancers must proceed with caution though, because they have high standards to live up to. If a dancer does not dance at the highest level or chooses inappropriate dance movements, the drummers may use drum censorship. This means they will just stop playing and the dancer will get humiliated in front of all the onlookers.
So dance in central Ghana is used as a celebration, a homage to ancestors, a visual display of power and royalty, and a display of respect to those above you. I was lucky enough to dance with some women in a village called Bolgatanga in the Upper East region. Thankfully, I proved to be good enough, but I think they just enjoyed watching my very "strange" movement style.
Watch some Asante dancers and drummers here.
For more reading on the Asante people, I suggest Dancing by Gerald Jones.
|The old Asantahene Palace, now a museum|
Photo Credit Angel Chinea