Ghana Month Special: Exploring the Stories Behind 6 Iconic Traditional Dances

Dance is a type of art where people move their bodies in time with music. Dancers often show their feelings and tell stories through their movements. Today in our Ghana month series, we shine our light on 6 beautiful and popular dances in Ghana along with their histories.

Adowa

 Adowa is a traditional African dance by the people of Akan tribe in Ghana.  The Adowa dance is believed to have originated from the movements of an antelope which is called adowa in the Akan language. According to oral history, the dance has a story that dates back to the reign of the Great Asante Queen, Abrewa Tutuwa. It is said that the queen fell ill but her condition aggravated despite efforts by her physicians. Th queen’s court then turned to a powerful priest for cure and he revealed the only way for the queen to heal is to offer a living antelope for sacrifice. The warlords succeeded in capturing an antelope after setting out to the forest. They returned home, imitating the skillful movement of the antelope, showcasing the dance skills to the households, thus the adowa dance. The Asafo warriors’ group was the first to have begun this traditional dance and overtime, it was imitated and improvised by women. It was originally performed by the Ashantis at funerals, marriage ceremonies, festivals and other significant ceremonies but due to modernity and cross-cultural adaptation, it is performed by most ethnic groups in Ghana and even beyond shores. The dance has a strong connection to royalty. That is why Performers usually adorn themselves in the famous Kente clothes and beads when doing this dance. Trained performers usually do the dance in gatherings where royalty is present and it is a way to honor and respect their culture and heritage. It is a form of expression that allows performers to convey their deepest thoughts and feelings.

Borborbor

The late Francis Kodzo Nuatro is perceived to be the originator of Kpando Borborbor Posse in the 1950s. The famous composer was a Former Policeman who nurtured, developed and promoted Borborbor music to becoming the pride of Kpando Traditional area and beyond. This dance is the one of the most popular in the Volta region. The dance comes in three forms; the marching rhythm, slow highlife and hot highlife rhythm. It could be played as a patriotic song, dirges and joyfous occasion. The dance involves a variety of movements in a circular or linear form and done  in accordance with the rhythm. Performers of this dance twirl two white handkerchiefs in uniform gesticulation while moving their waists to entertain and sometimes bait men. Instruments used in performing borborbor include the base drum, the middle drum (asivu), a small side drum (Pati), twin drums (Bongus), dondo, marakesh (akaye), double metallic instruments also known as krettsiwoe and two standing instruments made of iron known as Gakokoe.

Bamaya

This dance is performed by the Dagbamba people in the Northern region. It is known as the “rain dance”. Oral tradition had it that there was a long spell of drouht that hit most parts  of Dagbon states in the early 19th century. The chief and his elders consulted the oracle in a valley to inquire about the solution to the drought as it was believed that the gods held the rains from falling. The oracle then instructed them that in order to end the drought, the men must appease the gods by wearing women apparel. In addition, they were to sacrifice some animals. That is why with this type of dance, men are seen wearing feminine outfits. Performers of this dance move their feet very swifly and twist their waist many times as they dance round the drummers. Their waists and chins are tied with beads and cymbal bells that make noise as they shake and thump their feets. It is performed in a chorus song supported with drums and flutes.

Kpanlogo

This is referred to as the “dance of the youth”performed by the Ga people in Ghana. It started during the wake of independence as a musical type for entertainment in Accra. The dance’ original name is Gbajo which means “storytelling” in Ga. The tradition involves someone telling a story, the group making up a song about it and then setting a dance to the song. Some of the stories used for the dance were based on the three daughters of a local chief named Kpanlogo, Alogodza and Imama. These names can be heard in many of the songs and dance movements associated with the dance. It is characterized by the use of several instruments, including Ngongo (two tone iron bell), Ashakashaka (an axatse gourd rattle) both instruments used as timekeeper, Ododompo (castanet), tamalin 1 and Tamalin 2 (square frame drums held in hands and are tuned to produce different pitches).  It is presently performed at life cycle events, festivals and political rallies.

Apatampa

This dance is performed by the Fanti people in Ghana. Historically, it is believed that the name Apatampa  originated from an incident that happened a long time ago. According to the legend, a fearsome legend would often attack and kill Fanti men at night. This caused fear amongst those in the community at the time. One fateful night, a woman appeared on the scene when the giant was engage in a fierce battle with the last man standing. She danced beautifully that it caught the attention of people around. Her dance managed to distract the fight, bringing temporary peace to the chaos. In the Fanti language, apata ampa means “separate the fight”. Over time, the phrase became similar with the dance giving it the name, “apatampa”. Instruments used in this dance is a large rectangular plywood board on which the drummers strike the open surface with the palms and and a pitch metal whistle locally known as “aben” which adds melodic element to the dance as well as the use of castanets also known as “afrikyiwa”. Performers begin this dance by making a beat by hitting their thighs with their hands twice followed by clapping their hands on the third beat and then beat their chests twice.

Agbadza

This dance is performed by the Ewe people of the Volta region of Ghana. It finds its origin in the times of war. The Ewes went through several war times and oppression before settling down in the Volta region of Ghana and Southern Togo. When training warrious for battle, the Ewes used various songs and dances to encourage the warriors. It was through these hard times that Atrikpui was born which later evolved to agbadza. It is no longer used for war but joyful moments. The dance is sometimes known as the “chicken dance” due to the bird like motions required for the dance. It is particularly performed during the Hogbetsotso festival, a celebration by the Anlos. Instruments used include a bell, sogo (ensemble leader drum), kidi (second drum), kagan (support drum) and rattle/ axatse (beaded rattle).

Share with us your traditional dance and the history behind them!

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