In Ghana, it is common knowledge that the various communities hold their kings and other traditional rulers in high esteem. They consider these leaders as custodians of culture in many communities. For the community, it is not enough for such leaders to know the history of the lineage. Tradition requires that, the King, Chief or a Queen Mother should be able to dance and understand the dance. Their subjects also expect them to be conversant with the music to which they dance; and be able to interpret the language of the drums, poetry and proverbs of their people. So prior to the ascension to that high office, the candidate learns the intricacies of the dance traditions of the community.
SOME GHANAIAN DANCE FORMS
Each traditional area in Ghana seems to place emphasis on certain movement actions, and the use of particular parts of the body more often than other parts in its dances. Sometimes, the occupational practices and the environment of the people go to characterize the basic movement of many of the traditional dances of these groups. Trembling, jumping, stamping and undulation of the torso, feature prominently in these dances. The well-informed observer may therefore be able to discern at a glance, where a particular traditional dance originates.
Dagomba and Nanumba people in Northern Ghana emphasize the rotation of the pelvic girdle in the Bamaaya
dance; and pivot turns, torso swings and calculated foot stamps in the Takai dance. In southern Ghana however, the dancers give prominence to the arms and feet with moderate stamping and thrusting actions of the upper and lower torso. Among the Ewe in south -eastern part of the Volta region, the dancers tend to emphasize the shoulder and upper torso areas in a contraction-and-release action; coupled with alternating shuffling of the feet in duple time. In the Dagarti and Kassena areas of the upper region of Ghana, the dancers combine undulating and vibratory movement action of the upper torso, including strong stamping of the feet coupled with beautiful arms movements, epitomized in great dances like, the Nagla
. Below is a selection of traditional dances which are based on the popularity they enjoy in their areas of origin, and to some extent, their acceptance and practice beyond their places of origin.
The Takai Dance of the Dagomba
The Dagomba people perform the Takai Dance. The Dagombas occupy an area of undulating grassland spotted with shea-butter trees and a few hills. Their source of water is the White Volta, a tributary of the great Volta River, the largest river in Ghana. The main occupation of the traditional Dagomba, like most of the other people in the area is cattle, sheep, guinea fowl and goat rearing. They are also in the business of growing millet, rice and the production of shea-butter. The impact of Islam and to a lesser degree, Christianity, and the advent of independence, brought about many changes into the social structure of the Dagomba. Today quite a sizeable number of Moslems and a few Christians exist among the Dagomba. However, the main religion, Wende, or Wuni allows individual Dagombas to keep their own private lesser gods, Noli Wuni. Noli Wuni is subservient to a superior god, Bogli. Bogli therefore, represents a pantheon of all the lesser gods.
One of the most respected and visible cultural practices among the Dagomba, is the annual Damba festival. The Damba festival is held in commemoration of the birth of the holy prophet, Mohammed, and the Nanumba, Mamprusi, Gonja and Wala ethnic and other ethnic groups in Northern Ghana, perform the naming of the holy prophet Mohammed. A widely traveled Naa Zangina who became Ya-Na around 1700 AD introduced the Damba festival to the people of Northern Ghana. Arguably, the most prominent dance performed during the festival celebrated in August, is the Takai. Takai performance comes at the climax of the festival. The dance is a blend of Islamic religious influences, reflected both in the costume worn by the dancers and in the actual movements of the dance; and elements of the indigenous culture of the people.
Today, the original commemorative function of the Takai has expanded to cover funerals, weddings and other special occasions. The King, who usually serves as the principal dancer, holds a white horse-tail in one hand and a walking stick in the other to perform the main Damba movements. An entourage of men and women follow him. Some of the women fan the King as he performs short, calculated simple steps on the first beat of the phrase in the music provided by an orchestra of donno and brekete drums. He usually finishes the step at the end of the phrase, with half turns to the right; and then to the left. He may enhance the basic movements with the articulation of the large Bunmaa (smock) he is wearing.