Traditional Dances in Igbo Culture

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In ancient times, dancing was a major part of the Igbo culture, to an extent it still is. There were a variety of dances performed by different communities to celebrate different occasions and events. These dances all had different patterns, were performed with different instruments and were often easily distinguishable. Oftentimes a couple of dances are very similar to each other too.

Most of these dances are no longer being performed as they were said to be associated with paganism and as such was stopped with the advent of Christianity. However, a number of them are still in practice and we shall be mentioning them below;

The Ikoro Dance

The Ikoro dance is a periodical performance that holds only once in a year. The devotees observe this festival for eight days nonstop. They first hold the ‘ila oso ikoro’ before commencing the main ikoro. Ila oso was the precursor of the main event and it allowed the participants practice and perfect their performance as they do not have a lot of onlookers during this period. It also allows them to invite their friends, relatives and other guests to the main event. With the precursor event, they are most likely able to raise money for the main occasion. The ikoro dance is usually held on popular market days as the market areas are used for the event. A large wooden gong is usually the main instrument of the ikoro dance.

The Oke Ekpe dance

The Oke Ekpe dance was another dance popular among the Igbos, especially the Ibeme community of Obioma Ngwa. It was similar to a regular masquerade dance. The dancers are dressed in masquerade regalia while dancing to the rhytym of the drums played by the drummers. The difference between the Oke Ekpe dance and regular masquerade dances is that the Oke Ekpe dance began in honor of the riverine deity known as Owu and the Mmanwu was just the normal masquerade observed all over igboland. This traditional dance took place at the end of the eleventh month of the year. The young and single maidens in the community are expected to participate by adorning themselves with uri and wearing matching rings around her two legs. The dance is usually scheduled to start on an Nkwo market day. All married maidens and their husbands were also expected to prepare for this dance and to come with gifts too. Any man who deliberately held back his wife from participating risked the chance of having his marriage terminated by the community.

The Ekereavu and the Anyantolukwu dances

The Ekereavu dance was predominantly for adults. It was performed as a form of entertainment during the burial ceremony of a prominent person, or during the celebration of certain important events. The Anyantolukwu dance was principally for the youths – both boys and girls. The dance method was typical of young adults dancing vigorously by swaying and shaking their hips and buttocks.

The Ese and Ukom Dances

These were dances for the dead. An honorable man received the Ese while the noblewoman received the Ukom. During the funerals, these dances were performed beautifully.

The Ese was divided into the Powerful Ese (ese ike), only played when a warrior died, and the Ese on the Rooftop (ese elulo), which was played on the rooftop by drummers. The former was extremely rare. As it was for the man, the Ukom was played for the noblewoman. Her sons often kept a cow around the corner, for their deceased mother’s people. A market day was selected for the dance which was usually on the eke ukwu eve.

This was seen as the gathering for the funeral (Mbanye Okwukwu). However, the funeral (Okwukwu) was done traditionally on the Orie market day, with gunshots fired into the air with Dane guns without bullets. The shooting was done primarily to make the occasion lively and as colorful as possible. Nowadays, cannons have taken the place of Dane guns. Displays of human heads were optional during the funeral, usually based on family preferences.

But the mainstay of the funeral was the cutting of the he-goats head. This was usually done by the departed’s first son who was expected to chop off the he-goats head at his first sharp knife’s stroke. If he failed to chop off the head of the goat at the first stroke, it was a sign that he was not in good terms with his departed father. The grave consequently rejected his demonstrations, and he would not be the rightful inheritor of his late father’s properties. This unfortunate incident usually threw the onlookers into pandemonium, with some staring, others sympathizing and some talking about the first son’s misfortune. To avoid such an unfortunate incident, the knife he must use must be sharpened for eight days, in no other place but at his maternal home.

Before he ventures to cut the goat’s head, the Itu aka ceremony was first ushered in, where the son praised and pleaded with the deceased to help him cut the goat’s head at the first stroke. When the first son successfully cuts the goat’s head, he is greeted with wild jubilation and the firing of the cannons. The Ese drummers would rent the air with their energetic and rumbustious drumming. The Nwaopara would take the floor and dance before the Ese, making statements of his father’s achievements whilst he was alive. In the same manner, all the man’s sons took turns to dance before the Ese drummers.

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