26 June 2009

Uganda: Acholi Traditional Dance Attire Faces Extinction

It was a known culture for an Acholi male youth preparing for the Otole (war dance) to wear a head gear and leopard skin on his back.

A shield made of rhino skin and a spear would then be clutched in the hand and one would be ready for the dance.

The female dancers dressed up in plaited skirts, tie jingles (gara) on their legs, and hold a piece of wood modelled in the form of an axe. They would then dance in a circle as the men dance from the outer circle.

Today, however, Martha Angwec of Akwang Women Team (a traditional dance group) is playing the role of a man in the dance. She is clad in a black trouser and a white T-shirt. On her back is a monkey skin.

Angwec is holding a shield made from a jerrycan and a long stick fastened firmly in her hands in place of a spear. The crown of feathers on her head is the only reminder of the Acholi dance regalia.

"It is very hard to find leopard and rhino skin these days that is why I am using this monkey skin," Angwec said.

Aldo Ocan, 68, a Kitgum resident, attributes the disappearance of the traditional dance regalia to the nationalisation of animals by the government. "Long ago, we used to hunt and kill leopards and rhinos and use their skins for our traditional dance but now all animals are in the park," Ocan narrates.

Some have blamed formal education as a factor contributing towards the disappearance of culture and dance regalia.

"Formal education has now prevented our children from learning the traditional dances and most of them regard traditional dance as backward," Ocan explains.

"Traditional dance should be made a compulsory discipline for all students in schools so that they grow up knowing their culture."

Veronica Abalo, the leader of Akwang Women Team in Kitgum, says their female dancers now use ordinary sticks and mingling sticks instead of the piece of wood modelled in the form of an axe (lulai).

Other Acholi traditional dances like bwola and larakaraka have also been affected by lack of dance materials like drums, animal skins, beads and head gears.

Lilian Akwero from Akwang Sub-county in Kitgum District explains that it is difficult to teach youth the traditional dances because of lack of materials.

Apart from the disappearing dance materials, there has also been a fusion of the roles that men and women play during a traditional dance. Some women can these days beat drums; a role performed dominantly by men in the past.

Some women also perform parts that used to be played by men.

Angwec did not hesitate to dress up in a trouser and men's dance attire during the celebration of the Day of the African Child in Kitgum District recently.

The Acholi traditional dance has for long been regarded as one of the best traditional dances in Uganda.

However, with the disappearance of the dance materials and people with knowledge on the culture, the once valued and cherished traditional dances may gradually disappear.

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