The amazing ‘Bamaya’ dance

Culture, they say, is dynamic: and a cultural dance from a particular religion presents a way of expressing people’s history, achievements, tragedy, happiness, sorrow, sarcasm, power and appreciation of culture.

Dance cuts across all spheres of life – including personal, social, political and religious settings.  It is a tool for promoting peace and interconnection among people, and people or tribes are known by their way of dance – which attracts many tourists wanting to see those dances.

The people of the Northern Region of Ghana have a lot to offer in terms of tourism potentials which make them unique and will amaze any visitor or tourist that comes to the place.

The Bamaya dance is one of the popular and most commonly performed dances during public events and functions in the Northern Region.

It is also one of the interesting dances exhibited by the people of Dagbon – especially Dagombas at functions, festivals, theatres, funerals or competitions. No occasion is held without seeing natives exhibiting their talents, especially during festivals such as Damba and Bugum; and funerals as well marriage and naming ceremonies as well as other functions.

The dance – its meaning is ‘the river or valley is wet’ – was mostly performed by men who dressed in feminine outfits, until recently when some women were engaged to make the dance a more colourful one.

Information gathered indicates that the Bamaya dance was first performed in the early 19th century to mark an end to a protracted drought that hit most parts of the Dagbon states in the Northern Region.

One cannot see the indigenes dance at a function with drumming supported with flutes and sit idly. Almost all visitors that witness the dance at functions try to imitate the dancers, which also make the place interesting.

You will need to be twisting your waist while swinging your hands as well using your feet to stamp on the floor while shaking your body and dancing around the drummers in a circle.

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Some old women will also be seen singing and shouting at the top of their voices to hail the dancers.

The feet of the dancers then have cymbal bells tied on them that will be heard making rhythmic sounds. The dancers exhibit their cultural heritage with their waists being adorned with beads and other cultural paraphernalia, while their heads are covered with the skin and horns of an animal.

While performing the dance, dancers can also be seen with two metal rings on their two fingers which they shake and thump in response to the music being played.

The movements of the dancers’ feet, according to history, depict a person whose feet had become stuck in a mud due to the heavy rains, noting: “So, when they are dancing, it appears as if they want to remove their stuck feet from the mud”.

The sound of drums and flutes dictate the dance movements in time with the dancers’ leader, who picks and communicates the steps to the rest of the dancing crew.

Among the musical instruments used for the Bamaya dance are included ‘shakers’, flutes, ‘hour-glass drums’ and ‘gong-gong’.

It is important to note that when the dancers are about to leave the stage, each dancer displays his own skills – which usually attracts a lot of applause from observers, who sometimes shower monies on them.

B&FT picked the brain behind the dance in an interview: The Northern Region Acting Director of the Centre for National Culture (CNC), Mr. Abubakari Iddrisu Saeed, said oral tradition has it that there was a famine in which many animals and plants died. And so the leaders then had to consult the oracle of God to send down some rain to boost agricultural production.

He explained that the men were to put on women’s attire, which was not possible because the tradition of the North forbids a man to dress in women’s clothing – but they had to do so to appease God for showers of rains.

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“’The ancestors had the notion that God has more sympathy for women than men; hence the decision to dress in women’s apparel for God to have sympathy on them and send down some rain to address the famine issue per the oracle’s instruction. As soon as they put on the attire to disguise themselves, there was a shower of rain,” he said.

“Also, the men had to dress like women to give thanks to the gods, because it was believed that the prayers of women usually got a quicker response than those of men,” he added

After the rains, Mr. Saeed said, the people took to farming – which brought bumper harvests in all settlements of the Dagbon states.

He stressed that following the rains and bumper harvest, the people in appreciation jubilated in the rains to thank the gods for the rains – saying the valleys of the lands were filled with water while the farms became muddy for crop production.

He said although the dance used to be performed by only men, women are now performing it at various functions and occasions: adding “It is so lovely to watch as they gracefully move and twist their waists and act just like women in the dance”.

Mr. Saeed said although it was forbidden for men to put on women apparel in Dagbon communities, the dance, however, permitted the dancers to do so.

He noted that the dance itself started with a group called Yamgari Nayili cultural troupe, which trended to the establishment of several groups in the Metropolis.

“We also teach unadulterated culture here at the Centre, to imbue in the younger ones a spirit of cultural heritage,” he explained.

He appealed for support to help renovate the cultural centre auditorium to help showcase more cultural events for tourists and the young ones.

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