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The untold story behind the ‘Bamaya’ Dance

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi
In Dagbon culture, men  do not wear earrings but  men who perform Bamaya  wear earrings and skirts with head gear to match

Have you ever bothered to find the meanings of the dance you do or those who you see   performed at functions, festivals, theatres, funerals, or competitions and how they came about?

 

Dance, like all forms of cultural exhibitions, mirrors some aspect of the society in which they exist. It is a way of expressing people’s history, achievements, tragedy, happiness, sorrows, sarcasms, power and appreciation of culture.

Dance cuts across all spheres of life, including personal, social, political and religious settings.  It is a tool to promote peace and interconnection among people.

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Nations and people are sometimes identified with their dance. Since time immemorial, dance has remained one of the pillars of tourism as it draws many tourists to a place.

Bamaya Dance

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The Northern Region has a lot to offer in terms of tourism. Apart from the region’s vast array of attractions, the region can jealously boast many traditional dances, including “Bamaya ”.

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

‘Bamaya’ is a Dagbani word which literally means ‘’the river or valley is wet’’. This dance is mostly done by men who are dressed in feminine outfits. 

The Bamaya ensemble comprises a lead dancer, other dancers and drummers who also double as chorus singers and sing along with the dancers.

The movements in the dance are very symbolic in meaning. The dancers move their feet very swiftly and twist their waist many times as they dance round the drummers.

Their dancers’ waists and chins are tied with beads and cymbal bells that make noises as they shake and thump their feet  while dancing.

Bamaya is performed with a chorus song supported with drums and flutes.

The sound of the drums and flutes dictate the dance movement. The leader picks and communicates the movement to the rest of the dancers.

Whether to dance slowly or swiftly depends on the rhythm of the drums and flutes.

When the dancers are about to leave the stage, each of them displays his own skills.

History

The story behind  Bamaya is that the 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.

Narrating the etymology of the dance to the Daily Graphic, the Northern Regional Administrator of the Centre for National Culture (CNC), Mr Abubakari Iddrisu Saeed, said oral tradition had it that there was a long spell of drought during which many animals and plants died.

He said the chief and his elders consulted an oracle located in a valley to inquire about what to do to bring rain.

Mr Saeed said the people believed that it was the gods who had held the rains from falling.

According to him, the oracle instructed them (chief and his elders) that for the drought to end, the men had to appease the gods of the land by wearing women’s apparel. 

“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 stated.

Mr Saeed further said the gods also instructed them to sacrifice some animals in addition to the prescribed dress code.