What do Igbo traditional dances look like? What music do people use to accompany it? What is their meaning? Learn answers to these questions from our article.
Merriam-Webster dictionary define “dancing” as moving or seem to be moving up and down or about in a quick or lively manner. According to this resource, Dancing is about moving. However, we believe, along with numerous cultures that dancing is more of a mirror of a whole nation or a small group of people. When moving people express themselves in a way that no words would be able to express.
Nigerian culture is a bright example of this. I might even say that Nigerians are among the most dance-loving cultures in the world, as each tribe or a small grouping of people used to have their own danced specific for different occasions.
In this article, in particular, we’ll talk about traditional dances of Igbo culture, music they used for it, as well as attires and costumes people wore when dancing it.
Igbo’s cultural dance meaning
Before we start, I wanted to state that dances in this culture were not the merely expression of joy or happiness. They danced when searching for a life partner when coming back to normal life after days and nights of constant motherhood, as well as when waiting for their brave soldiers coming back from the battlefield no matter whether they won or lost the battle itself.
Even though Nigeria used to be influenced by many Western cultures, it never lost its identity. Same dances, songs, as well as other cultural heritage items, remained and still bring joy to many people who were lucky enough to experience the honour of seeing these treasures.
These dances represent Nigerians’ beauty and courage, as well as glorify love and support in the family or cry about death or loss of close ones. Nothing was left aside. Therefore, when one is watching someone dance, he should look at it as if someone is telling the story which can be read from the moves.
Now, as we figured that Igbo as a part of Nigerian dance-loving culture, let’s explore more about different dances they had and what they represented.
Various types of Igbo dances
There were several most popular dances among people from Igbo tribe.
This is traditionally a vibrant dance for young people from the ethnic group of Igbo tribe in Nigeria, which focuses on the fast motion of the body and often involves elements peculiar to acrobatics. In the language of Igbo people, the word "Atilogwu" is translated as "something magical, like witchcraft/sorcery, was put into him?" They say that the name comes from rumours that witchcraft or magic potions need to be involved if the village children can perform so lush and vigorous at the time, while still looking so effortless. The pace of the dance matches the tempo, which depends on the rhythm of the drum and "ogene," a metal gong instrument. The dance is usually performed during festivals and celebrations. On top of that, it also includes exotic dishes created from particular Nigerian recipes, served buffet style.
It is important to note that this particular dance involves many acrobatic skills, as it’s not easy to perform hard turns, flips, or jumps essentially to this dance.
People watching this dance cannot help it but get amused by what they see thanks to skillfulness and much practice involved in the process. However, apart from trained ability to flip, those who dance it are also great at different foot techniques as they present outstanding footwork.
2. Nkwa umu-Agbogho
This is a fascinating case. Specialists of the Igbo culture state that this dance is quite old, as it first was used years ago when young ladies ready to get married danced it to attract possible matches. However, there is more sense hidden in this dance. These women when dancing only use their chest and waist. This should serve as a reminder that they should abstain from a sexual relationship before marriage and concentrate on preparing for the family life in different ways rather than suffering from ill flesh desires.
However, the dance is kind of interesting, and ladies prepare for a long time to first appear in front of possible suitors. They still do it in a seductive manner, though in a less extravagant way than other Igbo dances.
Mmanwu is the traditional Igbo masquerade typical for those living in the south-eastern Nigeria. Their culture is centred around business and pleasure; for the people of Igbo, the masquerade is the primary form of entertainment. Masquerade is all about a particular community and masquerades may vary from community to community. Masquerades normally last for a few weeks. Nevertheless, some of them could extend up to several months. These events are often performed at the time of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new planting season. There are some Igbo people who perform masquerades throughout the year. They are used to honour the dead and to pray to the gods for a successful planting season. Since Igbo only know their history with the help of interpretation, the origin of the masquerade were lost.
Igbo masquerades, mmanwu, are traditional ideas played by exceptional secret societies within the community. These exclusive societies included members who were the adult and necessarily male. Each member must be initiated in society. Their identity is known only to the other members. The main function of these communities is to celebrate the harvest and entertain the rural folk. Some other features included the protection and actions of the village guards. Members, also known as masqueraders, wearing masks to hide their identity from another part of the village. The mask is also worn to be like the spirit of a dead member of the community. Wearing a mask as masquerade thought to have spiritual powers, which are conducted through the mask.
This dance usually represented some spirits who were there to represent some gods or punish someone who did not conduct well in the society. People were normally scared of this, even though the idea of this dance was to entertain people.
As Godwin C. Nwaogwugwu stated, ‘Omuru-onwa’ and ‘Agbacha-Ekuru nwa ’ were both dance groups for married ladies and could be compared to today’s exercise clubs in the west. Married women and new mothers used such entertaining avenues to exercise, lose weight, shed baby fats and stay healthy through weekly rehearsals.
Only married women and new mothers could dance it. It served as training as well as proof that they are still in good shape even after giving birth and raising their kids. In this dance, they use their hips. They swing them beautifully trying to show that they are still as good as new. That is truly a beautiful view.
According to the trusted sources, this dance is also often called a war dance. People used to dance it when waiting and welcoming soldiers who came back as heroes no matter what their accomplishments there were. “Commonly associated with the people of Abam in Arochukwu LGA, Abia State, Nigeria, Ikpirikpi-ogu is a dance of warriors. Originally performed to welcome soldiers back from tribal wars, it exudes an air of valour and is strictly carried out by men. Today it’s purely symbolical to show the strength of a community and its conquest over collective challenges. It is performed at important festivals and community events.”
These are short facts about the traditional dance heritage of Igbo people and their dancing. However, this is not everything one should know about it. That si why we highly recommend you to study this subject a little bit more. You will be fascinated to learn what heritage Nigeria has, and what depth of the culture one can find a simple thing like a dance. People have invested so much effort, and we can gain a better understanding of the culture from watching people coming from it dance. So, keep researching this issue, and you’ll be surprised. For now check out the Igbo traditional dance videos to feel their music and enjoy the attires of dancers. Have fun!