Edited by Azizi Powell
This post provides information and comments about stilt walking in Africa and showcases seven video examples of stilt walking in that continent.
I searched YouTube for videos of African stilt walking after reading that "Moko Jumbies", Caribbean (Trinidad & Tobago) stilt dancing traditions have their source in West Africa. I was curious to see what those traditions looked like, and as a result of that search I found videos of and information about West African and other African stilt walking customs.
In alphabetical order, the videos showcased in this post are Gabon (Central Africa), Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria (West Africa), Republic of the Congo (Central Africa), and Uganda (East Africa).
Disclaimer: This post isn't meant to be comprehensive depiction of African stilt walking traditions or the purposes for those traditions.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/11/seven-videos-of-caribbean-stilt-walking.html for a pancocojams post on Caribbean stilt walking/stilt dancing.
Also, click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/11/caribbean-influenced-moko-jumbies-in.html for a post on Caribbean influenced moko jumbies (stilt dancing) in the United States.
The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.
Thanks to all those who are featured in this post and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.
THE TRADITIONAL PURPOSES OF STILT WALKING IN AFRICA
From my online reading, it appears that there are a number of traditional purposes for stilt walking in Africa. Here are some article excerpts that I found on this subject:
From http://www.ket.org/artstoolkit/wodm/tour/africa/ivory/dance.htmDance Sampler: Ivory Coast
"Dancing on Stilts
Every village has a stilt or mask dancer—but you have to be born into a stilt dancing family to do it!
Moha Dosso of Ivory Coast dances the Gue Pelou stilt dance
One of the most spectacular dances of the Ivory Coast is the stilt dance, also known as a mask dance. Stilt dances are ritual dances that protect the village and are performed at ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, initiations, and celebrations. During private preparations, the dancer communicates with the spirit world of the ancestors and dons a costume with tall stilts and colorful clothes that cover the face and body completely. Once in costume, no one may refer to the dancer by any name other than the spirit name—the identity of the dancer is kept secret.
Meet Moha Dosso
Could you tell us a little about your background—your village, your country, and your culture?
My name is Moha Dosso, and I’m a dancer from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, from a small village named Gouana near the city of Touba. My people are called the Mahouka, and our language is called Mahouka, too. We have a lot in common with a neighboring group of people called the Yacouba, and the name for us all is the Dan people. In Ivory Coast we have about 70 different ethnic groups—each with different languages, arts, and culture.
What is the role or purpose of dance in your culture? Is it part of a ceremony or for religious reasons; for artistic expression; or for fun and socializing?
Dance is really used for all of these things, but different dances and music are used for different reasons. Among the Mahouka people, Gue Pelou—the stilt dance—is used for ceremonies and rituals (like a wedding, funeral, or the arrival of the President or an important minister), and also for celebrations like a school dance. This mask represents a spirit who is blessing or protecting the village, so people are happy to see it. There are many other masked dances in Ivory Coast, too—using masks made of different materials and different movements. Women dance in certain masks, and men dance in certain ones."...
"One of the most popular types of masks in the Sanga region is the type known as kanaga. Like other Dogon masks, kanaga masks are worn at rituals called dama, whose goal is to transport the souls of deceased family members away from the village and to enhance the prestige of the deceased and his descendants by magnificent masked performances and generous displays of hospitality. In 1935, French anthropologist Marcel Griaule witnessed a dama ritual in which twenty-nine out of a total of seventy-four masks were of the kanaga type. These masks are characterized by a wooden superstructure in the form of a double-barred cross with short vertical elements projecting from the tips of each horizontal bar.
This kanaga mask was collected in Mali by Lester Wunderman, complete with its costume elements (see 1987.74a through 1987.74i). When the mask is worn, the back of the dancer's head is covered with a hood of plaited fiber fringe at the bottom edge. The dancer wears a vest made of black strip-woven cloth and red broadcloth strips embroidered with white cowrie-shells; strands of glass and plastic beads dangle from its edges. The kanaga dancer also wears a pair of trousers made of indigo-dyed, strip-woven cotton cloth, over which he ties a long skirt of curly, loosely strung, black-dyed sanseveria fibers and short overskirts of straight red and yellow fibers. For a traditional dama, the preparation and dyeing of the fibers are undertaken with as much secrecy and ritual as the carving of the wooden mask.
During the time spent by Griaule among the Dogon studying their complex belief system, he was initially told that the kanaga mask represents a bird with white wings and black forehead, but he later came to see this literal interpretation as characteristic of the first level of knowledge, that of the uninitiated. The deeper meaning of the kanaga mask apparently pertains both to God, the crossbars being his arms and legs, and to the arrangement of the universe, with the upper crossbar representing the sky and the lower one the earth. The disparity between these two interpretations illustrates the gaps in our understanding of Dogon art."
From http://arktofile.net/pages/while_s.html The History Of Stilt Walking
..."Stiltwalkers clearly shown in decorations on ancient ruins. Black slaves brought stiltwalking to America...In digs of Benin civilization in Nigeria is a large beautiful plaque showing sword-carrying stiltwalker....
In what is now Tanzania in East Africa, an old rite centered around a tribal dancer who was called the man in the treetop. Standing high on his stilts, he would pray that the young people of the tribe might grow tall and healthy and reach the very height of their ambitions...
In the Sudan the Ekoi people tell a story about a wise old man. He had been working on his little farm, planting yams. But the day was hot, and the ground was like a griddle, burning his bare feet. The old farmer sat under a tree and whittled a few branches.
Soon he had some walking sticks on which he could carry out his planting in comfort. And it is said this was how the custom of wearing short stilts was begun in that sun-baked African land...
In Nigeria, it is usually the boys who are on stilts, trying to outdo each other in their stunts. They hop on one stilt, vie to outreach each other, and compete in their skill at stilting with no hands. Play on stilts sometimes mimics the creatures seen in nature -- the daddy longlegs spider, the tall wading birds, the giraffe."...
These examples are given in chronological order according to their publishing dates on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.
Example #1: ikokou [Gabon, Republic of the Congo]
La muse, Uploaded on Nov 11, 2007
clip d ikoku y dimbu
Scenes that include a stilt walker begin at 3:25.
The Ikoku dance is traditional to the Puna ethnic group. That ethnic group is found in the Central Africa nations of Gabon and the Republic of the Congo.
Example #2: The Dogon Dance of the Mask [Mali]
New Videos, Uploaded on Feb 11, 2008
The World Famous Dogon people of Mali West Africa.doing a ceremonial Dance.
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread:
Jojo La verite, 2015
"This dance is called kanaga for the dogon. the same dance appear in bamileke tribe in cameroon and is called Kounga."
Example #3: Mali - Dogon's Dances
Carlo Di Marco, Published on Apr 7, 2012
The Dogon's dances represent their history. The masks depict the system in the world: animals, men and things, too. In the dance they are an important element and the Dogon use more than 80 masks, depending on the celebration.
Example #4: Dununba Drum and Dance Party with Stilt Walker Dancer Guinee West Africa [Guinea]
Aslan Koyun Published on Sep 17, 2013
Example #5: Royal Tour (1956) [Nigeria]
British Pathé, Published on Apr 13, 2014
Port Harcourt & Enugu, Nigeria.
A brief scene of a stilt dancer is shown at 2:12-2:21. The commenter indicates that this is called "the staggering dance" and that the dances imitate the movements of long legged birds that live near the Niger creeks.
Example #6: STILT-WALKING [Uganda]
NTVUganda, Published on Aug 17, 2014
Stilt-walking is an art of entertainment that is known for drawing huge crowds in circuses and other recreational areas. NTV’s Suhail Mugabi caught up with three brothers who have mastered the art and now reports.
The video narrator indicated that stilt walking is new in Uganda and that the brothers who are the focus of this video use stilt walking for entertainment purposes.
Example #7: Ivory Coast Dances | Planet Doc Express Docs [Ivory Coast]
Planet Doc Express Documentaries Published on Dec 8, 2014
There are more than sixty indigenous ethnic groups in the Ivory Coast: the Dan is one of them. For them, ceremonial dances have a special significance and importance.
The Dan are known for being fierce warriors, forever locked in a struggle with neighboring peoples.
But when it comes to dancing, they become peacemakers, organizing two-day festivals in which the best dancers from neighboring villages are chosen.
The vocal polyphony is energetic, accompanied by loud drums; women also actively participate in the musical ritual. This is a typical imitative dance, one of the many varieties of these ethnic groups choreography in Ivory Coast.
A man wears a mask symbolizing a forest animal. To the sound of drums, the protagonist is driven to the center of the dancing arena by the ringmasters. Supported on stilts, he jumps to mimic the animal he represents.
The Dan believe in a world divided into two halves: the village and its inhabitants on one side, and on the other, the world of wild animals and guiding spirits of the forest. In Ivory Coast the amazing stunts sometimes continue until the dancers fall into a trance.
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