Thursday, August 30, 2018

Eight Examples Of Traditional African Dances In Which Dancers Hold A Stick (Including A Fly Whisk)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision: August 31, 2018

This pancocojams post showcases eight examples of traditional African dances that feature dancers holding a stick (including a fly whisk).

In alphabetical order, these examples are from Nigeria, South Africa, and Rwanda.

An Addendum to this post (added on August 30, 2018) includes information about Egyptian saida dancing (dancing with a one or two sticks/canes). One video of that style of dancing is also included in the Addendum. "Saida" may not be "traditional" African dancing, but it is African and it is dancing.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these videos and all publishers of these videos on YouTube. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.
This is only a small sample of YouTube videos of traditional African dances that feature holding a stick (including a fly whisk).

PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENT [revised September 6, 2018]
Article Excerpts Of African & Haitian Rara Sources Of Baton Twirling & Other Twirling Performances".

PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENT [revised September 6, 2018]
My interest in this subject was recently whetted by reading several comments in discussion threads for historically (predominately) Black Greek letter organizations [BGLO} that stepping, the custom of carrying canes (or staffs) and cane tapping/cane twirling during step performances came from African cultures.

My position is that African cultures weren't the direct source for BGLO stepping with or without carrying canes. That is to say, I don't believe that stepping was created as a result of historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities learning about or being taught one or more forms of African dance such as South African gumboot dancing. Stepping is a performance art that has evolved over time and continues to change within different organizations and different chapters and regions of those organizations.

For instance, what is now called stepping has changed since I first pledged a historically Black Greek letter organization in 1967 (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Gamma Zeta chapter). I don't recall ever using the term "stepping" or hearing that term used, but I do recall doing a dance routine in a vertical line and/or a horizontal line while singing adapted R&B songs that praised that organization.

That said, I believe that certain African dance forms -such as South African gumboot dancing- may have eventually influenced the performance BGLO stepping, but that performance style was probably influenced more by American military drills and Black drum major parade stances. It's obvious that some elements of certain African dance forms are quite similar to stepping, but I think that this can be attributed to the similar aesthetic preferences of Africans and of African Americans and other people in the African Diaspora.

More specifically, while it's true that a number of African ethnic groups have traditional dances that are performed with men and women holding sticks*, I believe that customs of tapping and/or twirling canes that are part of the stepping routines of certain historically Black Greek letter organizations [particularly Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.] can be more directly attributed to Haitian rara cane twirling customs, New Orleans (and other) African American parade traditions, and heavily African American influenced soft shoe and/or tap dancing with a cane performances.

*Some examples of African ethnic groups who have dances holding sticks are South Africans' Xhosa, Zulu, and Mpondo.
I hold this opinion in spite of comments from some members of some BGLO organizations that stepping and/or strolling came from African cultures, and that stepping and/or strolling came from Africans who became members of their organizations.

Click a pancocojams post entitled Was South African Gumboot Dancing REALLY The Main Source Of The Movements For Historically Black Greek Letter Fraternity & Sorority Stepping?

Also, click for the pancocojams post "Similarities & Differences Between South African Gumboot Dance Performances & Performances Of Black [African American] Fraternity & Sorority Step Teams"

Here's a comment exchange from the discussion thread for the video given as Example #5 below. This exchange can serve as an example of (probably) African Americans attributing stepping and other elements of African American culture to Africans:

jafairar collins, 2016
"I see alot of historical black colleges band moves in this well for drum majors...I see we really never lost our touch"

gmail user, 2017
"Only thing is they put the "greek" on it...smh"

1judahisrael, 2018
"It's in the DNA"

Amza, 2018
"jafairar collins EXACTLY what I was thinking! Drum majors, marching bands, and Greek step shows❤"
Click a pancocojams post entitled Was South African Gumboot Dancing REALLY The Main Source Of The Movements For Historically Black Greek Letter Fraternity & Sorority Stepping?

These videos are given in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube with the oldest dated video given first.

Example #1: Oma Lore 6.6 [Yoruba culture, Nigeria (West Africa)

jensbraun, Published on Dec 23, 2008

Erin ogho, orin Yoruba lati Owo (Muibat Aladeniyi)
"Fly whisks" are wooden sticks decorated with horse hair (and possibly other items such as colored beads). Here's an excerpt from for information about the symbolic meanings of fly whisks in Africa:
"A fly-whisk is a tool to swat or disturb flies. A similar gadget is used as a hand fan in hot tropical climates, sometimes used as part of regalia, and called chowrie, chāmara or prakirnaka in South Asia and Tibet.[1][2]


Fly-whisks appear frequently in the traditional regales of monarchs and nobility in many parts of the African continent. This use has sometimes carried on into modern contexts: Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta carried a fly-whisk, a mark of authority in Maasai society,[5] as did Malawian leader Hastings Banda, while South African jazz musician Jabu Khanyile also used a Maasai fly-whisk as a trademark when on stage.[6]"

Example #2: Botswana Cultural Night - Tokyo October 19th 2010

Dancing4kids, Published on Oct 19, 2010

Traditional Dance Troup Performance - Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe Cultural Troupe.

In support of the children of Botswana Dancing4Kids attended this extraordinary event which featured a traditional dance troupe, Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe (apparently translates as "The Rock Rabbits") as well as contemporary band Banjo Mosele & Veterans. Banjo was one of the original founding members of the Kalahari Band that recorded with Hugh Masekela in the 1980's and is active on the European jazz scene, so this should be fun! President Khama was also in attendance.
According to several commenters, this is the tsutsube dance, the traditional dance of the San. In 2012 a commenter named avidave wrote that "they are slow , ahh , Tsutsube is nicer when at a higher tempo"

Example #3: Botswana Tribe (Bushmen) Dancers In the Athletes Village Welcome Centre. Tsutsube Dance

Andrew Medlock, Published on Feb 11, 2013

Botswana Tribe (Bushmen) Dancers In the Olympic Athletes Village Welcome Centre
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread.
Steven Mmape, 2016
"Stop calling our people "bushmen" there's no such thing as you say. Would you just be respectful and enjoy the video."
Here's information about the referent "San" from
"Sān or Saan peoples (also, Sākhoen, Sonqua, and in Afrikaans: Boesmans, or in English: Bushmen,[1] after Dutch Boschjesmens; and Saake in the Nǁng language) are members of various Khoesān-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups representing the first nation of Southern Africa, whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho[2] and South Africa.


by the late 1990s, the term San was in general use by the people themselves.[23] The adoption of the term was preceded by a number of meetings held in the 1990s where delegates debated on the adoption of a collective term."...

Example #4: Dance performance in Belgian Congo 1956 [This title is incorrect. This is actually the Tutsi dance from Rwanda (Central/Eastern Africa)

MichaelRogge, Published on Jul 29, 2013

From a 16mm Kodachrome film when the Congo was not yet named The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Here's a comment from this video's discussion thread:
btflWorld, 2014
"Hi, thanks for sharing this video. a shame though, the music you put in (drums etc) don't correspond to the dance itself at all, it is like to put a rock music on a classic dance. and the music on the video is certainly not from there. Probably from Congo.This dance is from Intore (Rwanda), that still exist till now(recent can be found type "intore dance" in youtube). Normally with this dance, there is no music with it. Dancers have small bells on their feet and the noise the bells make when they dance constitutes the rythm. sometimes there is a drum. for whoever knows this culture, sound matters a lot, I had to remove the sound to fully appreciate the video. But anyways thanks for sharing."
Click about the colonization history of Rwanda.
for information about the history of German and Belgian colonization of Rwanda.


Indlondlo Zulu Dancers, Published on Dec 9, 2014

Ushaka Marine Zulu Dance Finals at Ushaka Marine World in Durban South Africa on 30 November 2014.

Example #6: Imfene Traditional Dance [South Africa]

Nkanyiso Mathamba, Published on Nov 28, 2016

Kusile - Song by Nkunz'Emdaka from Bizana, Eastern Cape

#MpondoFestival2017 #Ntabankulu #MpondoKingdom
Another example of the Mpondo's Imfene (baboon) dance is given as #8 below.


UGWUMBA TV, Published on Jun 29, 2017

Dancing with fly whisk in hand
Dances with fly whisks are shown at 10:14-11:34 and 17:39-19:23

Example #8: Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival 2017 Thuluzobona perfromance

Princess Stella Sigcau, Published on Oct 10, 2017

Performance by Thuluzobona Traditional group which specializes in Mfene Mpondo Dance. Recipients of the Nkosi Ntsikayezwe Sigcau Memorial Award (traditional youth, category)#MpondoFestival2017 #Ntabankulu #MpondoKingdom #EasternCapeProvince #RepublicofSouthAfrica
Here's information about the Mpondo [ethnic group]. I've added this information because this ethnic group isn't as well known [in the United States] as the other African ethnic groups that are featured in this post.
"The Mpondo people, also called AmaMpondo and Pondo, are a Southern African ethnic group.[3] Their traditional homeland has been in the contemporary era Eastern Cape province of South Africa, more specifically what used to be the Transkei region.[2] They speak a Nguni / Mbo language called isiMpondo which is grammatically similar to both isiXhosa and isiZulu."...

ADDENDUM August 30, 2018
Click for information about Egyptian belly dancing with a stick. Here's an brief excerpt of that article:
The idea of belly dancing with canes originates from Egyptian folkloric dances, in particular from the Saiidi region in Upper Egypt. The traditional male dance is called tahtib (also transliterated tahteeb) and it is a martial art, accompanied by music, in which the two fighters use a stick, called assaya in Arabic, to hit and fence each other’s hits. Tahtib as a martial art must have ancient roots as images of men fighting with sticks have been found depicted on ancient Egyptian stones.


Later, (from the 1960s and 70s) Tahteeb was adapted for the stage by Mahmoud Reda, an Egyptian dancer and choreographer who travelled across Egypt observing traditional dances, which inspired his choreographies that were adaptations of these dances for the stage.

Women incorporated the stick as a belly dance prop, and used it to imitate this typically masculine dance in a flirtatious and cheeky way. Nowadays, dancing with an assaya is often part of raqs sharqi shows. This dance is called in Arabic raqs al assaya, literally cane dance.

The stick used by women is usually a bamboo cane (thinner comparing to the one used for tahtib), which may have a hooked end, and it can be decorated with sequins. If the dance is folkloric, usually the assaya will be a plain bamboo cane; otherwise, for raqs sharqi performances, it can be sequinned. The performer usually wears a long tunic (also called in Arabic galabeya), a hip scarf with coins and a head scarf, which is traditional but it is also useful to keep the assaya in place when balancing it on the dancer’s head.

Saidi Rhythm
The rhythm that usually accompanies raqs al assaya is the saidi rhythm (read more on saiidi on our Arabic rhythms page), which is also used for tahtib. This is why, belly dancing with the cane is often referred to as saidi dance. Saiidi is a strong and earthy rhythm; hence, the movements associated with it must also be strong, very well grounded, with a proud posture and movements pointing to the earth (for example, movements are often performed on flat or semi flat feet rather the standing on feet balls)."...
Here's a video of Saida dancing:

Saidi with cane - Jazíra Bellydance

mahajazira, Published on Jun 25, 2014
Click for a YouTube video of a woman dancing "raqs Al assaya with two sticks.

Also, click for a post on my Zumalayah blog entitled "Information About & Three Videos Of Egyptian Saidi Stick Dances"

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