Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. April 2006

8.3. Innovation and Reproduction in Black Cultures and Societies: A comparative Dialogue and Lessons for the Future
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Erhabor S. Idemudia (University of Namibia, Windhoek)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Primary and Secondary Orality in Nigerian Dance Art:
a Study of Continuity and Change in Yoruba Traditional Dances

Segun Oyeleke Oyewo (Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, Nigeria)



The need to document and review oral arts treasures is very important now because, with every old man that dies in Nigeria a great library dies It is also crucial in order to regulate bastardisation or adulteration of the oral performance of present day primary sources. This paper focuses on the area of dance aesthetics and management in Nigeria. The purpose is to assess the level of continuity in the dynamism of Yoruba traditional dances. It proposes to discover the salient aspects that are lost and also assess the impact of popular culture on the traditional dances and vice-versa. The paper attempts to study the extent of variation in select dances; dance steps, composition and aesthetics over time. The paper examines the aesthetic development and management structures of dances and reviews its effects on the artistic component of the dances. In its methodology, old oral performances recorded on celluloid are compared as secondary text with contemporary traditional dance as primary works.



The "Arts" generally are a comprehensive term which embraces such diverse aspects as music, drama, dance .etc (Mitchell, 1986,175); all of these as performing arts are the specific forms of human creativity that are deeply embedded in the historical experience and social setup characterizing a society. Soyinka (1988, 67) underlines this assertion with specific reference to theatre, when he says that the history of a dramatic pattern and its evolution is the history of other art forms of a society.

African arts are holistic in concept, a phenomenon that refers to the fact that both the arts of performance/theatre and the visual arts are usually represented in a typical African festival presentation. Often the forms of drama, dance and music are performed together. Akin Euba (1982,233) attests to this when he submits that perhaps it is typical of African cultures that religion, art, music, dance and drama are best fused, maintaining in their inescapable repetition a constancy and harmony rarely encountered elsewhere in the world In spite of this inextricable link, dance art is usually very prominent. It represents a vital aspect of ways in which people individually and collectively express themselves. It has strong significance as a socio-cultural phenomenon in its aesthetics and meaning. Over time the contemporary theatre scene has tapped significantly into this traditional theatrical experience. Soyinka (1982,241) captures this when he says; more of the highly developed societies are turning to the so-called 'primitive’ forms of drama as representing significant dramatic forms for contemporary society.

It is in this adaptation and return to the roots for source materials for most theatrical productions especially dances that most of the Nigerian dances are seen to exhibit traditional African characteristics. It is in the course of this that change and continuity are noticeable.

This paper is about the study of aesthetics and management of traditional dances in Nigeria especially among the Yorubas. It looks at the degree of continuity and or change that has evolved over time. Certain questions are answered in this paper such as, how does the management of dance troupe influence the level of continuity and change in selected Yoruba traditional dances? What are the areas of change and what are the areas of continuity? What are the barometers of the Yoruba dance's authenticity and how are they influenced by authenticity in dance management? What other factors influence the aesthetics of these dances? All these are considered within the ambiance of aspects of orality in Nigerian dance art. Generally the need for preservation of oral arts leads to the recording of oral art on film, video tapes etc. These recordings are compared with modern day oral performance and it is this comparative study that constitutes the focus of this work. This paper is borne out of the assumption that we as a people are loosing a lot of our Africaness without noticing it, by imbibing new sets of values. Dance as well as music are vital areas where this loss is very noticeable.. Although according to Francis Harding (2002,'311) aesthetic conventions are being overthrown all over the world, the situation is particularly pronounced in the Nigerian context. In everyday life, the level of code shifting in dances as well as music is very noticable. The shift is always between traditional and modern dance and has seriously influenced the purity and authenticity of either form. This is a major problem that this paper also tries to explore, because attendant to this is the evolution of a new set of aesthetics and values that have impacted negatively, although at times positively, on the development of the community. This paper is an outcome of these observations. In its methodology, old oral performances recorded on video and film are compared as secondary text with contemporary traditional dance performances as primary works. The work is going to be of interest to researchers as well as theatre practitioners and choreographers in Africa and beyond. It is also envisaged that policy makers in the arts and the general polity will benefit from the general import of the work. In essence it has implication for the socio-political development of the community.

At this juncture, it is crucial to define and explain certain key terms and concepts to put the study in proper perspectives. These are; orality, primary orality, secondary orality, traditional dances, aesthetics and dance aesthetics, dance management and continuity and change.

Africa is rich in oral literatures, which often culminate in performance and, as already mentioned, traditional African performing art is total in its nature. This holistic concept derives from its origin in traditional festivals which are primarily religious in nature. But in reality the festivals go beyond the religious and according to Ogunba (1978,4), become a carnival of dance, drama and celebration. Ogunba further describes a festival as an integral, dynamic part of the culture of an unalienated African, an occasion to which he responds spontaneously (1978, 5).

The orality derives from these extemporaneous characteristics as well as the mode of performance and transmission from generation to generation. According to Finnegan (1979:17), oral art circulates by oral means, in contrast to written art, and is identified by three features. These are, its composition before and during performance, its mode of transmission and its performance.

It transcends mere speech and includes the totality of theatrical performance, in this instance the dances. The concept of orality is not only limited to Africans, it exists in all the worlds culture, since no culture could deny having a folk tradition that it inherited from its forebears. The major difference has to do with the present nature of this orality. There is a primary and secondary orality. Secondary orality is the area, where the developed world has gone ahead and surpassed many other countries. This has to do, according to Adelugba (Dasylva,2003,163) "with the recording of the old oral arts on celluloid, in video tapes, on audio tapes and so on". Primary orality on the other hand is the primary work of traditional performances that invariably gets transmitted into secondary work through the mediation mentioned above. The change in status is an indication of this mediation. The live performance of traditional theatrical dances still retains its primary oral nature. A work of arts that was recorded decades ago remains a secondary orality while a performance of the same work now, even without reference to the recordings still bears the toga of primary orality. Finnegan (a979:118) also opines that "performance is always important in oral literature as an element in all oral art"

Traditional dances or performances generally could be subsumed under traditional festivals, which Ogunba (11978, 4) defines as an indigenous cultural institution, a form of art nurtured on the African soil over the centuries and which has therefore developed distinctive features and whose techniques are sometimes totally different. While this is about performances, it embraces both the aesthetics and the management and management institutions that are indigenous to the people.

It is crucial to offer this clarification, because there are management practices which are peculiar to these traditional African institutions i.e. the realities of the African environment in spite of western realities. The traditional could also refer to the ritual, or religious, the religious aesthetics, and at times primarily focus on the aesthetics, while it relegates the religious elements to the background. This is line with Ogundeji's (2000:14-22,36) identification of three general types of 'traditional' theatre practice, these are the sacred ritual performances, the ritual festival performances and the deritualising performances (Dasylva,2006:75). He later added a fourth category which he calls the deritualised performances. In the first, the religious and cultic functions are primary while the aesthetic is secondary. In the last two categories, the ritual function is secondary; it is in the festival theatre that both the religio-cultic and aesthetic functions have equal emphasis. Our focus here will be on the last three categories because they are the ones usually performed in the open and to the general public, where we are talking about traditional dances which are visible and can be presented for appraisal by the general public. In the same vein traditional dances represent dances that are indigenous to the people exhibiting all the characteristics of the traditional mentioned above, since traditional dance is an integral part of a community and it has been embedded in the tradition of that community.. Aesthetics is another term vital to this paper. The canons of aesthetics to achieve the perception of beauty in a work of arts are identified as beauty or value i.e. meaning and interpretation, phenomena that are represented in the form and structure of traditional dances. Generally aesthetics is very crucial to civilisation as attested to by Michel Bennet (1991:60). According to him there is a widely held popular assumption that the dividing line between animals and human beings is marked by "civilisation" and by considerations beyond those of mere survivals, amng others by an appreciation of the realm of aesthetics.

Aesthetics has also been referred to as a mode of intellectual energy, when standards are applied to actual cases. In dance specifically, presentation is considered important in style, and African dance is particularly visually stimulating and capable of arousing emotional responses as well as visual ones. These are dependent on canons of dance aesthetics. Robert Farris Thomson in his work "African Art in Motion" outlines ten of these canons. Orality is considered to be one of the vital components of African dance aesthetics. Molef and Karimu in their work "African Culture: Rhythms of Unity", cite what they call the seven aesthetic senses of African dance,amongst which dimensionality, comprising of texture and something extra, in African dance. "Orality" provokes collectiveness in terms of spirit, and individuality in terms of artistry. Dance management refers specifically to the art of producing and marketing of dance troupes and performances. There are western principles to arts management, but there are realities peculiar to the African/Nigerian environment. Management is crucial to dance in this context in that the more traditional the management the greater the observable continuity in Nigerian dances. Continuity and Change are two sides of the same coin. Continuity refers to an exclusion of change most of the times, and it refers to sustenance of action, events, occasions and even governance. It is a situation where authenticity is maintained, thus preservation of purity, its indigenous traditional elements in this instance, the aesthetics and management of traditional dances.

Change on the other hand is a constant that has to do with transition from one state to another. We experience change in all areas of life, both social and aesthetic. While change could be desired or experienced as negative, continuity on the other hand within the perspective of this paper can only be about authenticity and purity of the traditional form. Dances have always been a very prominent feature of expression across the diverse groups in the Nigeria nation and the performer has a large reservoir of creative resources to draw from within this rich traditional repertoire.

Like most African dances, the nature of dances across the country is total in nature and holistic in content. They are predominantly oral in nature and transmitted through memory which has been identified as one of the seven aesthetic senses of African dance. This contributes significantly to the ideal in the artistic expression of Africans and Nigeria in particular. Since it is argued that perfection cannot be achieved unless experience or memory is drawn from, cultural corruption affects and is influenced by memory.

There are as many dances as there are ethnic groups in Nigeria most with a ritual origin, which has now given way in most instances to the ceremonial aspects of traditional festivals. Whether performed within or outside its original context, most Nigerian dances still retain a lot of their traditional flavour. The degree and level of continuity is however dependent on such variables as the mode of performance, the professionalism of the performers, management of the performance troupe, occasion of performance and the purpose and financial status of the performance. Although Nigerian dances are transmitted orally, efforts have been made to preserve them through the recording of these dances in celluloid, video etc. This is to say that there are many secondary sources of this orality, even as early as the 1960s after Nigeria's independence. These recordings were made possible through such fora as state and federal festivals of arts and culture. They are also preserved through the celebration of annual traditional festivals like the "Osun Oshogbo", "Sango" festivals, and the "Gelede" festival in Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria. Their preservation is also made possible during festivals of other ethnic groupings in Nigeria. Among these are the Bori festival of the Fulanis, the Kwagh-ir festival of the Tiv people, the Argungun fishing festival in Sokoto. Each of these has its own distinct characteristics, but they all share basic features which according to Osofisan (1991: 2) "are reliance on non-deterministic episodic structures, the incorporation of music and song into the weft of the narrative (performance)." The most unfortunate thing however is that most of the visual recordings emanating from these festivals as secondary orality are lost or are not accessible. With the growing rate of globalisation, this paucity has serious cultural implications and consequences for the sanctity and purity of what now exists as primary orality in the dances in Nigeria. It is crucial at this point to focus on the dances of the Yorubas, one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Yorubas inhabit the Western part of Nigeria. They are a highly religious people and, as would be expected, this is reflected in their arts and theatre and more prominently, the dances. There are as many variants of dances as there are "orishas" in Yoruba land.: "Ogun", "Sango", "Yemoja", "Osun:, "Esu", "Obatala" etc. are some of the over four hundred and one gods and goddesses in the Yoruba pantheon. These gods have specific rhythms and movements associated with them, according to Oritz, (Jahn:1961,64).

These pantomimic dances, their gestures, steps, costumes and symbols are as carefully planned as ballets. They were created by the Yoruba, an artistic people, said to be the best choreographers in Africa and possessing a highly dramatic mythology, as rich in narrative and as developed as the Greco -Roman. Although the Yorubas are versatile choreographers, most of the characteristics of their dances are also noticeable in most African dances, as dominant movement styles. These characteristics are: tilting of trunk, bent knees, flat foot, earthbound movements, twisting of the waist, isolation of body parts, syncopated movements, acrobatic steps, expressive movements, shaking of the body (buttocks in female), improvisational movements resulting in polyrhythmic movement style (Ugolo:1998).

These characteristics are expressed in varying degrees in the various dances and dance steps of the Yorubas which could be participatory or presentational as the occasion demands. It is important to note that most of the dances are a product of traditional festivals, which are an integral part of the community and are thus participatory in nature. As part of the ceremonial aspects of these festivals however, dances are presented to a larger audience, but even such dances are truly part of the entire community, although performed with different degrees of expertise and versatility. In spite of the varieties of Yoruba dances, dances to Bata and Dundun constitute the most famous and have become the typical cultural expression of their identity for them.

Bata drums produce the music to the bata dances of which there are as many variants as there are bata beats and rhythms. Some of these varieties are "gbamu", "elese", "affasegbojo", "elekoto"," ijo oge"," ogese" e.t.c. The "Gbamu" variant happens to be the most popular and at the same time the most bastardised and abused. Bata music produced by the drums is usually associated with the worship of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightening. The ferocious sound of the beats and the intimidating shape of the drums together with the rigorous beating are attuned to the ferocious disposition attributed to Sango himself. Gbamu is a very rigorous dance executed with mathematically accurate expressive movements and usually accompanied with praise poems and chants. The tempo of the dance is dictated by the lead drum (Iya Ilu), followed by the gentle caressing rhythmic sound of the small drum (Omele Abo) and backed by the sharp sound of the male or triple drums (Omele Ako or Omele Meta) and a flat drum called "kudi". A base drum (Ijin) might be played to lessen the work of the lead drum. hier

Dundun music, another popular music ensemble, consists of five drums; "Gudugudu", "Iya-Ilu", "Omele Isaju"," Omele Ikeyin" and "Kerikeri" or "Aguda". Either "Aro"-iron or "sekere"- sound shakers could also be part of this ensemble. Dundun is used to communicate words to the dancers and during all kind of ceremonial occasions in all parts of Yoruba land.With the exception of "sango" and "oya" his wife, dundun is wore widely used for the worship of gods and goddesses such as "osun", "ogun", "obatala", "esulaalu", "yeroja" "obaluauye" among others. There are specific rhythms and movements for each of these gods and goddesses. At this juncture we shall now consider the choreographic structure of the bata dance. Such items to be considered are forms, style, song & music accompaniment and the other multimedia used in a dance performance.

We have decided to pick Bata dance as a result of its predominance as an entertaining dance rather than a social dance, usually bata dance is danced by professional dancers of varying degrees of professionalism. As a result, many contaminations of its purity in terms of its technically accurate movements will be noticeable. A typical bata dance takes the structure of a, b, c, d, e. a - is the arrival with songs and dances, b - signifies "ijuba" which means salutation and homage, which is achieved through chants and dances. C - is the section of entertainment, it is the period when a variety of dances are performed .This section takes different forms; the ABACADA rondo form can be identifiable as well as the tenancy form and various other forms.

This section of the entertainment could also be programmed to include traditional acrobatics as part of the dances The entertainment could also include a magical show in which traditional musical skills are displayed. Of course the call and response is a prominent feature of this performance, where individual nuances and dexterity are also displayed. This section is rather long and these dances, and entertainment are usually accompanied with music and songs, and punctuated with chants . These songs and chants depend on the nature of occasion. On a purely secular occasion it incorporates less of "sango" and more of the praise poems of prominent people present at the occasion. In its traditional setting however it places much emphsis on its religions origins by focusing essentially on the praise names and chants of "Sango", the Yoruba god of lightening and thunder. The last segment is the departure, which also entails thanks to the elemental force for a performance free of hitches, and so it is a variant of the "ijuba" The group then comes with a recession song and dance steps at the end of which two lead dancers, male and female are left on the stage for the climax. The lead bata drummer speaks through his instrument to cue the dancer in a final burst of energetic dance which then brings the performance to a crescendo.

Although there are basic standard characteristics of the bata dance, there are, however, individual nuances and improvisations. It is this that differentiates the virtuoso from the ordinary dancer. Steps and formation depend on this dexterity and on other variable such as the nature of the group, types of staging, the occasion of the performance and the number of dancers, which also vary from one group to the other. Just like bata drumming, bata dancing is hereditary and handed on in the family. There are renowned bata dancers and drummers’ families, and lineages are spread and dispersed across the Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria. These lineages are also linked with the worship of sango and or the alarinjo masquerade. Some of these prominent families are Adeogun and Aladokun in Ikiun, Ajangila in Iragberi, Lasisi Alujonu in Oyo, and Adisa Ounodunbi in Ile-Ife etc. Bata dance in present day Yoruba land is however not restricted to these lineages. It has become so popular that pupils/students from the primary level to the tertiary level of education perform it for entertainment. When they do, they find it difficult to use the real music because of the closely guarded secret of bata drumming. Often they use other drums to simulate the bata sound while on other occasions they might need to engage the service of professional bata drummers This is an area where the change in the form of the adulteration of the pure form is noticeable.

Various government bodies are saddled with the responsibility of the preservation and promotion of Nigerian culture at the three tiers of government. The state council for arts and culture, the federal department of culture (FDC), the national council of arts and culture (NCAC), the national commission for museum and movement (NCMM), the centre for black and African art and civilisation (CBAAC), the National troupe of Nigeria (NTN) etc are some of the statutory bodies that are involved in the cultural field in Nigeria. These bodies have at various times organised arts festivals which were recorded on film. The festival organised by these bodies are of two categories namely local traditional festivals and state organised arts/cultural festival.

An aggregate of the Bata dances recorded on film by these bodies exhibits the following characteristics. The introductory dance is performed accompanied by singing to identify the performing troupe. This is followed by by "Ijuba" (homage to the gods and salutation to the dignitaries, which is also accompanied often with expressive gestures of greetings and paying obeisance. Most of the times the "gbamu" then comes on and interspersed with the "Alujo" which is usually more rhythmical rather than syncopated, as is the "gbamu".

Some other varieties such as "elese" "afesegbejo", "elekoto" have been used in the rondo format of ABACADA, the A being "Alujo", used more as a dance movement transition to the next major variant of bata movement. One prominent movement that cuts across the performance is the dance interpretation of the drums, usually referred to as

Bo ba se pe omi ni wo ni woni
if I were you
Nba fapa jo fapajo fapajo
I would have danced with my hand, hand
Nba fese jo fese jo
I would have danced repeatedly with the leg
Bo ba se pe ami un iwo ni
If I were you
Nba fi gbogbo ara fo
I would dance with the entire body.

To each of the commands the dancer responds appropriately. It is only the "Iya ilu" that gives this cue, all other drums are silent at this crucial movement. This is usually a solo performance danced by each dancer but but on occasion a group would dance to this beat but the individuality of the style is always maintained. The practice of `group choreography to this particular drum command is a recent phenomenon in order to adapt and respond to the demands of a changing world, especially represented by the proscenium type of staging.

This at times signals the end of the performance and with it the dancers revert to Alujo before finally taking their exit. Usually the Iya Ilu-laed bata drummer together with the major dancer are the last to exit after a solo performance by the dancer.

Another mode of bata performance that has been widely popularised is the Sango dance. This dance is more or less a dance drama, but it offers opportunity for the dexterous to display of fierce drumming, and dances by Sango himself. It is the peak of beauty of the bata dance. Comprising of both male and female dancers, the acolytes chant the praise names of Sango to energise him to display his masculinity. Of this, the Sango dance still retains a geat deal of its purity, irrespective of the occasion of performance. This is in instances where the authentic bata drums are employed.

When talking about costumes and props, most costumes are adulterated and it is in only in the Sango dance that a form of purity still exists, because it is performed predominantly by the devotees. Even in its theatrical performance, the Sango dance still retains the original in terms of props and costumes as much as possible. Prominent among the props are "Ose Sango", a carved wooden wand from the "aayan" tree. A metal type of this ose is usually carried about by priests of Sango. Other props and costumes are the wooden mortar (Odo), "Laba" (a variegated coloured skirt), "yeri", an inner skirt and a beautiful women hairdo.

Another dance which is not as popular as bata and dundun is the Agbon dance from Ile-Ife. I have decided to mention this dance because of its unique features. Among these features are the peculiar musical ensemble comprising of five "agbon" hand fans made from leather/skin of animals. The name of the dance derived from the "agbon" rattles on the ankles of the dancers. Legend has it that Osaara has children but no wealth while Olokun has wealth but no child. They both promised to meet at Olofin's palace where his material wealth, like clothes, beads, diamonds etc were displayed to show how rich he was. Osaara, on coming out of his own house accompanied with his children sang this song, "Agbon ro iwo Olomo lo laye o,Osaara mo nkomo bo o". Getting to the palace of Olofin, his children destroyed all the materials displayed by Olokun. When Olokun saw this, he agreed that those who have children own the life. Osaara then took two hundred fans "Abebe" with which he made a sacrifice. That was how the group was formed.

The group is for social entertainment, for the chieftaincy, for naming, and housewarming ceremonies etc. It has also featured prominently in both local and national engagements.

The dancers also hold a fly-whisk horsetail in one hand; each dancer is adorned with traditional beads and a sash tied round the waist. They are dressed in loin-clothes knotted to look heavy. Music is produced by hitting the (abebe) fan against the hand as an instrumental accompaniment to singing and chants in the Ife dialect with a very prominent display of an alternate harmony. It is an all male dance and a typical ensemble will consist of five singers/drummers, between three and five dancers among whom are usually little children used as a form of spectacle. There is the regular movement to the rhythm but there are syncopated movements predominantly stamping of feet on the ground to the beats given by the lead fan drummer. There is virtually no change in this dance up to date from the secondary performance I watched on video and some primary performances watched during the Ife Festival of the Arts and the International festival of Gelede held in early 2005 at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.

This continuity is made possible apparently because the dance is peculiar to Ile-Ife and is thus far being performed by only the traditional performers. The highly localised dialect of the people also has an effect on its popularity, as in language and culture it is restricted to a small group of people. It is a good example of the continuity of a traditional performance in spite of the dynamics of the demands of civilisation. There are a series of factors that have serious implications and an influence on the aesthetics of the Yoruba dances in the sphere of continuity and change. Prominent among these is the management system, which in turn is influenced by the economy, demands of tourism, mass media of communication, globalisation, cultural fusions and hybrid or synthetic culture for cultural unity. Other factors are the audience, and funding/marketing of the dances.

Traditional Yoruba societies were well organised and integrated and traditional festivals were communal in nature and total in concept. The festivals had their inherent management structure, which is a reflection of the highly organised management system, a system equally pronounced in the art world as in the traditional political arena. There are specialised lineages of dancers, drummers, devotees of gods and goddesses, craftsmen and so on. Thus, in the performing and visual arts, the arts are hereditary, passed on orally through the apprenticeship system. This system is such that the apprentice member of the family is signed on for a trade, right from infancy. He lives the arts and gradually assimilates its nuances over time. He is not only exposed to the arts, he also imbibes the total art and culture that give vent to that art. Dance management was more attuned to "ancestorism", which states that the closest harmony with the ancient ways is that of the highest experience. It sustains the authenticity and purity of the dance forms. In effect, continuity of the traditional form is maintained more in the traditional cultural management institutions than in the modern management institutions.

In a particular instance of training the child as a toddler, the beats of all these dances are simulated orally while the child's hands and legs and bodies are moved to the rhythm much like doing a puppet performance. Some of the traditional rhymes employed for this purpose are;

Mo gbe elekoto de o elekoto
I have brought elekoto
Ibumbu laaroko-elekoto
We stir the pap sideways
Ibumbu laa roka- elekoto
We also stir amala sideways
Mo tun gbe elekoto de o- elekoto
I have brought elekoto again.
Another rhyme goes thus:
O fi idi Igbin je'ko
He eats pap with the bottom of a snail
O de fila funfun sese
He adorns a sparkling white cap
Funfun sese/3x
Sparkling white/3x
O fi idi Igbin je'ko.

The bottom line is that people start early in life so they are able to accommodate the demands of civilisation. It will thus be an understatement to say that the degree of continuity and change in Yoruba traditional dances is directly proportional to the nature of the management between the traditional and indigenous on the one hand, and the modern methods, on the other. Specialisation is another desirable element of management that has been corroded by change. Dances of old were from specialised dancing institutions and lineages, but nowadays, dancers have diversified, because of their need to survive, and this has seriously affected the authenticity of the dances. The management of the performance is another area that affects the authenticity of a performance. A typical Yoruba traditional dancing troupe plans a performance tour of between three and four months over a wide area across Yoruba land. The wives and children were also part of the ensemble, hence the easy sustenance of such long tours.

The troupe did not need to obtain a prior invitation to embark on these tours. A community might at times specifically make a request for a performance in their community to entertain and appease their King or War general. Otherwise the itinerant troupe just sets out for a tour usually during the harvest season on their own volition. The practice was to first visit any high ranking chief in the town who would then host the troupe in conjunction with any or all of the "Olojes" i.e. masquerade lineages, "Onidan"/"Oloogun", magician/medicine man. The troupe used this opportunity to collect information on the King and other important personalities in the town. Apart from entertainment, praise names of the dignitaries are intoned, and to appreciate this the performers were paid in either cash or clothes or any other goods of value. This practice is by inference the pre-cursor of "Owambe" among the Yorubas The Owambe is a term that refers to the practice of these people in spending monies for performers; singers, dancers, drummers, musicians during social ceremonies. These monies, usually in bank notes are pasted on the forehead of the performer to acclaim his performance. The duration of the performance runs within a town depends largely on the level of reception by the town people, but ranges from five to ten days. Performances were done in any empty place but "keere" or "faafa", raffia mats are used as change rooms for performers to change costumes and for exits and entrances as well as serving as the scenic background.

In conclusion, Yoruba traditional dances have experienced changes as well as continuity in the light of the dynamics of world culture. Globalisation is a major factor in this phenomenon because it creates a wealth of opportunities as well as crises which brings about the danger of localising the global and globalising the local with an attendant loss of identity.

Cultural fusion is another factor of change which has more negative implications than positive ones. Fusion is the attempt to bring together various cultures in all aspects of dances, music, arts, drama etc in a symbiosis to evolve a different set of culture entirely, a hybrid or synthetic culture. This has been very pronounced in Yoruba dances at both the micro and macro levels. At the macro level for example the bata and dundun musical ensemble are being fused together and jointly used either for a bata dance performance or for dundun. This practice has become so pervasive to the extent that there is now a blurring between the unique features of each. Performances at various levels of the educational system are most affected by this fusion. The resultant effect is that authenticity is killed, which is also applicable at the macro level. Features of the various dances of the constituent ethnic groups of Nigeria are fused together under the guise of fostering national unity. It is also observable at the global level with the result that purity is lost, while conflicting values are promoted.

Financial consideration of theatre/dance in the market place has brought about a negative change because emphasis is shifting to the banal so as to sustain the art. In essence, entertainment has taken over the terrain obliterating the arts. Because of the financial demands, concepts of specialisation are giving way to diversification which invariably waters down the purity of the traditional dances.

The Yorubas have a rich cultural heritage; dances, drama, music etc that can influence the world and also serve as foreign exchange earner for the country as a whole. It is dangerous to loose this to globalisation and internal social and cultural fusion.

The following are desirable in order to maintain a level of continuity and positive change in dance art of the Yorubas and to put paid to negative change. The recommendations are on three levels namely; policy level, professional level and the general level of social dance. First and foremost, it is crucial to adopt the system of traditional troupe management to the modern day. Apprenticeship has been discovered to be effective in preserving the originality and purity of dances. This is in consonance with "ancestorism". In addition to this is the need to encourage the formation of dance guilds as a moderation and modification of the apprenticeship system of training dancers.

Also at the professional level, it is advisable to encourage the staging of local arts festivals in addition to traditional cultural festivals. People will not only be participants, it will also expose the populace to traditional dance performances. Other suggestions are the inclusion of traditional dance instructions into tourism programmes. This will entail the use of traditional dancers and instructors to teach foreign tourists some basic traditional dance steps. Finishing schools should also be established for traditional dances to maintain standards, thereby sustaining the authenticity and purity of the dances as cultural values of the Yorubas. This will bridge the existing hiatus among the various competing theatre guilds, be they traditional or contemporary in Yoruba land.

The art of dance is a popular art but its popularity has somehow endangered its purity among the youth. There is a blurring of modes between the traditional and the modern/global as a result of which cultural values attendant to these dances are being endangered. It is thus desirable to take certain measures to redirect this negative trend and seek for a desired positive change. There is the need to organise workshops at youth centres. There should also be a constant forum to assess and discuss cultural continuity and change in addition to the empowerment of an arts/dance censorship board, saddled with censorship of traditional dances.

The following measures could be taken at the policy level: at both the governmental and ethnic cultural level it is desirable to make dance an active curriculum subject from Primary to the Junior Secondary School Level. There is some old film stock which can serve as secondary orality of our dances, which are at the verge of being lost totally. Various relevant governmental and non-governmental organisations should severally and jointly rescue these old film stock, so as to retrieve old secondary documentation of traditional festivals and dances. The retrieved stock could then become a living archive to promote and transmit dances and cultural values by exhibitiing them in schools, youth centres and museums of arts and antiquities. Economic consideration is one major reason for the negative change experienced in Yoruba dances. Featherbedding by the cultural establishment, either government or private, will go a long way to sustain the professional dancers and their dances. Cultural products have also become viable in the international market, as most countries now spend a huge sums of money on legal forms of entertainment (Vogel:1998: xvi) and dance is a vital live aspect of this lucrative business. One way to tap significantly into this boom is to encourage the use of dance art in cultural diplomacy and relations.

The Yorubas have a rich cultural heritage that can influence the world both artistically and in moral values, and at the same time earn foreign exchange for the Nigerian Nation as a whole. It is dangerous to loose this to globalisation/westernisation; as a result the country should therefore seek to maintain a balance between continuity and change in this dance heritage. A continuous comparative relationship between primary and secondary orality is one vital way to achieve these desiderata.

© Segun Oyeleke Oyewo (Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, Nigeria)


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Ogun-Yoruba god of iron,
Sango, Yoruba god of lightening and thunder,
Yemoja and Osun Yoruba river godesses.
Esu::trickster god of faith in Yoruba belief system,
Obatala: god of harvest.

8.3. Innovation and Reproduction in Black Cultures and Societies: A comparative Dialogue and Lessons for the Future

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For quotation purposes:
Segun Oyeleke Oyewo (Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, Nigeria): Primary and Secondary Orality in Nigerian Dance Art: a Study of Continuity and Change in Yoruba Traditional Dances. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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