African Dances - The "Kizino" of the Bakiga People

Music and dance are indispensable, integral parts of African culture, in which people share social interaction. Dance is an expression, a celebration and a statement - a statement about the environment, leadership, strength, sexuality, war, family life, and many other things.
The dances and performances range from demonstrations of bravery and prowess, and war dances like the “Intore” of Rwanda, to humor. Some dances are rituals, including transitioning someone from one life stage to another, like “Emablu” in Uganda, or “Eunotu” by the Masai in Kenya.

Dance is used as therapy, determining fitness, and for educational purposes. The different dances encourage teamwork, require adherence to rhythm, and are often guided by a leader or soloist.

Many dances tell stories of the way of life of the people in a particular region. Colonial demarcations of Africa were insensitive to the homogeneity of people and cultures within a region, so it is common to find groups of people in different countries with similar dances.

Some flirting and courtship dances, such as The “Ntogoro” dance in Uganda or the mating dance of the young Sara people of Maro in Chad, include the “battle of the sexes” and sexual seduction, in which boys and girls are taught the art of seduction and display of physical beauty in a socially acceptable way.  

These kinds of dances usually involve a girl vigorously shaking her waist and buttocks, and a boy advancing toward her, trying to encourage her to take him as a partner. However, this comes with strict rules on maintaining discipline while discovering their sexuality. Traditionally, boys and girls who engaged in unacceptable behavior before they were of age were punished.

Recently, I hosted Carol Saranich and Gino Frattallone on “Africa2U” at Acton TV, teaching them the body movements for the “Kizino”, which is the traditional dance of the Bakiga people. They were amazed at how the seemingly simple moves could be so strenous.

The Bakiga are stereotyped, as a tough and energetic breed of Ugandans, regardless of sex. The Kizino expresses these traits in its movements, use of space and firm structuring to the ground. This dance is also a great way for the Bakiga to warm up, since they live in the cold hills in Rwanda and western Uganda. It requires strength and stamina, and is characterized by stomping the ground while jumping to the tune of the drum rhythm. I often joke that Bakiga cannot live in wooden houses because their dancing would break the floors in no time.

African dances define the identity of the people in the community and they bring the community together. They are still relevant in the daily life of African people today.

Vivian Birchall

Relationship between the Northern and Sub Saharan African Cultures

Africa is a conglomeration of peoples and cultures. A friend, Lew Flagg, recently asked me:
"Africa" is commonly used in this country (United States of America), as if it were a country, with a monolithic culture. Certainly the culture along the Mediterranean coast is more Arabic than the rest of the continent, but to what degree are the cultures among the sub-Saharan countries common to them and to what extent do they differ?"
In the western world, specifically the United States of America, when the phrase "of African descent" is used, it typically means black African. I have not yet seen an “Arab” of African origin being referred to as “African-American”, even when their ancestral homeland is on the continent of Africa. 

When I talk about North Africa, I am referring to the people of the Maghreb and the Sahara region. Historically, the indigenous people of North Africa, before the Arab/Muslim conquest, were the Berber people. Many of these people adopted whichever language was spoken by their conquerors or trade partners. Due to the transportation barrier caused by the Sahara Desert, they interacted more with the European and Arab traders who used the Mediterranean Sea as their trade routes, and picked up their culture.

However, there were also the trans-Saharan trade routes, and the Nile Valley migratory routes that led various groups of people from across the Sahara into Sub-Saharan Africa, and they settled there. As a result of the trans-Saharan trade, Berber merchants and nomads incorporated the lands of the Sudan and other lands in the sub-Saharan region into the Islamic world and culture. 

Culture is language, and the general way of life or organization of a community.

The relationship in languages

North Africa is thought to be different from Sub-Saharan Africa, but many people do not realize that there is an Afro-Asiatic (also known as Hamito-Semitic) language family of North Africa that has languages spoken by many people in Sub-Saharan Africa. These are: Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian-Coptic, Omotic, and Semitic.

I will add Arabic to this list. It is spoken in much of Africa, though there are different varieties of Arabic. The Sahara dialects are more conservative than the coastal dialects.

So, there is cultural influence from the north, especially in central Africa and much of coastal Africa. The cultures of the Maghreb and the Sahara combine the indigenous culture of the Berbers (who live in Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Egypt), Arabs and elements from neighboring parts of Africa. This is evident in the cuisine, religion, music, and other components of culture.

It is therefore not surprising that, for example, an Algerian would have more in common with someone from Burkina Faso or Tunisa than with someone from the Middle East.

I would like to point out that when I look at the ancient African kingdoms, and at modern settlements, I see a collection of people from various origins, either through migration in search of land for agriculture and cattle, or through conquest. I do not necessarily see people with a single line of ancestry or heritage. Today, the majority of the different countries and communities are a blend of ancestries, traditional customs and beliefs with modern societal practices.

North Africa has not always been a desert...

The region formerly enjoyed a tropical climate, and desertification was a geologically abrupt process sparked by the movement of tectonic plates that also created the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps.

The emergence of the Sahara affected the plants and animals and led the people in that region to migrate to the southern areas for their survival. Some settled along the Nile Valley which had been the primary migratory route for early modern humans out of Central Africa and into Western Asia, and the continuous inhabitation along the riverbanks eventually grew to a large, influential civilization.

Other cultural similarities between the cultures of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa include the systems of tribes and clans, and agricultural and pastoralist economies.

So, what is the difference between the northern and Sub-Saharan cultures?

Most of North Africa has a bigger and more conservative Arab influence/culture, compared to Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are points of cultural convergence between Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, despite their evident differences. The beauty of Africa is in the diversity of its culture.

Every country in has its unique languages, cultural and religious diversity, but together as a continent,  they share similar values, ways of life, and for some, ancestry.

I hope this has shed some light on the relationship between the cultures in two distinctive regions of Africa.