Friday, February 20, 2015



Like Tora and Takai, Baamaaya has several sections, each with its own name, musical phrases, and dance movements. Because Baamaaya is not associated with the chiefs of Dagbon,
student practicing baamaya
In a village named Zheng within the chieftaincy area of Nanton there was a time of drought and hunger when one of the only foodstuffs that could be grown was a type of bean called tubaani (Bambara beans, similar to chick peas). Children, satisfied with full bellies after their evening meal, would caper about the compound with cornhusks stuffed in their waistbands saying, "Tubaan' kpele," meaning "bowl of tubaani beans." For several days the adults admired the children's play until one day an adult asked them, "What are you doing?" The children did not answer because the African etiquette of the era dictated that youngsters sometimes are not supposed to talk directly to adults. A clever elder who was old enough to be a grandfather established a joking relationship with the children and talked to them in private. The children explained that because their mothers had fed them nicely, their stomachs were full so they felt happy.
a baamaya dancer
Drummers were invited to play for the kids. This was the beginning of Mazhe whose gung-gong theme goes with the words tubaan' kpele (vocables: kaka kaki). The dance movement was adapted from a dance called Jera. Instead of Jera's belt of cowry shells, women used shells, beads and cotton to make flamboyant belts of pom-poms that drew attention to the dancers' shimmying midsections.
Later, when rain had fallen and crops were harvested, creative adults adapted the children's game into a full-fledged dance called Baamaaya. Among the lunga's phrases is one that, "Rain has fallen. The ground has become soft." [Locke: In the Dagbani language the word "baa" means a swampy area, for example, a field where rice is farmed.] Baamaaya expressed the farmers' happiness at a good harvest. The dance became popular among young men who enjoyed doing it on moonlight nights.
As year went by, dancers apparently began wearing increasingly outlandish costumes to amuse themselves and their audiences. Strikingly in the gender-specialized Afro-Islamic culture of the Dagomba, the Baamaaya costume suggests male cross-dressing. Some Dagombas teach that the Baamaaya costume stems from unethical conduct of men toward women. In this account, in order for the drought to end, men had to appease land gods by wearing women's clothes. Alhaji reports that his teachers never mentioned this story and that he did not hear it during his youth when he enjoyed dancing Baamaaya. He doubts its credibility. Other Dagomba teachers suggest that Baamaaya's frenetic motions derive from waving off mosquitoes by shaking hips and arms. This makes sense to me, given the story of origin, but Alhaji tends to downplay its significance.
baamaya dancers in a circle
In an arrangement taught by Alhaji, dancers come to the stage and form a circle in time to the relatively slow-paced music of Naa Daa. After moving through the more up-tempo sections, dancers go off stage with a return to the music of Baamaaya. In Baamaaya, Mazhe and Nyagboli dancers display their own creativity and style; they all utilize the same movement vocabulary but everyone is "doing their own thing," so to speak. Dakoli Kutoko is unique: dancers bump hips against their neighbors on the circle. This section pokes fun at unmarried males saying, "Bachelors cannot farm." The message is that a farmer needs the manual labor of a big family in order to produce enough food to run a household.

The instrumentation in Baamaaya is unique among these materials: there is no part for answer lunga. Nyagboli in Baamaaya is slightly different from the way it is played in Tora and Takai, so Alhaji's demonstration is included here.

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