Friday, February 20, 2015



jera dance
Jera is a potent dance.  As with most dances in the North, the history of Jera is deep, obscure and mysterious.  Most sources trace the origin to one particular hunter called Nanja who, while in the bush, came across an ill omen: group of dwarfs.  Jera came to be performed as part of a religious rite when returning from hunting trips, and later after midnight at the funerals of elders and chiefs.  On these occasions, some believe the drums can sound without a drummer.  The embedded religious significance of Jera is now decontextualized, and it is performed at all times and on a variety of social events.
jera clothing
Still, performances are suggestive of Jera’s original significance. The magical amulets displayed on the bodies of the dancers, and the rootedness of the dance to the ground, is suggestive of the initial function of the dance and makes meaningful to contemporary participants their heritage.
With steady upper bodies, the dance emanates from the forward and backward movement of the hips, and the purposeful movements of the legs.  Around the waist a belt with strands of cowries called “yebisa” is worn, which rises and falls with the thrusting waist.  Dancers tilt together, moving counterclockwise to the sound of a sole bass gun-gong and a handful of lunga talking drummers.  The hold metal castanets called "feengas" which add another sonic dimension to the ominous environment, along with songs like:  “Borli ye borli borla bum bo?
Naan zan noo mal borli.” (What does the shrine want? I will give a fowl to the shrine.)

jera troopers

Watching the young boys at Bizung dance Jera is very precious.  They know the dance is serious, and their faces, while overly concentrated, inevitably lapse into a silly shyness.  They respond beautifully to the deep sounds of the bass, and through call and response, learn Jera’s history:  “Nanja ye zan jera kuli ye? Nanja ye zan jera kuli ye.” (Nanja brought the jera home? Nanja brought the jera home.)  When the children perfect the circular dance, and are fully costumed with cowrie belts for performance, the Bizung Jera will be something special!

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