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Movement as a way of teaching belonging in African Diaspora communities

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Movementas a way of teaching belonging in African Diaspora communities


Inthe dancing wisdom, the author had deciphered the Diaspora dances byconsidering three communities Cuban Yoruba, Haitian Vodou and BahianCandomble. The author succeeds in providing a comprehensive view ofethnographic description. Various aspects of the ethnographicenterprise have been exemplified. The work has focused on power ofritual dances and bodily language in assessment of historical1and cultural knowledge.

Withinthe perspective of an African dance perspective, the spiritualdimension of the performance has been considered. During the dancingprocess, the Africans believed that they joined with the ancestorsand other cosmological divinities. The ritual performances compriseof social medicine for authority and community relations, and theritual communities proceeded with strong bonding. The spiritualdimension of the performance related to social wellbeing of theindividuals and promoted solidarity in the communities. Regularperformances acted as holistic medicine for the members of thecommunity.1

Fromthe perspective of the worshippers, the dances were performed as theseries of divine offerings. Congregation performed dances until thespecialists emerged in a divine manifestation. This intensifiesperformance propelling the ritual from the extraordinary behaviorthrough transformation or transcendence. The performances weresimultaneously presented to the divinity and human community with thehope of transforming anything that brings the dancing divinities fromthe spiritual world into the community.1

AnAfrican dance perspective presumes the practices and knowledge of anexpanded sense of ‘living’ and ‘life’, like the threeexistence realms. Precisely, the dance music integrates the varieddomains of existence. Multiple communication modes were canvassedduring an African Diaspora dance. Theoretical and writtencommunication in public libraries and home manuals is not privileged.However, 2thisis weighed other sources of information involving non-verbalexpressions of the body as well as multiple meanings within theanalysis of dance music.

Regardlessof the means of relaying the information, due respect and attentionwere accorded to most communication channels. Therefore, time-reveredbody behaviors and oral histories counted among most Africans. Afundamental understanding of the commonalities among various Africancommunities can be considered as resilient patterns of thetime-tested human behaviors and human thought. They also representpolitico-economic circumstances which have changed considerably overtime since the colonial period.2

Whenthe African slaves reached the American shores, their behaviors andmemories changed gradually refashioning to the whole liturgicalorders. The African American beliefs depended on survival structuresof the ancient performance practices. African and African-Americans,when permitted, they drummed and sang the ancient knowledge topresent. During that time, they could search for guidance, receivedsustenance and requested for advice to transcend the temporarychallenges. They got advice through divination practices and proverbsalongside the nonverbal guidance through dances a music performance.2

Forthe African Diaspora, similar values and attitudes emerge as theDiaspora reflects on double consciousness of their cultures.Theperspective of the African Diaspora dance encourages the reappraisalof definitive findings and definitions of the past. With anextensive and critical analysis of the facts, the African-Americancultures can be understood in specified terms. 3

Embodiedknowledge in Dancing Wisdom

Anyintellectual knowledge without integration of the intuitive andsomatic understanding yields disembodied knowledge. Since theenslavement period to present, such knowledge dominated among theAmericans in their valuing of social paradigm. Certainly, performanceof the plastic arts like dances is considered in African Diasporainstitutions. The dancing body concentrates the spirit, enacts anddisplays power and disseminate knowledge. The dancing performersre-enact whatever they learn, hear, imagine or feel. The dancingrepresented ideas, feelings, knowledge and understanding.3

Despiteincredible demands for labor and physical drain on Africans duringenslavement, dancing and music offered some mode of relief, ecstasyand potential rejuvenation. For Americans, dancing body allowed atemporary escape from the challenge of enslavement and acted as anavenue for spiritual communication for both artistic and spiritualexpression. Currently, the dancing body is still in operation as aritual for spiritual communication, site for extraordinarytransformations and aesthetic expression.3

Thedance transformations have been effective in stimulating developmentof the African America ritual dances for centuries. The dancenormally exhibits two tendencies gestures and movements, andabstract expression. The two originate4from heritage of codified ethnic group and constitute a certainmeaning. The dances involved movement of structured vocabulary,especially the gestures and the movement phrases that occurred withsounding of certain rhythms which carried a religious or culturalmeaning.4

Africancommunities dances involved use of ‘talking drums’ where dancersand musicians related the beats with parables, stories or myths basedon their understanding of drum in combination with certain movementsequences, as well as their relationship to the tonal languages. Thetones of the drums related to linguistic structures and theyreplicated a specific speech pattern. However, an alternativepractice of the non-codified or abstract movement and the non-talkingdrums also comprised the African heritage. Such drumming practicesand sequence of movements conveyed a narrative, myth or history.4

Secularand religious setting placed musicians and dancers in a deep andimprovisational performance. For instance, a jazz song accrued themeaning from a specific organizational form melodic, harmony andrhythm. Likewise, the meaning in Africa-American dance was accruedfrom elaborate movement development, rhythmic sequences and codifiedgestures. For instance, jazz dance conveys the theme through movementand sound, and overarching rhythms with accumulating movements, andprojected and changing emotional states.

Somegestures and sequence of movement during dances signaled literalmeanings, while the social circumstances of the performers create adeep reliance on non-verbal communication procedures and abstractedexpressiveness of dancing body. A performance intensifies and deepenswith meaning due to the visually projected movements in performancedynamics in a repetition. The meaning registers in visceral responsesto the musical and kinesthetic effect. Realizations, meanings andknowledge have been, in most cases, abstractly embodied.

Manymovement motifs and sequences for divinities conform to theidentifiable patterns recognized across the African Diaspora. For5instance, the Ogun dance contains explicit, abstracted implied andliteral meanings common among three ritual African communities inDiaspora. The dance movements in Ogun convey fierce male entitiesthat fight as the dancers dance with a machete or sword. The dancingbody expresses the need for human to make music and dance. For Ogundances, aggressive warrior stances are involved, vigorous travellingmovement sequences and increased emphasis on cutting or swordslicing.5

Normally,the codified gestures converge abstract meanings through images drawnfrom the symbolic colors and forceful body movements. In overall, theperformance elements result in and combine the cultural understandingof the people. The total performance embodies protection and power ofthe communities towards right action and strength.5

DivineHorsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

Theauthor, Deren, had left for Haiti for film ritual dances with the aimof cross-cultural collage film that included the Balinese and Haitiandances. The dances were to be linked through montage in the newcinematic expression. Deren had earlier on explored such formalism inthe experimental films. While in Haiti, she embarked on her projectwith her main objective being in traditional ethnographic accountthat was marked by an inclination of realistic representation of theforeign culture in an accurate and objective way. TheDivine Horsemen emphasized on rationalism, integration, knowledge andorder.

Thefilm was shot between 1947 and 1954 and comprises of images ondancing and body movements during the Petro and Rada rituals. Dancingamong the Vodou community is very crucial, especially duringceremonies.

6Comparisonof the Dancing Wisdom and The Divine Horsemen: The living Gods ofHaiti

Whilethe author, Deren, has described her experience as ‘the spiritdancing in her head’ ridding off the energies and divinities of theHaitian Vodou, in Dancing Wisdom, Daniel has elaborated on reality ofpossession and performance by ushering the readers into an encounterwith Orichas, orixa and Lwa-yo among the Bahian Candomble, CubanYoruba and Haitian Vodou. Normally, in United States, there is widepractice of the Cuban Santeria and African Diasporic traditions. Mostintellectuals consider the two to be polytheistic in nature. Theyteach their students the need to be aware of the polytheism.Unfortunately, this is completely wrong as African Diasporicreligions/spiritual traditions have never been at any one timepolytheistic, but are purely monotheistic despite the only God theyacknowledge is not among the deities involved with their daily livesand circumstances as the one known by n S. Mbiti and Bolaji Idowu.6

Inthe dancing wisdom, the author has managed to convey clearly theunderstanding of God among the African Diasporic traditions as wellas the agents of divine course to counteract and describe theanthropomorphism by the Oricha, Orixa and Lwa of Bahian Candomble,Cuban Yoruba and Haitian Vodou. Their reference to God is consideredas mistaken designation as subtitled in DivineHorsemen:the living GodsofHaiti.Dancing Wisdom is replete comprising of diagrams, prayers and chantsin both their sacred ritual languages and translations to enable thereader a living7senseof the way those songs are embodied and used in rich ritual contextof the traditions among the three communities. Therefore, DancingWisdom focuses on African Diasporic traditions, both in practice andtheory.

Indivine horsemen, the community structure of Haiti has been describedin terms of ritual dance packed with elements of drama meaning thatthe film is primarily participative. The dance expands itsvocabulary within the African-diasporic and African forms to languagefull of contemporary urban flare. Deren had spent considerable periodin Haiti, and in her footage of voodoo rituals reveal ongoing mergingof ethnography and art is legacies of surrealism. The Divine Horsemenstands out as a critical cultural record of the Haitian Voodoo. Theintentions of Deren involved use of the montage editing approaches tocontrast the dance in Haiti with those of the non-Haitian elementsthrough a series of sequences. Such an approach testifies hersurrealist approach for alternative realities. The film celebratesthe hybrid culture of Haiti as of symbolic importance to the slaverevolution between 1791 and 1804 that saw the independence of Haitias the first black republic. On the other hand, Yvonne Daniel in herDancing Wisdom considers the religious systems from three Africancommunities. Her background in anthropology and dance contributed toher role in examining the oppressed and misunderstood formativedances.

TheAfrican descended dance rituals involved mapping the human body bythe divinities. Specialized parts of the body were understood basedon anatomical, emotional and physiological functions that were linkedto the danced rhythms of the African descended rituals. For instance,among the Haitians, feet were dedicated to the war god, OgounFeraille, hips to spirits of love and beauty, chest to bravewarriors, spine to snake gods, rainbow godd8essand water gods, and the hands were dedicated to spider spirit. MostAfrican nations on Haiti Island during the start of a revolution in1791 are represented in terms of specific parts of the body. Forinstance, among the Cuban, mapping of the body using Yoruba orichasis normally different from that of orixas from Candomble. Suchdifferences help the Diasporas remember and emphasize on tremendousvariations between the practices among Africans and Americans (Brown2005, p. 68).

Duringthe dances, constant undulation of the whole body emphasized on snakestories Dambala. Among the Haitians, snake was coded with the notionof ongoing life. A combination of two snakes made an alliance. Theundulating movements related to the continuity of life, birth,copulation and rebirth. Continuous life was codified within the danceby using visual undulation of torso and back.


Theembodied knowledge that was defined by the two, Deren and Danielstakes into consideration collective cultural experiences in terms ofthe internal logic and how the various sections merge into a commonwhole. The two ethnographies9,concentrate on gestures and choreographical movements and attempt toexplain the relationship between the various movements. While Derenconcentrated on a method antithesis to scientific objectivism,Danieles work was on dualistic methodology of the traditionalethnography.


Brown,Jacqueline Nassy. DroppingAnchor, Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool.Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005.

Copeland-Carson,Jacqueline. CreatingAfrica in America: Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City.Philadelphia: the University of Pennsylvania, 2004.

Daniel,Yvonne. &quotDancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou,Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé.&quot Journalof Latin American Anthropology11.1 (2006): 246-48.

Daniel,Yvonne. DancingWisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and BahianCandomblé.Urbana: the University of Illinois, 2005.

Deren,Maya, Małgorzata Wiśniewska, and Zbigniew Zagajewski. BogowieHaitańskiego Wudu: Taniec Nieba I Ziemi.Kraków: Wydawnictwo A, 2000.

Gordon,Edmund Tayloe. DisparateDiasporas: Identity and Politics in an African Nicaraguan Community.Austin, TX: the University of Texas, Austin, Institute of LatinAmerican Studies, 1998.

Hansing,Katrin. Rasta,Race and Revolution: The Emergence and Development of the RastafariMovement in Socialist Cuba.Münster: Lit, 2006.

Osumare,Halifu. &quotDancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou,Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé by Yvonne Daniel. 2005. Urbanaand Chicago: the University of Illinois Press. 324 Pp., 13Photographs. $55.00 Cloth, $22.00 Paper.&quot DanceResearch Journal40.01 (2008): 89-92.

Schaberg,Jane D. &quotDancing While Teaching: Using Wisdom Ways.&quotTeachingTheology and Religion6.4 (2003): 218-224.

Ulysse,Gina A. DowntownLadies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist, andSelf-making in Jamaica.Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007.

1 Schaberg, Jane D. &quotDancing While Teaching: Using Wisdom Ways.&quot Teaching Theology and Religion 6.4 (2003): 218-224.

2 Deren, Maya, Małgorzata Wiśniewska, and Zbigniew Zagajewski. Bogowie Haitańskiego Wudu: Taniec Nieba I Ziemi. Kraków: Wydawnictwo A, 2000.

3 Daniel, Yvonne. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé. Urbana: the University of Illinois, 2005.

4 Daniel, Yvonne. &quotDancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé.&quot Journal of Latin American Anthropology 11.1 (2006): 246-48.

5 Brown, Jacqueline Nassy. Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005.

6 Copeland-Carson, Jacqueline. Creating Africa in America: Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City. Philadelphia: the University of Pennsylvania, 2004.

7Gordon, Edmund Tayloe. Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African Nicaraguan Community. Austin, TX: the University of Texas, Austin, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1998.

8 Hansing, Katrin. Rasta, Race and Revolution: The Emergence and Development of the Rastafari Movement in Socialist Cuba. Münster: Lit, 2006.

9 Osumare, Halifu. &quotDancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé by Yvonne Daniel. 2005. Urbana and Chicago: the University of Illinois Press. 324 Pp., 13 Photographs. $55.00 Cloth, $22.00 Paper.&quot Dance Research Journal 40.01 (2008): 89-92.

910 Ulysse, Gina A. Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist, and Self-making in Jamaica. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007.