If you want to experience Uganda’s vast cultural diversity, there’s no better way than through dance. Uganda is a nation with over 50 subcultures, and its dances provide an important link to the past. Traditional dances signify important events and convey emotions of love, sorrow, joy, and excitement. These dances vary in style from one region to the other and are an expression of each region’s way of life, beliefs, and norms.
The Ekitaguriro dance is a popular traditional dance that is performed by the Banyankore of Ankole land in western Uganda. This dance conveys a variety of cultural information and is typically performed to signal important life milestones such as birth and marriage, celebrate a good harvest, and show appreciation of cows. It is a dance that both men and women participate in. The men stride from leg to leg in imitation of cattle walking while the women sway majestically from side to side in unison.
The Ekitaguriro dancers wear the traditional Banyankore dancewear, namely tight wrappers around the waist and a lighter cloth around the shoulders. The men usually add shackle-like beads to the ensemble for visual effect as well. You can experience the Ekitaguriro dance in the greater Mbarara and Bushenyi areas of southwestern Uganda. A cultural visit to the region can be arranged to mix up the wonderful wildlife and culture of the region.
The Kizino dance is a traditional dance from the Bakiga people in Kigezi, southwest Uganda. It is performed in celebration of the hard work and harvest of these hard-working agriculturalists. The dance consists of hand-clapping, an embuutu (big drum), an endere (flute), ensaasi (shakers), and singing led by a lead vocalist.
In this dance, both men and women can be seen jumping and stomping the ground while their hands go up and down in time with their legs. The energy of the performance is palpable, with excited screams accompanying the music as they dance.
Acholi traditional dance
The Acholi people of northern Uganda have a variety of traditional dances that are performed for various occasions and reasons. The Acholi are a tribe that still practice their culture, with the men tending to livestock and the women taking care of agriculture. Music and dance is used as a means to transmit cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.
Here are two of the most widely-practiced Acholi dances:
Also known as the ‘courtship dance’, this is traditionally performed when young men jockey for a marriage partner. This dance is still common in traditional weddings and involves the men donning rooster feathers on their heads and shaking calabashes to a rhythm. The women in the dance usually put their lower bodies on display to visibly show their femininity.
This dance is known as the ‘war dance’ and is usually performed by men. It was intended to prepare young Acholi men for battle, and so the men in the dance wear cock feathers on their heads, carry shields and spears, and perform mock battles and victory dancing. This is done as a way to pass on knowledge about the historical role of men in Acholi society, which is to protect their families, their homes, and their villages.
Nankasa, Baakisiimba, Muwogola
The Mbaga dance is a traditional folk dance hailing from the Buganda kingdom, comprised of the Baganda people in the central region of Uganda. According to legend, this dance was started by a king from the kingdom, who had had a few too many drinks of a local drink called ‘tonto’ or ‘omwenge’, made from bananas. As the story goes, the king started to dance in celebration and was soon joined by people from the surrounding area. It has since been a widely celebrated dance in Buganda.
The Mbaga dance is usually performed by a woman who is above 18 years old, as a part of her preparation for future marriage. This dance conveys messages about how to be a good wife and mother, managing the home and raising children. Generally, the dance is accompanied by various music instruments, such as the tuba fiddle (endigidi), drums (namunjoloba ), shakers (ensaasi), and long drum (engalabi).
The Karamajong people, residing in the areas of Kotido and Moroto districts in North-eastern Uganda, are agro-pastoralist herders living in mountainous and hilly landscapes. The Edonga dance is performed to demonstrate appreciation and love for their culture and nation. This ritual requires participants to jump with their full body weight as high as possible, signifying enthusiasm and joy.
People from the Iteso tribe are Nilo-Hamites from East Uganda. One of their courtship dances is done to the accompaniment of a thumb piano (akago), small drum, and flutes that create a softer sound. This dance is performed by both men and women, exhibiting their potency by vigorously jumping on one foot and the men advancing towards a woman they find appealing.
The Batooro people are overseen by the Omukama of the Babiito dynasty, with power traditionally passed from father to son. Settled mainly in the Kasese and Kabarole districts, the Batooro are both agricultural and pastoral people. During courtship dances, instruments like Embuutu (big drum), Emgalabbi (long drum), Akasekendde (shaker), and Runyege (tied around the legs) are also played. With vigor and skill, the Runyege dance is used to impress the woman of interest and attract the right man. The man is typically accompanied by family and friends to demonstrate the strong family and community he can offer. Through this dance, both sexes can send messages to signal their feelings for each other.
The Agwara dance, derived from its primary instrument, is a festival dance of the Lugbara people living near the Congo and South Sudan border in Northern Uganda. Imitating the motion of hunters approaching their prey, the dance is used to prepare young men to join the hunting parties, as well as to commemorate successful hunting trips.
The Mwanga dance is a ceremonial initiation dance practiced by some cultures that believe in circumcision as a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. The dance includes the ringing of bells on the participant, traditional songs played on fiddles and flutes, and the whole community joining in to escort the participant around the village and to the site of his final, most important event. At this point, the initiate must demonstrate strength and bravery without any sign of weakness.
For a chance to witness the varied cultural dances of Uganda, travelers may plan cultural visits as part of their Uganda safari, or attend performances at locations such as the Ndere Cultural Centre in Kampala. To organize the ideal cultural safari, those interested should fill out a customized safari request form and seek the assistance of an expert team. Most travelers add a range of experiences, from wildlife gamedrives and gorilla trekking to chimpanzee tracking and birding, to their itineraries. An all-inclusive Uganda safari provides the chance to view a variety of dance performances as well as other cultural encounters.