Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia Staff
As a part of normal life in Liberia, cultural dances are a heritage that Liberians follow and cherish dearly. Though dances vary from tribe to tribe and various regions, dance remains a common value to all Liberians. People sing and dance from time to time. Occasions that frequently stimulate dances range from wedding ceremonies, holiday celebrations, remarking the burial of the dead and the observation of traditional events like the Poro and Sandy societies. People also dance just for the pleasure it generates and to communicate major State and traditional messages.
When the Liberian government wants to give a very important message to all its citizens, the government uses the media as well as cultural troupes to get the message across. Cultural dances draw the attention of many persons causing them, in some cases, to suspend their work activities to witness cultural dance performances whenever the sound of a sangba (drums) is heard. Discussion forums are also organized during and after cultural dance performances. During these events, different dramas are acted out portraying the information intended to be communicated. The dramas are then interpreted and the final message revealed. In this way government messages are directly received and clearly understood by the citizens. Epidemics like the Polio and Ebola Virus were combated on many fronts, cultural dance performances being one of them.
Liberians are passionate about their cultural dances; it is a proud heritage of the land. During important holidays and other events such as playing host to important guests, many different cultural troupes take to the street in recognition of these occasions. They perform in open street places and in communities to the pleasure of many persons. In response to their wonderful and entertaining performances, people give them money as appreciation. Beyond the physical talents the dancers display, there are also spiritual performances as well; to the disbelief of onlookers, there are many mysterious performances which can catch the attention of people and leave them to judge the possibility of what they have seen. I have personally witnessed a dancer cut off his tongue, eat over 2 kilograms of sand, and many more wonders. After all these performances, they are as normal as they were before the drama. These dance performances communicate important messages which prove that Liberia has a heritage that needs to be preserved.
however, these dances vary per tribes and region. The Poro and Sandy traditional festive activities are common practices across Liberia. The Poro is to the men while the Sandy is to the women. During the poro festive activities, young men are taken into the poro bush where they stay for many months without coming to town or seeing the face of any woman. There in the poro bush they learn the cultural values and norms of men. The women on the other hand, do the same with the Sandy. These activities are both heavily characterized by lots of singing and dancing throughout the period of these festivals.
Traditional singers and dancers move from house to house playing different traditional instruments and displaying different entertaining dance talents. All community members show their support with great interest as they collectively celebrate the initiation of their children or family relative into the poro or Sandy societies.
Dramatic Dance and Meaning
Today the practice of western culture is gradually erasing the Liberian culture; people especially in urban communities, show disregard for their own culture because they don’t understand its values.
It is widely perceived that many Liberians are not aware of the values attached to the country’s culture; they simply follow cultural dance performances only for the pleasure it brings to them. However, cultural dancers demonstrate the values of the nation’s cultural heritage through dramatic dances. According to Robin Dopoe Jr. “dramatic dances tend to educate Liberians on different issues including their cultural values, norms and moralities as well as educating Liberians that regardless of any situation, unity is the key to nation building and that our culture bind us together as one people”. He also explained that “for centuries Liberia’s traditional practices have been able to govern its people in maintaining peace and finding justice, traditional leaders sought justice in critical situations with the use of Sassywood”. An example of such dramatic dance is the demonstration of the use of Sassywood (a traditional method used to detect truth). As the dance drama unfolds a king is faced with a critical decision making situation. He needs to award a favor to one person for performing a certain task, but is seriously challenged with many persons presenting convincing claims for the award. Therefore, he calls traditional medicine men that use Sassywood to tell the real person to whom the favor is to be given. As they each drank the Sassywood, they all fall dead for lying except for a single person who had actually performed the task.
Another dramatic dance is the “Back to the Soil Dance”. This dance drama shows a group of dancers demonstrating the entire process involved in rice farming; from the clearing of the bush through the harvest. Following the harvest, they all sit down and begin to eat like kings. This dance drama signifies that Liberians need to return to the soil and grow more food, especially rice, the nation’s staple food.
 Robin Dopoe Jr., May 26, 2016, the Symbolic Meaning of Liberian Dance Drama,
http://allafrica.com/stories/201605260879.html Accessed on 14th July 2017
Front Photo:Farewell and appreciation cultural dance performance in honor of foreign doctors who conducted free surgical operations to many Liberians. Photo by Courtesy of Darius Weamie(dfp)