Fon Village, Togo
A great deal of a West African tribe's culture revolves around social
activities. When a village celebrates certain occasions or engages
in frequent gatherings, the central activity includes traditional,
ritualistic dances. These almost always involve dressing up with masks
and costumes that depict the tribe's culture, people, and activities in
everyday life. While appearing haphazard and unscripted, the choreography
is not as much intended to be aesthetic as it is to exhibit important
themes in their culture. The dancing is usually a very intense workout
that can last from several hours to several days. While there are no
strong religious or voodoo overtones, there is a sense of "spirituality"
about these dances, which is mostly based upon animistic (polytheistic)
and superstitious beliefs.
Outside influence on these dances has been minimal, except for costumes,
which sometimes involve depictions of medical doctors and other non-tribal
figures. Dances are also scheduled around tourist group arrivals,
because visitors will pay to watch and take pictures.
Western folklore and romantic views of native cultures have
attached more spiritual significance to these events than what reality
dictates. Spiritual ceremonies that may involve voodoo, for example, never
include dancing or overt gestures. Rather, they are quiet, meditative
acts that call upon spirits to help in daily issues, such as cooking,
love, or warding off malaria and other diseases. Animal sacrifices are
rare, and like voodoo rituals, they are never performed during a dance
session. Such rituals are done only in times of dire need and usually the
result of a specific emergency, such as an epidemic or natural disaster.