[ Ghana | Liberia | Mali and Senegal | Guinea-Bissau ]
West Africa is located
principally on what is known as the Bulge of Africa. The Atlantic Ocean forms the western and southern borders of the region. To the north is the Sahara Desert, with the Niger Bend generally considered the northernmost part of the region. The eastern border is less precise. West Africa is generally considered to include the countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Some consider Cape Verde, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Western Sahara to be part of the region as well.
Colonial boundaries are reflected in the modern boundaries between
contemporary West African nations, cutting across ethnic and cultural
lines, often dividing single ethnic groups between two or more
Now known as the Republic of Ghana, this land was originally comprised
of several distinct regions, occupied by many ethnic groups. The union
of these traditional states was created by the British government
during the historical period of the Western European partitioning of
Africa. Formed from the merger of the British colony of the Gold Coast and the
Togoland trust territory, Ghana in 1957 became the first sub-Saharan
country in colonial Africa to gain its independence.
Kpanlogo originated in Accra, the capital city of Ghana and the
traditional home of the Ga people. This land occupies the southern
corner of the modern republic in an administrative region known as the
Greater Accra Region.
Kpanlogo is essentially an urban youth
dance-drumming of the Anlo-Ewe people, and a symbol of the commitment of a rapidly growing
Ghanaian urban neighborhood youth in advocating their perspective in
shaping the political vision of post colonial Africa.
Thanks to CK Ladzekpo for the photo and information.
Liberia is the oldest republic in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s name is
derived from a Latin phrase meaning “free land.” Liberia is bordered by
Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Monrovia is the
capital and Liberia’s largest city.
Liberia’s population is made up of two main groups: indigenous Africans
who have lived in the region for hundreds of years, and
Americo-Liberians who are descended from freed slaves who came as
settlers. There are 16 different indigenous African groups that make up
nearly 95 percent of the Liberian population. Each group possesses a
unique history, language and culture. The largest group are the Kpell,
who live in central Liberia, and the Bassa, who live along the coast.
Other groups include the Gio, Krahn, Kru, Mano, and Vai.
Music and dance are an integral part of village life in Liberia. The
people dance and sing for the departed souls of the dead, at
celebrations and weddings, on behalf of important visitors, and just
for fun. Liberian dances are often noted for the energy and passion
displayed by the dancers. As with most African dance forms, Liberian
dances often reference not just the physical, but the spiritual as
well. These dances are a way to preserve and transmit important stories
Dance styles vary according to different tribes and region. Some of the
best known forms of Liberian dance include Kru dances, Vai dances,
Kpelle dances and Bassa dances.
Masked Dances of Liberia
indigenous groups of Liberia, masks play an important part
in connecting the living with the ancestral spirits and ancient
deities. It is a means by which people strive to gain knowledge
and insight into the future. The dancer "becomes" the mask,
thus it is traditionally important that the human identity
not revealed to the public.
People live in northern Liberia, and speak a language called
Mande. They are primarily farmers and hunter/gatherers. Gio
men also have their own secret society which marks their initiation
into manhood and guides them throughout their lives. The Dan
mask is a ceremonial mask which is worn during festival time,
along with the Glegben, (Stilt Mask). The dance has very intricate
hands and feet movements, with which the drummer and the masked
dancer communicate. At times, the drummer follows the dancer,
and at times the dancer follows the drummer, making it a true
dialogue in movement and sound. (The Dan Mask shown here courtesy of Museum of Ancient & Modern Art.)
Vai Mask (Nafai or Frisky Devil)
to the Gola, Vai, and Mendi Tribes from Grand Cope Mount county
of Monrovia, Liberia. The Vai people make their living by farming
the fertile lands of northwestern Liberia and southeastern Sierra
Leone. The Nafai Mask belongs to the men. Usually this character
is very frisky, goes anywhere and asks for whatever he wants.
He is regarded as a playboy character.
Mask, or Gbetu, also belongs to the Gola, Vai, and the Mendi
Tribes of Liberia. The Yan is for the Poro (men's) society,
and the Sande (women's) society, or club. Within Vai culture
there are both male and female secret societies which teach
young boys and girls the social, survival, traditional, and
personal lessons in becoming men and women. Performing the
dance is the final blessing. The Yan mask performs during the
graduation which is known as "The Breaking of the Poro Bush," where
the boys and the Yan mask exhibit their talents.
Mali and Senegal
Mandeng and Wolof
A griot (GREEoh) or djialy
(jali) is the traditional keeper of cultural traditions and history of
the Mandeng people of West Africa. These traditions and stories are
kept in the form of music and dance, containing elements of history or
metaphorical statements that carry and pass on the culture of the
Mandeng people through the generations. The music will usually follow a
form, beginning slow with praise singing and lyrical movements
accompanied by melodic instruments such as the kora, a 21-stringed harp/lute, and the balafon, a xylophone with gourd resonators, both characteristic of Mali and the Mandeng people.
Wolof drumming and dancing, originating in Senegal, features the Djembe and DounDoun
drums, athletic jumps and spectacular up-tempo movements engaging the
whole body. In Senegalese life, the Wolof play drums to heal the sick,
communicate with the spirit world, and bring communities together, but
most of all, they play drums to dance. Wolof drummers accompany dancers
by playing strongly marked cross-rhythms that are laced with
interjecting calls. Using precise control, the drummers weave intense
The Balante are a people from the low lying coastal frontier
between the south of Senegal and the north of Guinea-Bissau,
West Africa. The Balante, one of five main ethnic groups in
Guinea-Bissau, live by hunting in the forest and tend farms
for raising beef.
The Balante organize big dance parties for occasions
such as a celebration for a good rainy season, rites of passage,
births, and marriages.
As symbols of family and spiritual connection,
the masks play an important role when the community comes together
to celebrate with music and dance.