BY Vanessa Calys-Tagoe, 1:30pm October 06, 2022,

Famous African war dances and their meaning

Zulu dance, Indlamu. Image via YouTube/AFTV

Everyone gives a move or two when asked to dance irrespective of the ability to dance or not and in Africa, dance is an integral aspect of culture. All indigenous African ethnic groups have a dance. It is a way of expression. Some tribes have festival dances; these moves are performed on the occasions of the festival and they may differ from festival to festival, but more surprising are the war dances. 

These steps were curated for war men back in the day and they were performed during their wars. It may not sound realistic thinking of how one could manage a dance in the heat of war, but these war dances are a core part of African culture and a more essential aspect of their actions when they go to war. Dance has a wide range of intricate social functions in African societies. 

Each performance in an indigenous dance tradition typically serves a primary function in addition to several secondary ones, some of which may represent or reflect the communal values and interpersonal relationships of the participants. Therefore, it is essential to determine the objective for which each dance is performed to differentiate between the ranges of dance styles. 

These performances frequently blur the line between ritual celebration and social recreation; one example of this is the appearance of the big Efe mask during the peak of the Gelede ceremonial feast in the Ketu-Yoruba villages of Nigeria and Benin. War dances have been used historically to train soldiers and get them mentally and emotionally ready for battle. These dances frequently incorporate weaponry and fighting gestures. 

Some war dances like the Indlamu dance, which evolved from the war dances of the amabutho (warriors), were primarily performed to inspire the soldiers before they began their arduous barefoot marches into battle. The entire ritual dance fosters a sense of togetherness while teaching the younger participants about the community’s customs. In current-day Zulu celebrations and rituals like delivery, coming-of-age initiations, bride price ceremony, weddings and coronations, victories, and various traditional festivals as well as after harvesting, this war dance is conducted. 

War dances also serve the purpose of keeping the warriors encouraged and ready for battle. Some like the Agbadza dance of the Ewe people of Ghana were choreographed for such purposes. Before settling in the Volta Region of Ghana and Southern Togo, the Ewe people endured numerous periods of conflict and subjugation. The Ewes employed a variety of songs and dances to motivate their troops and prepare them for combat. Today like the Indlamu dance, it is performed during festive occasions because there are no more wars. 

Sometimes, to honor triumphs won during wars and significant historical battles, a variety of war dances are performed. These dances imitate the motions and movements that were used historically during such trying times. Some war dances are also used to bid farewell to departed chiefs. These dances are solemn and connote grieving like the Deeya dance, a war dance of the Gruusi in the northern region of Ghana, which symbolizes grief and seriousness. It is typically done during burial rituals with a particular outfit to say goodbye to the dead. During their final funeral ceremonies, the Deeya Dance is performed to pay adieu to deceased Chiefs, Clan Heads, elderly women, or family heads. This is supposed to lead them to their forebears. 

War dances were prevalent when most of the current African tribes were moving from their original homes to their current settlements, but today, most of these dances are performed during celebrations as the times of war are over and fighting for their existence is over.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 6, 2022


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