Home LIFESTYLE Society An Encounter With Bottle Dance
An Encounter With Bottle Dance
TTS / Monday, 21 March 2011 09:44



The year was 1999; the month April, and the day Sunday.  My visit to Mankon was about to come to a close. And so my friend decided to treat me to "village enjoyment" par excellence. The big treat was "bottle dance."  When my friend mentioned the name "bottle dance," I instantly conjured up youthful memories of "juju" and "doh-doh-kido."  I inquired of my friend what this bottle dance entailed.  His response: "you will see for yourself."

It was a Sunday of great expectation for me.  The prospect of seeing people dance on bottles engulfed my entire being.  A restless day, indeed, it was for this "coast" man.  At about 6 o'clock in the evening we drove to a neighboring village, about 15km away. We were early, very early, but that was my fault and mine only.  Since the day before when my friend mentioned that bottle dance thing I became instantly excited and it remained that way until I beheld the spectacle firsthand.

We arrived the village dance hall about 45 minutes early so that we could secure good seats and from our vintage point to observe the event more keenly.  Entrance fee was one hundred francs CFA (about eighteen cents ).

As we sat there watching the people stream into the hall, I could not but wonder why there were so many old women among those who were attending this festivity. Their male counterparts of the same age group were noticeably few.  It was explained to me that the greater majority of the old women were widows.  Some of them could barely walk upright.  Others did so with discernible difficulty, staggering and scarcely dragging their feet.  There were other old women who appeared to be virtually limping along. Of course, there were also a few old men, and so were younger men and women, dressed in their finest for the big event.

Sunday evening, I was told, was a sort of holiday for the villagers.  This was a day on which the people were free from toiling in their farms from dawn till dusk, a day to enjoy themselves and perhaps forget about their hardship—even if momentarily.  It was a Sunday much like that day was for hundreds of factory workers in early-nineteenth century industrial England.  The difference, however, was that whereas Sunday waned into “Holy Monday” for the factory workers of England, here in this village it symbolized a temporary respite from the drudgery that was the daily harvest of many, if not all the inhabitants. For most of the women had to return at dawn on Monday to their farms.  There was hardly any “drunken abandon” among the village women here. They had to be up and going as unfailingly as the punctual proud cocks that shouldered the responsibility of waking them up in the early hours of dawn, come Monday.

At about nine o’clock the dance hall was packed full.  This was a special occasion, it was explained to me, because it was the turn of this particular village to host the roving bottle dance band that traveled from village to village entertaining the people.  The band consisted of about five members.  Its leader, who doubled as guitarist and vocalist, was some kind of legendary figure in his graying years.  He is noted to have been very  handsome during his youth, attracting most of the pretty girls of his day.  Now haggard-looking with small bags forming around his eyes, one could still discern, albeit with difficulty, the spark and sparkle of a "boy-I-loss" in him.  Other members of the band icluded a bass guitarist, a drummer, a bottle player, and a cymbalist.

Why this dance is called "bottle dance" is still not clear to me.  The Bassa assiko could as well be called a bottle dance, since the sound of the bottle is as promiment in assiko as it is in bottle dance.  When the music began playing, it seemed to me as if the dancers became possessed.  As the tempo of the music rose to a crescendo, so did the dancers’ spirits seem to rise.  Perhaps they were aided by the intoxicating influence of some alcoholic beverages; perhaps the sound of the bottle in "bottle dance" music was therapeutic to the soul, invigorating the old and tired bones to fulsome, youthful vigor.  I could not tell, since I was but a spectator and a novice at that. Whatever the case, a miracle happened before my very own eyes: the staggering and limping old women sprang to life, regaining their lost youthfulness composure at the mere sound of bottle dance music.  It was indeed a spectacle to behold.

Was I seeing what I was seeing? Are these the same old women I had beheld barely supporting themselves only a few moments ago?  But there they were. Yes!  They were dancing to the music, moving in rhythmic fashion, in tune with the music, shaking it this way and that way, responding to the commands: “move to the right, move to the left, clap your hands, shake your waist, swing your partner, hold tight, let loose,” as if they had choreographed for weeks in preparation for this performance.   In the commotion of enjoyment that gripped the dancers, one could hardly distinguish the young from the old.  The gyration of waists, a hallmark of African dance, were performed with equal zeal and facility by the young and old alike.

It was amazing that the mere sound of music could strengthen the failing limbs of the old.  Also amazing was the fact that the dance was atypical of this region of Cameroon.  The gracefulness with which the villagers executed bottle dance suggested that the dance was foreign, as the dances traditional to this region involve jumping up and down much like an acrobat, and not the slide and glide….

SRC: Anonymous Online - Modification TTS

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 22:53
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