Baamaaya, meaning “The river (valley) is wet”, is the most popular social music and dance (recreational dance-drumming) among the inhabitants of Dagbon` of Northern Ghana. The history of this classic dance which started as a religious musical performance underscores the philosophy and culture of the Dagbamba/Dagomba towards women. Baamaaya now functions during funerals, festivals, and national day celebrations. From a processional dance-drumming that started slow and changed to fast tempo, Baamaaya has developed into a ceremony with at least nine distinct phases including Baamaaya Sochendi,, Sikolo, Kondoliya, Dakolikutooko, Abalimbee and others. Each of the phases has unique set of dance routines, movements and choreography. Instruments used include Gungon (a) master drum (s) – double headed cylindrical drum), Lunna (si), supporting drum(s) – hourglass shaped drums, Siyalim- container rattles and Wia- notched flute.
The Northern Region has a lot to offer in terms of tourism. Apart from the region’s vast array of attractions, the region can jealously boast many traditional dances, including “Bamaya ”.
Bamaya is one of the popular and most commonly performed dance during public events and functions in the Northern Region.
‘Bamaya’ is a Dagbani word which literally means ‘’the river or valley is wet’’. This dance is mostly done by men who are dressed in feminine outfits.
The Bamaya ensemble comprises a lead dancer, other dancers and drummers who also double as chorus singers and sing along with the dancers.
The movements in the dance are very symbolic in meaning. The dancers move their feet very swiftly and twist their waist many times as they dance round the drummers.
Their dancers’ waists and chins are tied with beads and cymbal bells that make noises as they shake and thump their feet while dancing.
Bamaya is performed with a chorus song supported with drums and flutes.
The sound of the drums and flutes dictate the dance movement. The leader picks and communicates the movement to the rest of the dancers.
Whether to dance slowly or swiftly depends on the rhythm of the drums and flutes.
When the dancers are about to leave the stage, each of them displays his own skills.
The story behind Bamaya is that the dance was first performed in the early 19th Century to mark an end to a protracted drought that hit most parts of the Dagbon states in the Northern Region.
Narrating the etymology of the dance to the Daily Graphic, the Northern Regional Administrator of the Centre for National Culture (CNC), Mr Abubakari Iddrisu Saeed, said oral tradition had it that there was a long spell of drought during which many animals and plants died.
He said the chief and his elders consulted an oracle located in a valley to inquire about what to do to bring rain.
Mr Saeed said the people believed that it was the gods who had held the rains from falling.
According to him, the oracle instructed them (chief and his elders) that for the drought to end, the men had to appease the gods of the land by wearing women’s apparel.
“The men had to dress like women to give thanks to the gods because it was believed that the prayers of women usually got a quicker response than those of men,” he stated.
Mr Saeed further said the gods also instructed them to sacrifice some animals in addition to the prescribed dress code.
Like Tɔra and Takai, Bamaaya has several segments, each with its own name, musical phrases, and dance movements. Bamaaya is not linked with the chiefs of Dagbon,
It started in a village named Zheng within the chieftaincy area of Nantoŋ, there was a time when the village was hit by drought and hunger when one of the only tubaani (Bambara beans, similar to chick peas) was the only foodstuffs that can be grown. Children, satisfied with full bellies after their evening meal, would jape about the compound with cornhusks full in their waistbands saying, “Tubaan’ kpinli,” meaning “bowl of tubaani beans.” For numerous days the grown-ups liked the children’s play up until one day an adult inquired them, “What are you doing?” The children did not response because the African politeness of the era spoke that children sometimes are not supposed to talk straight to adults. A wise elder who was old enough to be a grandfather started a joking relationship with the children and talked to them in secret. The children enlightened them that because their mothers had fed them nicely, their bellies were full so they felt happy.
Drummers were invited to play for the kids. This was the beginning of Mazhe whose gung-gong theme goes with the words Tubaan’ kpele (vocals: kaka kaki). The dance movement was modified from a dance called Jera. Instead of Jera’s belt of cowry shells, women used shells, beads and cotton to make colorful belts of pom-poms that drew attention to the dancersshimmying midsections.
Later, when rain had fallen and crops were harvested, creative adults adapted the children’s game into a full-fledged dance called Bamaaya. Among the lunga’s phrases is one that, “Rain has fallen. The ground has become soft.” [Lo means a swampy area, for example, a field where rice is farmed.] Bamaaya expressed the farmers’ happiness at a good harvest. The dance became popular among young men who enjoyed doing it on moonlight nights.
As year went by, dancers apparently began wearing increasingly outlandish costumes to amuse themselves and their audiences. Strikingly in the gender-specialized Afro-Islamic culture of the Dagomba, the Bamaaya costume suggests male cross-dressing. Some Dagombas teach that the Bamaaya costume stems from unethical conduct of men toward women. In this account, in order for the drought to end, men had to appease land gods by wearing women’s clothes. Alhaji reports that his teachers never mentioned this story and that he did not hear it during his youth when he enjoyed dancing Bamaaya. He doubts its credibility. Other Dagomba teachers suggest that Bamaaya frenetic motions derive from waving off mosquitoes by shaking hips and arms. This makes sense to me, given the story of origin, but Alhaji tends to downplay its significance.
In an arrangement taught by Alhaji, dancers come to the stage and form a circle in time to the relatively slow-paced music of Naa Daa. After moving through the more up-tempo sections, dancers go off stage with a return to the music of Bamaaya. In Bamaaya, Mazhe and Nyagboli dancers display their own creativity and style; they all utilize the same movement vocabulary but everyone is “doing their own thing,” so to speak. Dakɔli Kutoko is unique: dancers bump hips against their neighbors on the circle. This section pokes fun at unmarried males saying, “Bachelors cannot farm.” The message is that a farmer needs the manual labor of a big family in order to produce enough food to run a household.
The instrumentation in Bamaaya is unique among these materials: there is no part for answer lunga. Nyagboli in Bamaaya is slightly different from the way it is played in Tɔra and Takai.