Among the many cultural dances of the Acholi people, who live in the northern region of Uganda, the Bwola dance is known as a royal dance performed before the chiefs.
Unlike many tribes in Uganda that were ruled by kings and still maintain their kingdoms, the Acholi people were governed or ruled by chiefs in chiefdoms. Every chief among the Acholi represents a clan. Just like all tribes and people in Uganda, the Acholi people have a very rich culture which they have managed to preserve to date. Among the preserved cultures are the dances of which the bwola dance, which is a royal dance, is one.
This dance was preserved for the entertaining of traditional chiefs during their installations and other functions among the Acholi people at the palace. The dancers wear traditional warrior costumes while performing the dance, they wear them to depict the strength of their culture.
The bwola dance was originally a dance performed for the royals. Today, the dance is performed for other dignitaries like political leaders, religious leaders and elders as a sign of respect, honour and welcome at various functions.
This dance is also used at functions such as wedding parties, funerals of the royals and other respected persons like politicians, clan elders, at coronations and other important functions. It is performed to honour the function itself and its important participants. At funerals, before burying the deceased who may be a chief, king, or others they consider to be important persons, the dance is also performed.
The dance can also be used as a welcome dance at the different functions. The dancers of the bwola lead a procession while dancing and indicating the way to usher in the invited guests as they take their seats. After the guests take their seats, the dancers continue dancing with their dancing to entertain the rest of the guests.
When an elder or clan elder dies in a home, the grieving family always want to send off their deceased with respect so they will opt for the bwola dance as a sign of the last respects accorded to the deceased. The dancers lead the body of the deceased in a procession to his final resting place.
This dance is performed by both men and women. The men performing this dance carry small drums in their left hands while holding small sticks they use the beat the drums to produce a very beautiful acoustic sound that the women shake their long necks and chests to, while moving forward and backwards. The men too will perform foot-work while beating their small drums, and dancing to the beautiful sounds coming from them.
The men wear ostrich feathers which are attached on a ring like item on their heads to look like crowns and leopard skins or skin from any other animal on their backs and waists – some of the feathers are made into a costume and worn on the the men’s arms also.
The women on the other hand will wear beads round their waists, and fold sheets into small pleats which they also tie around their waists and a blouse or sometimes only a bra that will cover the bust only leaving their waists open.
During the bwola dance, a big drum literally known as min bul, is beaten to produce a very beautiful sound, while a medium size drum is also used to produce its own beautiful sound, along with the tiny drums that the men hold in their left hand to make the dance more colorful.
They call it a royal dance because it is one of the graceful dances that the Acholi people perform because royals are believed to be graceful in everything they do. All songs sung during this dance are songs of respect or praise for their leaders or elders.
Unlike the other dances performed in Acholi, the bwola dance has no particular time or season; it can be performed at any time as long as the royals are visiting their subjects or when death occurs or at funeral homes. Today the dance is also considered and used for other entertainments.
– Irene Lamunu