Why Malinke women of Guinea perform the popular Moribayassa praise dance in ragged clothes

Why Malinke women of Guinea perform the popular Moribayassa praise dance in ragged clothes

In Africa, dancing is an art, ritual, or a way to induce a particular outcome. Sometimes, dancing is just for social recreation, prayer, and devotion. At other times, it has no clear indication of a particular purpose other than entertainment.

African dances embody the concept of polyrhythm, the simultaneous combination of contrasting rhythms in a musical composition. The entire body moves to the rhythm of the music.

Most dances are unisex but there are a few like the Moribayassa that are danced exclusively by women even to this day. Its roots can be traced to the Malinke people of Guinea and other West African countries like Mali.

The origin of the dance is not known but some scholars trace it to the earliest African civilization. Usually, Moribayassa is performed by women who have survived great adversities such as prolonged infertility or a serious ailment to thank their god, Moriba Yassa. A woman promises to thank god with the dance if her prayers are answered.

To show great excitement when the requests in the prayers have been answered, the woman then ‘goes crazy’ and bursts into a frantic dance in an overly excited manner. She dresses in worn-out clothing from head to toe, sometimes tying strange things like bells and baskets to her feet, with messy hair or headgear tied haphazardly.

Djembe drummers beat the drums which symbolize life and a heartbeat around the town, starting from the Moribayassa or mango tree and ending at another mango tree while the woman dances along.

She is accompanied by her fellow women who help her sing and dance the Moribayassa, moving their hips from side to side while stamping their feet. The dance movements are mostly done with the lower body with the woman sometimes dancing on bended knees.

Moribayassa is so significant that a woman can dance it once in her lifetime. While parading the town with the ensemble, the woman stops at one of the trees and changes her clothes. She symbolically removes all the worn-out clothes and buries them in a special spot to mean her worries are no longer a part of her.

With time, the Moribayassa has come to be known as a joyous dance performed at festivals and other celebrations in some parts of the continent. At other places, it still remains solely for those women who have overcome trying times, like miscarriage, fertility, grief, healing, and other catastrophes.  

The dance is an embodiment of old African rhythms, music, and dance and a testament to the rich African culture and the preservation of traditions.

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