KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Genesis of traditional dance attire

Every dance has its cultural origins and this can be expressed through moves, but also apparels. As a dancer, you need apparels which suit your dance behaviour and the message you want to put across. And this is evident with every dance troupe in Rwanda.

Every dance has its cultural origins and this can be expressed through moves, but also apparels. As a dancer, you need apparels which suit your dance behaviour and the message you want to put across. And this is evident with every dance troupe in Rwanda.

Intore’s dress code

The Rwandan traditional dance clothing was originally made from hides and barkcloth. The male dancers (popularly known as Intore), who were the only officially recognised dancers in the society then, wore something like a skirt which they wrapped around the waist; it also covered the thighs. Notably, these costumes were not made from every material that one came across. According to Phiona Mukankusi, a dancer, the most preferred skins (attire) for Intore were for animals that belonged to the Felidae family which includes cats, cheetahs, lions, tigers and leopards among others the most preferred costumes for Intore.

She explains that the Feladie family comprises animals that are strong, and others that are peaceful; traits which our forefathers espoused as well. She says it was generally believed that the strong animals protected them from their enemies both at the frontline and while dancing. The peaceful animals also symbolised the peaceful nature of Rwandans (the Intore).

Thomas Bazatsinda, a consultant in culture and performing arts, says the costumes, which were only worn by Intore, were ceremonial and would be immediately kept after a performance. The tradition of wearing skins, however, was soon to die with the end of colonialism. Bazatsinda says when colonialism collapsed, international laws were passed to protect wildlife hence making it illegal to kill animals for their skins.

Head gear

Prudence Biraguma, who is in charge of music, dance, cinema and theatre at the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, says the dancers also used to wear a head gear (known as Umugara in Kinyarwanda ) that was made out of banana leaves — a symbol of loyalty to the king. This costume was designed in relation to the king’s crown. He adds that since the Intore were specifically chosen by the king and his most trusted chiefs in the kingdom, the head gear was given to them as a sign of trust by the king.

Bow and shield

While dancing, the Intore also hold a bow and shield. Traditionally, soldiers used a bow to attack the enemy and a shield to protect themselves. And because Intore (who were also soldiers) were normally called up during battle, there was no better way of training than dancing with the bow and shield in hand. In other words, as the Intore entertained the congregation, they, at the same time, were training for battles. Today, however, dancers use a spear and shield.

Female dancers’ dresscode

In the past, a woman never took centre stage. She was restricted to the kitchen and was charged with raising the children. However, sometimes they would also dance for guests but since they played the least role at the centre stage, they were never given a privillege of having a dancing costume and so while performing, they would look for any fine attire in which they danced.

Bazatsinda says when colonialists introduced cloth fabrics, the female dancers quickly adopted Umushanana and it became their standard attire. To date, female dancers don mishanana while performing

 

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