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Transforming Bodies: Movement and Agency in West Africa
HIST 380
Spring 2025
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: DANC 380

Dancers in West Africa embody human agency and transform historical worlds. As one elder farmer proclaimed: "Our ciwara have power[!]" Masked ciwara dancers on the Mande Pleateau call upon the collective labor of farmers to produce rural life, and more recently, have responded to transformations of the agricultural landscape. They emphasize the power of the human body over agricultural machines. Elsewhere in West Africa, the Atsiagbekor dance energized and celebrated Ewe male soldiers by acting out scenes from the battlefield. The dance movements were also secret codes used during battle to give instructions. How and when to fight, defend, or retreat depended on this embodied communication. The accompanying loud drum music served an added purpose of instilling fear in enemy ranks because it created the impression of a mighty army on the march. Still performed, the dance now symbolizes Ghanaian cultural heritage and helps to shape local historical memory.

In this course we will examine the body as an active agent in West African social and political life. We will study the historical and contemporary meanings of laboring bodies through dance and everyday movement, such as women's pounding of fufu or stirring of toh daily meals. We will also reflect on the ritual enactment of enslavement or colonial rule as a means to subvert old power structures. The body in these cases was a tool for resistance. We will also unpack multiple interpretations for specific women's embodied protests such as "sitting on a man." Collective body movement was powerful, but individual bodies might also enact healing or express religious devotion. Spirit possession, for example, marked the body as a site for human interaction with the supernatural. In this and other examples, the body is an archive in motion and subject to social renewal. By taking the body and movement as a lens, we will explore shifting histories of labor, performance, gender, politics, aesthetics, and religion from the pre-colonial era to the contemporary moment. We will also learn new ways to creatively move and narrate the African past and present.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA HIST, SBS HIST
Course Format: StudioGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (AFST-MN)(DANC-MN)(DANC)(HIST-MN)(HIST)
Past Enrollment Probability: 90% or above

Last Updated on JUL-14-2024
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