The Symbolic Meaning of Liberian Dance Dramas


Nowadays, many Liberians witness cultural dance dramas just for entertainment. However, these dances have symbolic meanings that are meant to maintain the nation’s cultural heritage, promote its folklore, foster unity, and much more.

These dances were choreographed to educate Liberians on diverse issues, including promoting cultural values, norms and moralities, as well as educating them that regardless of any situation, unity is sacrosanct.

To the trained eye, the dance dramas, usually performed in traditional acrobatic dance and other styles, relay messages for one to ponder at home.

Consider the meaning of the following traditional dances to drive the message home:
1. “The Moonlight Dance’’ – commonly performed during the celebration of a great or successful harvest, signals the idea that Liberians have one thing in common, their cultural heritage, and that each person should be treated as a brother or sister.
2. The ‘’Leopard Dance’’ – the dance signifies a greedy and brutal chief, who do not take advice from the people he governs.

As the dance drama unfolds, energetic young warriors are then sent to kill the leopard that was terrorizing the villagers; right after it was killed, each person cuts a piece as evidence that he was the one that killed the leopard.

After they retuned, the king decided to reward the rightful person that killed the leopard by giving him his daughter’s hand in marriage. He was, however, unable to reward any of the warriors as each has a part of the leopard.

After a while, the king called traditional medicine men who used sassywood to find the real person that killed the leopard. As they drink the sassywood, they all fall dead for lying, except for a single person.

The theme behind the dance drama is that Liberia’s traditional practices have for centuries been able to govern its people, maintaining peace and finding justice.

3. The “Harvest Dance” – is usually done through dancing and singing at the different agricultural sites where men and women are seen clearing fields, cutting down trees, burning, brush and planting crops.

This is followed by the period of chasing after birds and other animals, and then the harvest. The idea of this dance is to promote agriculture and the policy that agriculture is the key to Liberia being food sufficient.

We will look at other dances in subsequent editions.


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