Nimely Pan African Dance Company
DANCE ORIGIN: Liberia
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER: Nimely Napla
BUSINESS MANAGER: Dedeh La Foucade
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2011
Nimely Pan African Dance Company was established in Minnesota in 1994, and is now based in Oakland. It is a non-profit community-based company focusing on the positive attributes of youth through discipline, study of cultural heritage, performing arts, song, dance, drumming, and building self esteem; celebrating the life, youth, craft, and wisdom of West Africa. The company’s programs provide young men and women with a strong foundation of support and guidance to realize their truest potential and achieve their goals in life.
TITLE: Breaking of the Poro Bush (Male Rights of Passage Graduation Ceremony)
DANCERS: Jamila Booker, Stefon Dent, Gamalieh Drake, Orion Drake, Fikpe Flomo, Nanfo Heybrun, Amani Johnson, Darian La Foucade, Dedeh La Foucade, Israel La Foucade, Sekou Ndiaye, Keaynun Polee, Shadrach Polee, Nicolas Smith, Terrance Smith, Stephanie Wilson, Patrick S. Yeanay
Benjamin Castro (djembe), Zinnah Cooper (vocals/saa-saa), Blessed Drake (vocals), Kenneth Kirkwood (djembe), Mau Kirkwood (djun djun), Mareshah Moss (vocals), Nimely Napla (djembe), Benjamin Roberts (djun djun), Hannah Smith (vocals), Richmond Wiggins (djembe)
Breaking of the Poro Bush is a dance representing a rite of passage for young men of the Vai, Gola, and Mende ethnic groups. It comes from Grand Cape Mount County, a remote region in Liberia’s northeast mountains. The Poro is a secret male society that initiates and cares for its members. Between the ages of four and eleven, boys are taken for seven years to a secluded school in the bush: here they learn to survive as men with strength, endurance, and pride. Their graduation ceremony is blessed by spirits who dance to protect the boys: full-body “masks,” dancers who literally embody divine spirits of the African bush and of the community. The ceremony begins early in the morning, with the Da Zoe (spirits of the earth) giving birth to the children, sending them home to their parents. At noon the boys return, to dance what they have learned: how to give respect, make rope, cook, hunt, and fish. The tradition is as old as people can remember, passed down from generation to generation through a line of teachers/patriarchs. The secret black mask, Zoe Gba, has never performed on stage before, and it appears today with special permission granted from Poro and Sande societies.
The Liberian costumes and masks are handmade with raffia skirts, yarn net shirts, and Kente cloth pants. Vibrant colors and gold represent the rich colors of West Africa. In close connection with the dancers, percussionists play a talking drum, djembe, djun djun, klen, and kpaneglah log drum. A gourd laced with beads (saa-saa) makes rhythmic rattling sounds. The songs are: “We Are African”—a song that explains Africans are Africans, whether or not they are born on the continent of Africa; “Praises to Liberia”; and “Oh Mama”—a graduation song that gives thanks to Mother Earth.
This choreography is from the Boimah Gibla of the Liberian National Culture Troupe (1965): it was re-choreographed by Nimely Napla, former director of The Liberian National Dance Company.
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