World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Nimely Pan African Dance Company

GENRE: Folkloric
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2011

Nimely Pan African Dance Company (NPADC) was established in Minnesota in 1994, by Artistic Director/ Choreographer Nimely Napla, who is from Liberia. The company is now based in Oakland. NPADC is a nonprofit 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 Africa. The programs of NPADC 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: Dai Zoe Bush (The Breaking of the Poro & Sande Bush)
DANCERS: Daje Brown, Fatu Zoe Browne, Myown Farmer, Sanjanette Fowler, Darian La Foucade, Dedeh La Foucade, Brianna Hamilton, Tamika Harris, Kimberly Harvey-Scott, Nanfoe Heybrun, Kyani Ison, Nimely Napla, Sekou Ndiaye, Yonis Pratt Alseny Soumah, Fadima Traore, Shaniya Wright
MUSICIANS: Mohamed Lamine Bangoura (djembe), Orion Drake (djun djun), Kenneth Kirkwood (djembe), Mohamed Kouyate (balafon), Benjamin Roberts (djembe), Richmond Wiggins (djembe)

Dai Zoe Bush—The Breaking of the Poro & Sande Bush—presents ceremonial dance rhythms of Vai and Gola people from Liberia's remote Grand Cape Mount County. In a theatrical representation of ceremony, elaborate full-body masks embody divine spirits, appearing in community to guide the opening of the bush school.

Vai and Gola communities belong to West African societies that initiate and care for their members—Poro for males, and Sande for female. Their bush schools provide direction, teaching appropriate conduct, the value of hard work, community relations, and reverence for ancestors. Masks appear in ceremonies and important social occasions: they are vehicles for bush spirits to make themselves known. Finely-carved wooden helmets, fiber symbolizing forest, and cloth symbolizing civilized society completely hide the dancer's body, mediating between two worlds. Each mask has a personality and role: some to inform ritual and ceremony; some to play jokes or make trouble; some to act as graceful, gentle intermediaries between children in the bush school and their mothers. Priests called zoes decide when and where they appear, and tend the relationship with the spiritual forces that inhabit them.

The origin of the dance-theater Dai Zoe Bush is unknown, as the secret societies have no written history. This representation evokes the traditional, mystical appearances of the Yan, Glagbah, and Gbatu helmet masks. There is a special appearance by the finely-carved Zoebah mask, one of the few female masks, from the Sande Bush: the spirit of self-confidence, poise, beauty, fertility, and womanhood. Representing these masks requires special permission and is considered a sacred privilege.

The kingi log-drum communicates directly with the dancers, calling the masks with special rhythms, signaling movement, and emphasizing gestures. The kingi language must be learned in bush school. The drummers also play the djembe hand drum made from a hollowed tree trunk; and the saa saa, or seeded gourd.


NimelyTITLE: Breaking of the Poro Bush (Male Rights of Passage Graduation Ceremony)
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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