Anthropology: Ugandan Dance Culture and its Role in African Society

Dance Culture in Uganda

Dance is an intrinsic part of African Culture. It’s something that speaks to and resonates with Africans all around the world. It’s something that brings people together in celebration; it’s something that sparks joy and creativity in our hearts. Interestingly enough, dance and or dance culture has a longstanding place within African history and is at the core of Africa’s cultural identity. In order to examine this prospect further, let us analyze the importance and significance of dance within the context of Ugandan culture as a case study.  This, in turn, will help us determine the cultural and anthropological weight that dance holds within the context of African culture.  

Group of women dancing in the Ugandan wilderness as part of Ugandan Dance Culture.


The dance form titled “Ekizino” is a traditional Ugandan dance and in Ugandan culture it is often used in social ceremonies and occasions. For example, “Ekizino” would be performed during times of harvest insofar as the community would perform this dance in celebration of a successful harvest. It was customary that the host would prepare a local brew and invite close friends and family into his home, and after one had eaten and drank to their hearts’ content, the community would gather around, at which point the “Ekizino” would commence.

In a similar vein, “Ekizino” was also often performed in order to celebrate a successful hunt. This was often the case as Kigezi (district in Southwest Uganda) was a very bushy land which was quite conducive to hunting, so this was a common occurrence in Kigezi culture. Moreover, dancing with a great deal of energy and vigor was key in this dance form. If you did not live up to this standard while performing “Ekizino”, you are not recognized by the community as a true “Munyakigezi” (person from “Kigezi” district).

Group of Ugandan men jumping up and down in excitement, as the crowd watches. As part of Ugandan Dance Culture.

“Nankasa, Baakisiimba, Muwogola”

This unique dance form is a traditional folk dance whose roots originate from the Buganda Kingdom (kingdom of the “Buganda” people of Central Uganda). The origin story of this intricate dance form is actually quite a humorous one. It was actually created as a result of a Bugandan “Kabak” (leader) having a bit too much of the local alcohol. As such, in his inebriated state, he danced around in pure ecstasy, prompting his audience to join him in celebration. Since then, the dance has gained considerable cultural significance and is regarded as a celebratory folk dance that is near and dear to Ugandan culture.

Group of Ugandan women spinning to and fro as part of a dance routine. As part of Ugandan Dance Culture.

The Dance Forms of the “Acholi” People

The “Acholi” people of Northern Uganda truly were a vibrant bunch. So much so that they actually had a wide variety of dance forms, all of which were integral to the culture and traditions of the “Acholi” people. For example, the “Acholi” people had 8 different dances, which were performed at different times as each specific dance form had a specific occasion and reason for which it was practiced.

For example, the “Larakaraka” dance of the “Acholi” was a courtship dance of sorts. Previously to the colonization of “Acholi” young men of the community were given the opportunity to strut their stuff, as it were, and showcase their dance skills in the hopes of gaining a hand in marriage. This dance form was performed routinely at weddings. The men dawned rooster feathers on their heads and carried calabashes, which they would shake in a rhythmic fashion. The women, on the other hand, would move their hips constantly in order to showcase their femininity.

The Acholi people performing the Larakaraka dance. As part of Ugandan Dance Culture.

Another example of the myriad dances that the “Acholi” of Northern Uganda practiced was the “Otole” dance. This dance form is a war dance among the “Acholi”. It groomed the young boys of the tribe into men. The men wore cock feathers on their heads and also used shields and spears in order to simulate an actual battle scenario through their dance routine. This unique dance form taught the young men about responsibility. It educated them on the important role they were to play in the future as protectors and guardians of their territories.

Performance of the Otole dance, native to the Acholi people in Uganda.
As part of Ugandan Dance Culture.

“Agwara” Dance

Another interesting dance form that speaks volumes about Ugandan culture and heritage is the “Agwara” dance inherent to the Lugbara people of Northern Uganda. It’s named after the instrument called the “Agwara” (trumpet/horn). Its rhythm and sound ensured the successful execution of the entire dance routine.

This Ugandan dance form, in particular, is a celebratory one. The movements of the dance routine are meant to mimic the act of hunting, specifically the moment when the hunters gradually sneak up on the animals and kill them. As such, this dance form served a dual purpose. Not only was it meant to prepare the young hunters of the tribe for the hunts to come, it was also used to celebrate a successful hunt.

“Runyege Batooro”

The Batooro people residing in the Kasese and Kabarole districts created this unique Ugandan Dance form. The Batooro are primarily an agricultural society alternating between arable (plants) and pastoral (livestock) agricultural practices.

The dance per se is performed with the aid of various instruments such as; the Embuutu (big drum), Emgalabbi (long drum), Akasekendde (shaker) and finally the Runyege (which is tied around the legs). The routine itself is done with a great deal of energy as well as a great degree of skill. One of the dances’ main purposes is for the male performers to impress the on-looking females in the audience. During the routine, the male suitor is often joined by his family and friends in order to show off his strong familial ties. This gives the woman an inkling of the strong and tight-knit community that she would be a part of if she were to go ahead with the marriage.

Group of Ugandan men and women performing the Runyege Batooro dance.

Ekitaguriro Dance

Performed by the Banyankore people of Western Uganda, this unique dance form originated from the Ankole dynasty. This dance form in particular cemented its place in Ankole culture when the Ankole dynasty itself began assimilating smaller territories into their own kingdom (like the Sheema and Buhweju, for example).

The routine involves both men and women, and its primary function is to tell stories and tales from the past and also to pass on important cultural information to the younger generations. In addition, similar to the dance forms we discussed previously, “Ekitaguriro” is also used to celebrate various milestones in communal life, i.e. birth, marriage and a successful harvest.

In terms of the routine itself, the men move back and forth from one leg to another, mimicking the manner in which cows walked. The women, on the other hand, would stretch their hands high above their heads, which is symbolic of the long horned cattle. They would also harmoniously move from side to side in tandem.

Furthermore, during the routine, the performers wore traditional Banyankore attire that was known as “Bitambi”. The “Bitambi” is a cloth of sorts, which was tied around the dancers’ waists along with another cloth which was tied around the shoulders. Last but not least, the entire outfit was enhanced by the presence of opulent African jewellery, which really served to elevate the entire outfit.

Performance of the Ekitaguriro dance.

Mwanga Dance

Unlike a courtship or agricultural dance, the Mwanga dance is a sort of initiation dance. It’s meant to signify a young boy’s transition towards becoming a man. In Ugandan culture, circumcision is meant to signify this transition to manhood and is a focal point of this dance form.

In terms of the routine itself, small chiming bells are attached to the performer and the routine is accompanied by the harmonious sounds of fiddles and flutes. The melodious blend of these sounds helps provide the perfect backdrop for this incredible dance routine. The performer or participant is escorted around the entire village before he reaches the penultimate event of the ceremony. Moreover, while the participant is paraded around the village, he is meant to exude signs of bravery and courage and is meant to show no weakness whatsoever in order to signify this transition from boy to man.

Unlike the other dance forms mentioned in earlier parts of the article, this is one of the few dance forms that requires only one participant rather than a group or cohort of performers. This is quite an interesting prospect as, for one, it changes the way the dance routine is perceived by the audience, as the entirety of their focus is on one man rather than a group, making the performance as a whole more impactful and thrilling. But more than that, it is emblematic of how, in African society, people wouldn’t simply break out a dance routine whenever the mood struck. The act of dancing was auspicious and was carefully curated according to the cultural event or milestone that it was meant to symbolise, like the Akogo dance.

Performance of the Mwanga dance.

Akogo Dance

The “Akogo” dance native to the Iteso people of Eastern Uganda is another example of one of the myriad dance forms that are part and parcel of Ugandan culture. This dance form, in particular, is a courtship dance, and is performed with the aid of a thumb piano (akogo) and the sounds of a small drum and flutes, which help create a soft and mellow sound that is very easy on the ear.

The routine is performed by both men and women, and its main goal is for the performers to showcase their stamina by forcefully thumping on one’s foot. In addition to this, men are also meant to gradually move towards the woman of their choice in order to display their interest in them.

Thumb piano, used as instrument in Akogo dance.
Group of men and women performing the Akogo dance.

Edonga Dance

This unique dance form is native to the Karamajong people, who are situated in the Kotido and Moroto districts of North Eastern Uganda. The Kamarajong people are primarily an agricultural society that alternates between traditional arable and pastoral farming practices.

With the performance itself, the Edonga Dance requires the performers to jump up and down ecstatically to signify their deep love and appreciation for their country and their culture. Yet another pertinent example of how dance was a pivotal part of African culture and was a point of cultural pride amongst not only Ugandans but Africans as a whole.

Performance of the Edonga dance.

Traditional Ugandan Dance Attire

Like most African societies, Ugandan communities often dawned vibrant and colorful costumes, which were aimed at elevating the entire dance routine. Their attire often represented pivotal aspects of communal life, i.e. wearing rooster feathers on the top of their heads to signify various agricultural practices, the use of spears and shields as props to edify the younger members of the tribe on how to carry out a successful hunt.

Ugandan dancers also dawned opulent jewellery in tandem with their dance costumes, making the entire experience more eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing.

Group of men dancing with vibrant rooster feathers.
Ugandan woman dancing with a colourful skirt.

The Role of Dance in African Societies

In order to understand the cultural importance of dance in Uganda, one must attempt to holistically analyze the role that dance played in African society. From a cultural standpoint, within native African dance traditions, each specific dance ritual has a specified purpose and is performed with the idea of getting a message across to the audience. Certain dances are indicative of some of the social and communal values of African society. For example, the “Ekizino” dance, created by the Bakiga tribe, signifies courtship and is as such used in numerous courtship rituals and ceremonies. Therefore, it is clear from an anthropological and cultural standpoint that dance was often used as a social tool of sorts through which African societies could express various aspects of their communal life as well as celebrate ancient African traditions (fertility, courtship etc) through ceremony.

Group of Ugandan men and women performing a traditional Ugandan dance.

Anthropological Significance of Dance in African Culture

In summation, the role of dance not only in Ugandan culture but in African culture as a whole cannot be understated. Dance was used as a form of expression, displaying the creative ingenuity of African people. Moreover, dance was a way of life, it also had an educational use in terms of how the certain dance routines were meant to edify members of the community on the various aspects of communal life, i.e. hunting, courtship as well as the celebration of a good harvest. In essence, it is quite surreal how African communities were able to say so much by simply using their bodies rather than their words, as such dance is a cultural trinket that not only Ugandan communities but African communities as a whole should be immensely proud of.

Group of young Ugandan men and women performing a traditional Ugandan dance.

References (Traditional Dances of Uganda)



7 thoughts on “Anthropology: Ugandan Dance Culture and its Role in African Society

    Very well articulated and extensive research done by you…….made for an extremely interesting read and looking forward to many blogs written by you!! Well done Azaan!!

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