Dance culture and development in Nigeria: A study of gese... Yorubas Mr. Jeleel Olasunkanmi Ojuade (Nigeria)

Dance culture and development in Nigeria: A study of gese dance of the
Mr. Jeleel Olasunkanmi Ojuade (Nigeria)
Gese is an ethnic Music/Dance that has its source from the religious/ritual and social activities of
the people in a particular environment. It is an entertainment Music (the hour – glass) and Dance
that originated from the Yoruba-land of Western Nigeria. it has a complex and multi-varying
features as played on the drums and realized aesthetically in its dance movement. The
performance of which can better be appreciated when interpreted by expert dancer(s) within its
cultural context.
African entertainment performances especially ‘Gese dance’ have their unique traditional roots,
practices, norms, belief systems and developments. Thus, it reflects the ways of life of the people
from one generation to the other. From that perspective, Gese dance has the potentials for
development. It can attain the status of forming a greater part of the wholistic expression of life,
which can be shared by all.
Due to the death of literature on Music and Dance, this study aims at using the sociological
methods to analyze the music and dance thereof. It will state clearly what it used to be; its
present state and what it should be. The research concludes that since people of other continents
can learn music and dance, it should not be practiced exclusively by the Yorubas of Western
Nigeria but be exposed for the functional use of the global communities.
In African societies, participation in music/dance may be a voluntary activity or an obligation by
one’s membership in a social group (Nketia 1975: 35). Public performances therefore, is
presumed on social occasions. This is majorly on occasions where members of a group or a
community assemble for the enjoyment of leisure, for recreational activities, or for a
performance of a rite, ceremony, festival or any kind of collective activity.
Therefore in this paper, attempt shall be made to highlight Gese as a popular and a medium that
is widely applicable for religious/ritual and social activities by the people. The major aim of this
paper is to expose and put Gese dance within the reach of every enthusiast and equally the global
community by describing and analyzing its development into fame.
We shall not engage in documenting Yoruba history. Rather, we intend to focus our study of the
background on the Yoruba towns of Okeigbo and Ifetedo, which are directly involved in this
Nigeria is a country that lies between latitudes 40 N and 140 N. It is bounded in the North by the
Sahara Desert and in the South by the Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean (Obaro
1980: 7). Historically, the country has featured many waves of human movements/developments
from across the Sahara. It brought about migrations on which there have been displacement and
intermingling of the people. Thus, the Yorubas who are the focus of our researched work, were
originally a grassland people living in mud houses with grass roofs, had to adopt themselves to a
forest environment by cultivating root crops in the forest belt and building mud houses with mat
The bulk of the Yoruba people are today found in the South Western part of Nigeria, where they
form one of the leading ethnic groups out of over 300 in Nigeria. Specifically, they occupy the
whole of Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Lagos and substantial part of Kwara and Kogi States in
North Central (Ojuade 1997: 13). In addition to linguistic homogeneity, the Yoruba share
common traditions and trace descent from a common ancestor called Oduduwa, who is believed
to have established the Ife dynasty. It is evident that the Yoruba were never under a common
government. Rather, it consisted of several powerful monarchical strongholds such as Ife, Oyo,
Egba, Ondo and Ijebus.
Within these sub ethnic strongholds, there was competition among the kingdoms, sometimes
over land and usually rivalry for precedence or dominance, sometimes to the point of skirmishes
or war (Ajayi and Akintoye 1980: 280). Our focus of study, which is Gese dance culture and its
development is going to be looked at within the purview of Okeigbo and Ifetedo people’s
Historically, Okeigbo and Ifetedo people shares everything in common, religion, social, culture
and language, before their separations. Both oral and written documents emphasized the fact that
it was outbreak of war that led to the formation of Okeigbo town (Adesigbin and Akindoyin
2001: 4). It was revealed that during the reign of Oba Arilekolasi as the Osemawe of Ondo, some
people waged war against him. This was an attempt to remove him as the king, while the main
reason for the plot was not known.
Incidentally, it was the period when Oba Adejinle Abeweela became the Ooni of ife-town
believed to be the cradle of the Yorubas. On realizing the hotness of the war, Oba Arilekolasi,
summoned his diviner, Ajibike in order to send message to Ooni of Ife to send warriors down to
him. This was to support him and curtail the war. Ajibike was a prince of Egba who also doubles
as a diviner for Ooni Abeweela, his friend. He was residing in Osemawe’s palace in Ondo during
this incidence.
Meanwhile, Ajibike refused to leave Ondo. Instead, he sent messages to Ooni Abeweela to come
and rescue his son that was faced with war. Incidentally, he (the Ooni of Ife) received this
message at a point when Ife warriors under the leadership of Derin Ologbenla, were facing the
Ekitis. It was glaring that the remaining warriors left behind were not enough to be sent to Ondo.
He sent for Prince Derin Ologbenla, but the war did not permit sending warriors to the Oba.
After sending messages thrice without any reply, Osemawe of Ondo then sent to Sowo, who is
one of the strong warriors of Ife. Sowo took permission from his superiors and went to Ondo
with 142 warriors. On their way, the slept the night at a crossroad known as Orita Wanikin. It
was there that a diviner told them that they would record victory and might not come back to Ile
Ife because of the bounties that they would stumble into (abundance wealth). As they proceed,
they got to river Oni the second night and crawled through two trees placed side by side above
the river to cross to the other side of the river. It was this river Oni that separates the two towns
which are the focus of our discourse – Gese dance (Okeigbo and Ifetedo). On getting there, they
were driven by ants (Ijalo) and moved to the top of a bush (Oke Igbo) very close to the river. On
the third day, message was sent to Ajibike in Ondo telling him that about 142 warriors were
coming, but he was of the opinion that the number was too small to face the people. But
unfortunately, two of the Ife warriors had unknowingly cut the rope that tied the man-made
bridge over the river and was swept away by the moving river. This made it difficult to send
messages to Ile-Ife for more warriors.
So, they decided to march on to Ondo to face the evil-doers. Surprisingly, they were victorious.
After the war, messages were sent to Ile-Ife but the Oba told them to establish there. This is to
ensure safety, so that the Ondo people will not plan to come and retaliate. Therefore, the warriors
moved back to Okeigbo to settle down. After sometime, there was a disagreement on the
payment of certain levy which saw the split of the people. At the end, some decided to move
across to the other side of the river known as Ifetedo. This, literally means that “it was built on
Dance, being conceived as the oldest of all the arts. This notion was predicated on the fact that
the medium of dance is the human body. It establishes the primacy of the dance art in history and
its classification with ritual drama in most ancient cultures (Layiwola 1989: 97). It is an artistic
expression predicated on movement. Such expression involves the rhythmic movements of the
body to music. Therefore, the phenomenon of dance in Nigeria is culture bound. Looking at the
ethnic configuration of Nigeria, which is blessed with over 300 ethnic groups. Each of these
groups has several dances attached to either religious/ritual processes or serves as
Importantly too, the word development has been ably decorated with words describing its
meaning, which is to make, become larger or fuller. The idea of development hinges so much on
the manifestation of material changes and very much on the increase that is observed in the
processes of changes in some kind of materials, objects or elements (Kofoworola 1995: 62).
Owing to the above, several factors determined the earlier and faster pace of dance development
in Nigeria. Perhaps the most important of the factors was the rise right from birth to burying the
Consequently, if we follow or consider the above scholars explanation on development, that is as
a form of material changes or transformation observed in some kind of elements, objects or
matter, there is that tendencies to believe that dance culture has come of age in Nigeria. This
assertion was demonstrated at the opening ceremony of the just concluded 8th All Africa Games
held in Abuja, Nigeria. The fantastic and the kinesthetic display of dancers from various ethnic
backgrounds indicate the level of our dance development. At the earlier stage of Nigeria’s
development as a state, experts in the area of dance like Peggy Harper with the support of the
Ford Foundation came calling to see some of our traditional dances and realized their prospects,
which has culminated into several exchange dance performances among countries of the world.
Gese dance of the Yoruba is a typical example of such. It started with religious/ritual activities,
and moved on as a local performance on to competitive occasions at the state levels. On
recognizing its effectiveness, it was used on numbers of occasions at the federal level. Today, it
is very famous among our traditional and Juju musicians. Therefore, it has developed
astronomically and opens to all in performance. Thus, its movement from the earlier traditional
usage to the present contemporary applications.
The place of traditional music in Yoruba-land is so important that from the early hours of the
morning in our palaces, traditional music is heard either to entertain the ruler or herald his
visitors. Also, worshippers of traditional religion on waking up begin their affair with chanting of
praises of their Orishas; traders and farmers indulge in such for protection and luck. Equally,
children begin their daily activity with music and dance. Therefore, Gese, which is Yoruba
music, is a traditional one that could feature in all of the above.
Gese is a popular drum in Nigeria, especially among the Yorubas. It has a diversified use. It can
be used to play all the rhythms played in the worship of all Yoruba deities with special drums
used for any of the deities. Its source to fame can be traced to the towns of Okeigbo and Ifetedo
in the Southwestern part of Nigeria, specifically in Ondo and Osun state respectively.
Gese music and dance can be put up for different occasions. It can equally go for funeral
ceremonies of important dignitaries in a particular society. Also, for the coronation of a king,
title takings, house warming, opening of conferences etc., Gese is adequate and appropriate.
In 1969, Gese has its debut when at the National level; the federal government of Nigeria
organized a competition in the area of dance. This led to a veteran dancer and artiste by name
Fatai Ojuade’s search for expert dancers. He went to Okeigbo to witness the ending of the
masquerade festival for that season. After the dance, he was able to pick/select some expert
dancers. He repeated same in Ifetedo, with the addition of his children; he was able to set-up a
Gese dance group.
Subsequently in 1970, there was a competition at the local level in Ile-Ife, where the group
recorded victory. It was from this particular contest that the dance started to go places, up to the
international level. In fact, most of the performing musicians in Nigeria today have designed a
way in which at least one of the drum ensembles (Gangan) plays a lead role in their
performance(s). It can be used to singularly function in that performance idiom.
Furthermore, the group set up by Ojuade which the researcher happens to be a member, was ably
appreciated by the federal government of Nigeria. The group was invited in 1982 to take in a
dance drama titled “The Marriage of Princess Sidibe”, which Gese dance and music played lead
role. It was sent to represent the country at the XII Commonwealth Games and Warana festival
in Brisbane, Australia. Also in 1983, the same was sent to the Republic of South Korea for a
cultural exchange visit, which toured the cities of Kwangju, Pusan and Seoul.
Invariably, Gese dance and music became more popular and widespread. Interestingly too in
Nigeria, it turned out to be for all and sundry. It is easy to dance and simply to decode in
movements. This is a dance that developed from the local level, to state, to federal and
international level, spreading to other continents of the world.
Gese music comprises of Iya-Ilu, which is the mother of all the drums. It has Sawaro (metal
objects) that surrounds the surface of the round face for aesthetic purposes. It also has a leather
strap, which is used to hang the drum to the shoulder of the drummer.
There is also Gudugudu, which is the smallest of the entire ensemble. But it is the one that leads
all in performance. It dictates how the pitch and tempo of a particular performance style of
drumming should be. It also has leather strap for the drummer to hang on his neck.
Another interesting of the ensemble is the Kerikeri, which is a bit bigger than the mother drum. It
is used to support the mother drum in performance.
This is followed by the Isaaju, which resembles the mother drum, but smaller in shape.
Meanwhile, there is also the Kannango, which is the smallest of the drum ensemble that
accompanies the mother drum.
While the last in the ensemble is the Gangan, which is smaller in shape but bigger than
Kannango. It is usually played by elderly and experienced drummers. In performance, it is the
nails that are used to regulate its output and sounds. It is the drum that they use to summon the
warriors in those days. Its language is not always clear, but sounds unclearly. It doubles in role as
the mother drum. It could be seen during the performances of the Masquerades in both Okeigbo
and Ifetedo towns (see page 11 for The Drum Set).
Functionally, Gese performs series of roles. Some of which includes welcoming of visitors at the
entrance of traditional ruler’s palaces, where the drummers are found from morning till evening
on a daily basis. It could also be proverbial, singing praise of people. In addition, the drum acts
as the director of affairs in performance(s). for instance, if a dancer misses an important step, the
lead drummer corrects through this medium. Also, if there is an obstruction, he warns too.
The costume for the dance is usually Aso-Oke, while the dancers hold a horsetail. Also, dancers
put beads on their necks and wrists for aesthetics. It is danced to without shoes. This is to allow
the physical display of the dancer’s foot movements.
The Gese dance of the Yorubas examined as a study in this paper is an indication that dance
culture transcends different facets of life in Nigeria. importantly too, for the recognition of an
expert dancer in the area of Gese, such a person must be able to display his expertise and decode
the seven typologies of steps which are; Dandan rape, Gangan d’abura, Egungun Agba Atijo,
Elekoto, Alantoto, Ilu Omoge Egungun and Ara bi ti n ko. Thus, the development is a continuous
process, which should be encouraged early for the mastery of the people.
Therefore, it is a welcome development if the Government through the educational sector can
introduce learning and practice of Gese dance and music into our educational curriculum. Also,
the global community can as well use this opportunity to learn a ‘new’ form of dance that could
be useful in their daily activities such as Gese. Such could be followed up with a visit to Nigeria,
in order to see and feel the embedded aesthetics of Gese in performance.
Iya ilu
Alhaji Ojuade, Fatai Oladosu is a veteran dancer who has ploughed all his resources into the
promotion and propagation of traditional dance (Bata and Gese) in Nigeria. He was interviewed
by this researcher on “Gese Dance and its seven varieties of forms during masquerade festival”
at Okeigbo; Ondo State, Nigeria on 30th September, 2003.
Mr. Akinrinmade, Lamidi Eniola is a professional drummer who resides in Okeigbo, Ondo State.
He was interviewed by this writer on “Gese Drumming/Dancing Techniques” at Okeigbo, Ondo
State, Nigeria on Monday 28th October, 2002.
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Presented at the 20th World Congress on Dance Research
Athens, Greece, 25-29 October 2006