Mestizaje and religious celebrations in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

This week, from April 10th  to April 17th, is the celebration of the Holy Week in the Christian world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this religious festivity, as with most of the Catholic rituals celebrated in the region, must be read under the light of the historical process of colonization.

Latin America and the Caribbean is defined, in a great part, by Mestizaje. Mestizaje is a social process of encounters, beyond people’s skin color, which includes encounters and struggles involving and identity, beliefs, practices, power structures, and knowledges (See resources on mestizaje here). As a mestiza myself, I have been fascinated with noticing how religious practices and rituals contain and express very vividly the mixed nature of the region.

In fact, colonizing the spiritual beliefs of native communities was one of the most important strategies throughout the colonization of Latin America. Catholicism was carried by the colonizers as the religion of “civilization”, and only through evangelization would indigenous people overcome “savagery”. With this mindset, indigenous communities across a great portion of the continent were evangelized though a process called “reduction”. This  referred to progressively converting native peoples to Catholicism in places called “missions“, which gathered the native communities for evangelization, agricultural production, crafts and construction. Evangelization took place through preaching the bible, instruction, and also through coercion.  Natives would be forbidden to speak in their languages and their temples would be destroyed, among other practices of colonization. These missions were conducted mainly by Franciscan and Jesuit religious communities, and were particularly strong in the Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile and Argentina), Paraguay and northern Brazil. Similar missions were also established in Central and North America, up to today’s Arizona, New Mexico and Texas (More information here).  These missions grew almost like towns, and developed as agricultural and economic centers.

Left, Jesuit Missions in colonial Argentina (Image:Argentina Historica). Right, ruins of Jesuit Guaraní missions in Paraguay (Image: World Monuments Fund).

These practices extended from the early colonial times in the 1500s until the mid 1700s. The Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish empire around 1768. However, in some regions, similar practices of evangelization survived until the early 1800s (Read about the Jesuits in Latin America here. Additional resources at the library here).

As is the case with other cultures that have gone through colonization, mixed beliefs and practices that blend elements from native and colonial traditions emerged in Latin America. At a religious level, rituals vividly reveal this process of mestizaje. Academic interpretations on how and why this mixture of beliefs took place, and of how this process dialogues with particular characteristics of each community, are too varied and extended to discuss here (See some resources here). The fact is that religious traditions become adapted to the cultures where they were installed. As an act of survival and, perhaps, resistance, native communities in Latin America appropriated these rituals and maintained elements from their own tradition despite colonization.  Examples of this are the celebration of the Virgin of Candelaria. This Virgin is considered the patron saint of several towns across Latin America. In Paucartambo (in Cuzco, Peru), the Virgin of Candelaria is also known as “Mamacha Candelaria“, a term and a celebration which draws from native Andean religiosity.

Celebration of Mamacha Candelaria in Paucartambo, Peru. Image: Still from documentary “Festividad Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo” by Folclore Peruano

Through a history of colonization, appropriation and syncretism, religiosity in Latin America has historically been experienced with passion and intensity. Therefore, the celebration of the Holy Week is a major celebration across the region.

Unlike the egg hunting celebration of the United States, the holy week of the Catholic tradition is heavily charged with a spirit of penitence and renewal. This is tied to both the Roman prosecution of Jesus, and the betrayal which lead to Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. The basic structure of holy week celebration in catholic countries which were Spanish colonies usually involves processions showing Jesus and Mary’s suffering:  Starting on Palm Sunday with his entry to the city of Jerusalem where he was received as the son of God; through to Holy Friday, the passion, where he is crucified; and finally ending on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Friday, or Good Friday, is when the largest amount of processions take place, representing several stations from Jesus’ apprehension to his crucifixion. These biblical episodes are recreated as processions, each with vivid displays of statues and enacted representations, such as Christ’s imprisonment and execution, and the celebration of his resurrection. This is called Viacrucis.

Left, Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia (image: Blog Semana Santa de Popayán). Right, Viacrucis at the lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua. Image: Fotoblog, “Hoy” Newspaper

Huge statues of saints are carried in procession, usually by men paying promises to them, and taken from churches into the streets, followed by believers.  While maintaining these basic patterns , there are a great spectrum of variations of the kinds of displays and additional rites that have evolved in different communities.

The ritual celebrations of the Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia, for example, are a very classic representation of the processions that take place in Spain, the country where the tradition first originated.  The Judios de Masatete in Nicaragua and the Borrados in Nayarit, Mexico, on the other hand, demonstrate how the incorporation of native traditions and local culture can result in a very different representation of the same celebration.  Another example is the lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua, where the procession is adapted to water with canoes.

These are just a few examples of the wide diversity of religious syncretism and celebrations that take place in Latin America which are strongly expressed during the period known as Holy Week. Countries like Mexico and Guatemala also present a rich variety of cultural expressions through Catholic rituals; while in Brazil and the Caribbean the Spanish and indigenous traditions blend together amidst a strong African influence.

If you are interested about these processes of mestizaje in Latin America and its manifestation on spiritual practices, we invite you to consult books as “South and Meso-American native spirituality: from the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation“. If you are fluent in Spanish you can also take a look at “Religiones y culturas : perspectivas latinoamericanas“. The library holds a large collection on Latin American cultures and religious traditions, as well as on Catholicism in that region. In addition, we invite you to visit out International and Area Studies Library, and bring your questions to our Librarian on Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor.

 

 

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About Colombians’ war and peace, and other peace processes in the XX – XXI centuries.

For Colombia’s political history, the last couple of weeks were simultaneously the most promising, frustrating, intense, unpredictable, and confusing. Between September 26th and October 7th, 2016, a peace agreement was signed, voted and rejected; there was a risk of ending the ceasefire; the peace process was supported by massive rallies; there was no plan B ready, not even by leaders opposing the agreement; and, if all this does not sound confusing enough, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos.

This is not the entire story, however. As with any other peace process, this is a matter of a long and complex political history.

School affected by war in rural Colombia. Photo by Jesus Abad Colorado. Source: BBC Mundo

School affected by war in rural Colombia. Photo by Jesus Abad Colorado. Source: BBC Mundo

Unlike Colombia’s conflict being framed in terms of mere terrorism, which assumes there are “bad guys” who should be defeated by the “good guys”, the country’s political violence has developed between conservatives and liberal guerrillas since very early on in its republican history.

More recently, after the 1948 event known as El Bogotazo, confrontations between liberals and conservatives scaled in cruelty and intensity to the point that the 1950s are known, even today, as the time of La Violencia. As a result of the huge social inequities, marginalized territories, and the inherited issues of the 50s combining with the socialist revolutionary environment in Latin America, several political rebel groups emerged in the 1960s and 70s. From those came the three largest guerrilla groups:  M-19, which disarmed in 1990 after a process that resulted in the 1991 constitutional reform; the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), which has approached peace negotiations still in progress; and FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), the largest rebel group in the country, and the protagonist of events these past two weeks. A fourth large paramilitary group, the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), emerged in the 1980s not as a political movement, but to defend private properties where the national army could not guarantee safety. The AUC went through a disarming process in 2006, which has been highly questioned due to both its lack of transparency and because of evidence of State’s support in some paramilitary attacks (more references about this topic here).

One more thing—drugs. Drug-dealing and other illegal economies permeated almost every one of these nonofficial armed groups, which added the “easy money” factor to an already complicated picture. Read more about Colombia’s political history in the work of David Bushnell, Jorge Orlando Melo, Marco Palacios, Alfredo Molando and Paul Oquist, among others. There are more than 400 entries at the library catalog about political violence in Colombia . Also, you can find additional resources about connections between drug-dealing and war in Colombia here.

This most recent and internationally visible peace process with FARC was a 4-year negotiation of a 52-year long conflict, with previous attempts to reach a peace agreement occurring in 1982, 1991, 1992 and 1999-2002. Other conflicts in the last 32 years which were resolved through peace processes have lasted between 4 and 21 years long.

. List of conflicts solved by peace process between 1984 and 2005. Source: School of Peace, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

List of conflicts solved by peace process between 1984 and 2005. Source: School of Peace, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

On August 24th the negotiation team from the Colombian government, rebel leaders and international observers announced in La Havana-Cuba that an agreement had been reached. The same day, the Colombian President announced a bilateral ceasefire. The agreement would be signed and brought to citizen vote, so an intense campaign period for and against the agreement began. With significant presence and support from international observers, the peace agreement was officially signed on September 26th by Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño –“Timochenko” after four years of negotiations. One week later, on October 2nd, the vote took place. In spite of all poll predictions and the overall national and international optimism, the “No” campaign at 50.21% won out over the “Yes” campaign by the very small margin of 0.43%. Such a close race combined with almost 60% of potential voters not voting revealed a deep polarization, not between people wanting peace and people wanting war, but over what is the best way to achieve a collectively desired peace.

Results from the vote on October 2 to support or reject the peace agreement. Source: Colombia's National Registrar

Results from the vote on October 2 to support or reject the peace agreement. Source: Colombia’s National Registrar

Uncertainty and frustration came next. Leaders of the “No” campaign did not have a plan B for the process and showed to be a very heterogeneous group. The deadline was announced as October 31st. Faced with going back to open confrontation, citizens across the country brandishing mottos like “Don’t leave the table” and “Vigil for Peace” turned out for massive rallies to keep negotiations alive. These rallies included voters both for and against the agreement, as well as those who did not vote, and such strong public support pushed all parties to remain in dialogues. The Nobel Prize awarded (for some, too early) to President Juan Manuel Santos, adds an extra push to guarantee that a more robust and politically legitimate agreement is achieved.

Citizen support to the Peace Process, October 4th 2016, Bogota, Colombia. Source: El Tiempo

Citizen support to the Peace Process, October 5th 2016, Bogota, Colombia.
Source: El Tiempo

Huge challenges remain ahead. The most urgent one is that all parties—the government, FARC leaders and the heterogeneous (somewhat erratic) opposition—manage to re-negotiate some points of the agreement, which are seen as “immovable” for both sides of the table. As observed in other international processes and complex political peace negotiations, the political will to compromise and commit to an agreement is critical. Compromise and agreement are required not only from combatants and politicians, but from every single citizen. Scholars point to such cases as South Africa and Rwanda as examples of compromise by parties through a special transitional justice system. Regarding this need for compromise, the School of Peace from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (AUB) show how in all of the 11 processes listed above, groups that fought during the armed conflict occupied influential political positions as a result of the peace process. In fact, one of the issues that generated fierce rejection from the opposition to the agreement is that it guaranteed political participation to FARC leaders.

Even if agreement is reached, an even larger challenge remains:  Everyone—government, rebels, and civilians—fulfilling their promises. This, analysts say, is a key factor in preventing new armed confrontations from emerging, and scholars argue that in Sri Lanka, Liberia and Nepal the failure to fulfill agreements generated new waves of violence.

In any case, other international peace processes reveal that civil wars are rarely terminated by the victory of one of the parties. In the 2016 yearbook of peace processes developed by UAB’s School of Peace, of the 61 conflicts that ended over the last 35 years, 77% did so through a peace agreement, and 16.4% through military victory of one of the parties. However, there are still 56 active armed conflicts distributed across the world, which, in  the 2016 yearbook, includes Colombia. Other countries with active wars are India, Senegal, Mozambique, Ukraine, Philippines, and Thailand (south).

Conflicts and Peace Building, 2015 map by School of Peace, UAB

Conflicts and Peace Building, 2015 map by School of Peace, UAB

Read more about armed conflicts and peace in Pakistan and African countries through the work of Adam Curle and Birgit Brock-Utne. Other important scholars on peace building and conflict resolution are Gene SharpJohan Galling, Betty Reardon, Roger Fisher and John Paul Lederach.

The yearbook asserts that “The culture of negotiation is now a reality”. As both a Colombian citizen and one of many people across the globe who wish to have a better world someday, I wholeheartedly hope that the culture of negotiation can be a reality in Colombia. Two Colombian films which offer a beautiful and intense experience of the complexity of the county’s political violence—and are available to the U of I community through Kanopy Streaming—are Los Colores de la Montaña by Carlos Cesar Arbelaez (2010) and La Sirga, by William Vega (2012).

Explore more about political violence and peace processes in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala. Also, explore the documentaries and films about Latin American history through Kanopy Streaming. This database includes films about political history, covering topics such as the Cuban Revolution and ‘El Che Guevara’, Nicaragua during the ‘Sandinista’ period, the consequences of violence in Guatemala, Peru in the aftermath of political violence, and the disappeared people during the Argentinian military regime, among many other documentaries and films.

If you want to delve more deeply into research about political history around the world, visit our International and Area Studies Library. Our subject specialists in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Central Europe, Central Asia, and Global Studies/Political Science can always guide you with more specific research advice. See you there!

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Ready for Rio? Part 2: 2016 Olympics Update

Rio 2016 Official Promotional Video

Screenshot: Rio 2016 Official Promotional Video

With the wintry weather starting to fade here in Illinois – we hope! –  the 2016 Summer Olympic Games feel like they’re just around the corner. The Olympics will take place from August 5th to August 21st, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Much has been said, debated, and certainly achieved in relation to the preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Just over a year ago, we took a look at the situation on this blog and with this post, Part 2, we hope to check back in with the progress.

For starters, I invite you to keep in mind what our Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian, Antonio Sotomayor, has said about the connection between sports and politics when interviewed about his recent book on Puerto Rico’s participation in past Olympic Games: “Sports is never done in a vacuum.”

The first thing to consider, then, is that neither sports nor public opinion – and even less so public opinion represented in the media – are interest-free enterprises. With this thought in mind, let’s go through some of the most visible updates regarding the upcoming 2016 Olympiad.

Photo credit: Aerial view of the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Hill and the Mario Filho (Maracana) stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on December 3, 2013. AFP - Getty Images file. NBC News

Photo credit: Aerial view of the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Hill and the Mario Filho (Maracana) stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 3, 2013. AFP – Getty Images file.
NBC News

Since the announcement of Rio de Janeiro as the host city of the 2016 Games back in 2009, diverse reactions have been expressed in the sphere of public opinion. What’s more, after the simultaneously successful and controversial FIFA World Cup held in Brazil in 2014, the expectations appear to be both more achievable and more ambitious.

Public spending for these two sporting mega-events – as these kinds of massive, international, and commercial competitions are called – is a  great topic of debate. The unease of some towards these monumental events is related, in part, to the feeling that not all profits will stay in Brazil. Although local businesses and tourism may also benefit from the large number of visitors traveling to Brazil for the Olympics, criticism remains about public expenditures and the limited redistribution of profits made by private corporations. Impact evaluations of the 2014 World Cup have already been conducted and proved that the positive effect of this event on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has been minimal. In fact, some say that these mega-events, while indeed entertaining for the masses, tend to be “zero sum games.”  Besides public investments, building infrastructure, and “embellishing” cities, impoverished populations have been displaced for the construction of venues and public spaces. Some even claim that “social cleansing” has taken place, as reported in a 2016 article by Al Jazeera.

Water pollution and the explosion of mosquito-generated diseases are other great challenges that Brazilian organizers are currently facing. The cleaning of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, which will host the sailing competitions at the Olympics, was a main promise made by the city upon its announcement as host but does not appear to have been brought to fruition. Major news outlets in the United States (as seen in the New York Times, ThinkProgress, and the New Yorker) and the U.K. (the Guardian) argue that Guanabara Bay in Rio is still highly polluted with bacteria and solid waste, which would pose major risks to athletes’ health and interfere with the development of sailing competitions. To add to this large list of challenges, you have probably heard about the Zika virus, a mosquito-transmitted disease that has seen a major outbreak in the past few months. The disease has already proved to affect the health of unborn babies when acquired by pregnant women, contributing, most likely, to a highly debilitating condition known as microcephaly. Along with Zika, the diseases chikungunya and dengue are some of the other uninvited guests currently in Brazil.

Although all of this looks like a very dark picture for a successful Olympics in terms of event organization and economic and political benefits for the region, other more positive positions have been taken on the matter. For starters, Rio 2016 is the first Olympiad celebrated in South America and only the second in Latin America (the first was Mexico 1968). And, if for some portion of Brazilians the Olympics are a public expenditure that is not a priority – or even necessary – and that also involves questionable political actions, for others it is an issue of pride and of the global positioning that Brazil has recently gained as a rising world economy. In September 2015, the Argentinian press published an article revealing that 73% of Brazilian citizens support the Olympics.

What are other countries saying about the Olympics? Media outlets from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and even France seem somewhat less skeptical about Rio’s potential success. Among the Brazilian press and other international outlets that publish in Brazil (BBC Brazil, for example), many articles have been published which, while expressing awareness about the huge challenge that a mega-even like the Olympics constitutes for the country’s economy and political decisions, seem to be more moderate about the possible scenarios than what is presented in other international media. BBC Brazil has published articles about how the Brazilian Committee is making do in the midst of the current Brazilian economic recession, as can be read in this piece from September 2015 and this one from October 2015. Likewise, Brazilian organizers have declared that the budget for the 2016 opening ceremony would be less than half of what was spent in London 2012, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Regarding fears about infrastructure, Rio de Janeiro’s daily newspaper O Globo published in its online edition a map of the current state of construction of the Olympic venues. This is the issue that has created the most panic among international public opinion. Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, has also been responding to criticism and skepticism by answering as many questions as possible, as reported here in the Guardian from August 2015.

Regarding Zika, the International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, has stated that he is fully confident that the Zika outbreak will be controlled appropriately and that it will not interfere in the development of the Olympiad. In this statement he supports Dilma Rousseff’s declarations assuring the international community and athletes that Zika will not present a major threat this summer.

EFE. Published in Taringa, Argentinian Media.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. EFE. Published in Taringa, Argentinian Media.

Amidst all of these conflicting opinions and complex challenges, both Rio de Janeiro’s and Brazil’s governments have decided to push back and continue working towards being a great host for the summer Olympics. Although August is still several months away, Rio is already inaugurating new venues and hosting pre-Olympic events to test and fine-tune these new venues. From early February through May 22, events will take place with around 272 athletes from 49 countries.

As we can see, the Olympics are much more than fun, fitness, discipline, competition, and entertainment. Business and hardcore politics are also embedded in the Games’ roots, both as a competition and as an international committee.

But at this point we must ask ourselves some tough questions: Are we more concerned with the venues being ready than with the displaced families that the venues have created? Do we see in the risk of Zika for tourists and athletes a larger overall threat than the alleged “social cleansing” taking place in order to have a more sightly Rio for the Olympics? How is Zika related to other world-wide environmental phenomena? Are the economic investments in building new venues and for the opening ceremony reasonable choices or a waste of money?

If you ask me, I would say that on one hand, the panic over the organization of the Rio Olympics may be based on the fact that the process has not been as smooth as the international community is used to – for example, when the games are celebrated in richer countries. So, perhaps this is a good opportunity to revise what we think of as “world-class” standards and comparisons and to accept that sometimes spending billions of dollars on new sporting venues is less than reasonable. Furthermore, perhaps we should think twice before feeling disappointed about relatively “modest” opening ceremonies.

On the other hand, it is also important that we keep in mind questions about how international corporations and organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA may impose their interests above those of host countries in regards to the distribution of profits. This is why Avery Brundage, former IOC president, took a very strong stance on the Olympic movement ideally being about amateur as opposed to corporatized and politically sponsored sports. The University of Illinois Archives holds an extended collection of Brundage’s papers. There you can track his fight against the commercialization of sports and also discover the political moves embedded in the both the IOC and the sporting events themselves.

For even more information and insight, below is a selection of books available at the University Library that we have selected as part of the current exhibit on Rio 2016 at the Main Library. And here is a comprehensive LibGuide on Brazil, and a Libguide on Sports, that we have developed to support your research on these topics. Also: Don’t miss our Chai Wai on Rio 2016 on Tuesday, March 8th from 3 to 4:30pm at the International & Area Studies Library (321 Main Library). All are welcome!

Zirin, Dave. Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2014

Cover of: Brazil’s dance with the devil : the World Cup, the Olympics, and the fight for democracy
(see below)

Please contact our Latin America and Caribbean Studies Librarian, Antonio Sotomayor, for even more information.

Chai Wai Poster

March 8, 2016 “Chai Wai” poster (IAS Library)

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Moving About: A Taste of International Dance

To dance is to move with awareness, with harmony in relationship to music, with other people’s movements or with emotions. It is moving by embodying and enacting traditions, rituals, and ways of thought, while allowing these traditions to evolve each time the dance is practiced and performed. But dancing is also making statements, sharing memories, challenging one’s own and others’ assumptions. Dancing enhances awareness, perception, and allows entering into contact with forms of movement, rhythms, and ways of thinking with which you are unfamiliar. I love dance and dancing and I practice some contemporary dance myself, so I’d like to share some information about how people dance around the world throughout time.

Not being an expert in international forms of  traditional and modern dance in spite of my interest in it,  let me take a moment to recognize those who helped orient me in my research. Among them were friends, colleagues, and librarians. Our South Asian Studies Librarian, Mara Thacker, who is both a lover and practitioner of dance, was especially helpful. In this post, I will address some dances from some parts of the world that may yet be unknown many people. While not comprehensive, this is an informational glimpse of how dancing happens in different cultures and in different contexts, both historical and situational.

Spotlight: Mexico

Have you heard of the Mexican Son Jarocho? This beautiful dance style originates from the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Tabasco.  As with most traditional Latin American dances, it blends traditions from multiple cultural backgrounds. The particular case of Son Jarocho contains influences from indigenous traditions, Afro-Caribbean influences, and Spanish traditions, mainly from Andalucía. It is danced in couples and one of the main characteristics is the stamping that both male and female dancers perform with special shoes. In fact, this stamping is not only a dance step, but it also becomes a main source of percussion that leads the rest of the instruments. You can find a similar style of stamping in Spanish Fanangos. See the video below for a folkloric, ballet-style performance of Son Jarocho.

Mexican Dance Forms: A Bibliography with Annotations” is a book compiling some major traditional Mexican dances. These are other interesting resources you can find at our library if you want to know a little more about one of the many dance styles in Mexico.

But Mexican dancing has much more than folk dances like Son Jarocho and Jarabe Tapatío. Mexico also has one of the strongest traditions of contemporary dance in all of Latin America. Delfos Danza Contemporánea  is a renowned dance company that offers education, residencies, and has a large performance background where their local experience dialogues with international tendencies in dance and world-class training.

Image credit: Frontera arts

A promotional image from the Delfos dance company in Mexico. Image credit: Frontera Arts

Spotlight: South America

To stay, for a moment, in Latin America, what do you think of when thinking of Latin American dances? Salsa, bachata, merengue. Correct. But what about the southern parts of Latin America? Tango! Correct! Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay also have rich varieties of traditional dances but sadly we will not be able visiting them here. However, in other countries from the South, there is a strongly rooted tradition of gauchos, male “cowboys,” found in contiguous regions of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The dances they perform have slight variations in these three countries, but in general, the gauchos’ practice with moving cattle around by foot or riding horses evolved into a very vibrant dance involving vigorous foot stamping. In Argentina, one of the traditional gaucho dances from the south of the country is called malambo.  Some versions feature the skillful handling of boleadoras or bolas, stones tied with robes initially used by indigenous peoples for hunting, and then adapted for cattle as well.  More modern and acrobatic versions demonstrate an evolved use of the boleadoras for special spectacles.

Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Male dancers swing their boleadoras, stones attached to ropes, in a display of South American dance. Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Argentina is one of the leading countries for contemporary dance in Latin America. According to La danza moderna argentina cuenta su historia : historias de vida (roughly, Modern Argentine Dance Tell Its Story: Stories of Life), its practice in that country started in the early 1940s. Currently Argentina is one of the few countries in Latin America that has a state-funded, national contemporary dance company “Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea” (National Company of Contemporary Dance.) Check out a great piece by the company below.

Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina, “Río conmigo”

Dancers perform “Río conmigo.” Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina

To wrap up with Latin America, here is a list of interesting resources including books, films and audio recordings that are relevant for those interested in how people move across this region.

Spotlight: Korea

Now let’s travel to East Asia, a region that is entirely new to me in terms of dance. I’ve learned more about its dance traditions though my very dear Korean friends at UIUC and some independent readings. For starters, Korean folk Dance reveals the many, varied influences that come together in Korean traditional dance, including elements from other countries and varied religions. Different moments in Korean history also display an impact on expression, not to mention varied contexts like communal agrarian contexts, religious celebrations and entertainment.

This book addresses Korean dances from as early as 200 BC until present day, when folk dance intentionally and actively preserves cultural heritage. In fact, certain dances from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) are currently protected by a cultural law issued in 1962. After Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and the strong influence of Western civilization after 1945, traditional Korean dance was in danger of disappearing. In this context, these dances officially became known as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage, a category that brought about legislation to preserve and train people in each dance form. This is the case for Seungmu, the monks’ dance, a type of folk dance performed by professional entertainers.

Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. "Korean folk dance", Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Seungmu, the Monks’ Dance. Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. “Korean folk dance”, Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Other Korean traditional dances are Bucheachum -or fan dance-, a stunning group dance performed by female dancers wearing bright hanbok dresses and using fans for displaying several figures as butterflies and flowers. This dance’s origins are associated with shaman and it is currently performed in varied celebrations. Also, the Ganggangsullae or harvest dance, practiced as a fertility ritual in the southwestern part of the Republic of Korea, is also performed during the Chuseok holidays across the country. This dance is  included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Check out some others here.

Now, going beyond folk dance, Korea currently has a rich development of modern and contemporary styles. Through Contemporary Dance Scenes of Korea, I discovered another angle of movement in that country. Modern and contemporary dance in Korea have experienced rich growth in recent years, which has included the reflection about a search for Korean identity, dialogues between traditional movements and contemporary experimentation, inner exploration, dialogues between eastern and western aesthetics, and an intense search for Korean symbols of femininity. Modern dance has been particularly important for current artists who faced violence and repression after the Korean War. As recently as 1978, only 22 performances took place in Korea, and from those, only three were contemporary dance and the other three were ballet. Currently, there is a National Contemporary Dance Company, which has an interesting global reach. Dance, therefore, has served for sharing memory, making statements and coming up with creative proposals about contemporary Korean culture, in dialogue with its recent and ancient past. Of course we cannot ignore perhaps the most popular dance form among contemporary Korean youth: K-Pop!! Check out some moves from this dance style.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, "Contemporary dance scenes of Korea", Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, “Contemporary dance scenes of Korea”, Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Spotlight: West Africa

Let’s jump to another continent now. Let’s talk about West African dance. Similar to what occurs with other cultural traditions, dance in West Africa developed and evolved as a very important component of communal life. As a main feature, West African dance is highly energetic, involving vigorous and simultaneous movements of the head, arms, legs and feet. Even with this feature, there is still a great variety in terms of genre including village and ballet.

In the case of dance from Guinea, village dancing is practiced in a circle where the community gathers around  live drumming as a core component of the dance and community members enter and exit the circle at their will to improvise a dance. Other community members participating in the dance accompany the performance by clapping and cheering. The percussive instruments used for this dance style are the djembe and then a family of drums called the dununs.

Photo Credit: http://phillylovesdrums.blogspot.com/2013/09/september-10-2013-1215-pm-dundunba.html

West African dancers energetically perform on stage. Photo Credit: The University City District on the Philly Loves Drums website

Instead of the dancer responding to the drums, in this dance style, the main drummer or djembe soloist tries to follow the dancers’ feet to accent their movements and simultaneously maintain the tempo.

Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

A West African dancer is featured, jumping in mid-air. Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

Mara Thacker provided a good deal of information about these styles: “Ballet style is choreographed…(it) has a different set up to the drums and the drummers will give a musical cue called “breaks” to signal to the dancers during a choreography….The dununs have three drums, the largest bass drum is the dundunba, the middle is the sangban, and the smallest is the kenkeni. In ballet style, the three are usually played as a set, which, in village style, each is played alone along with a cowbell that is attached to the top of the drum. There are other types of drums and instruments that are played, including the balafon which is much like a xylophone and the cora which is a stringed instrument.” Mara also highlighted that one of the most commonly taught African styles in the U.S. is “lamban“. Here is another lamban performance you can see.

To see more village style dancing, check out this documentary about Chuck Davis’ travels. Davis is a renowned African American dancer and choreographer who visited West Africa, observing, learning and participating in local dances and other cultural traditions. It is available through the Alexander Street database. For those interested in further reading about West African dance and percussion, West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective is recommended.

And here is a piece of great news: You can practice West-African dance here at C-U! Mara and other local West African Dance enthusiasts have put together a practice space called the C-U West African Drum and Dance Collective, where Djibril Camara is the local teacher. The group organizes a yearly festival called “The Midwest Mandeng.” Thanks to them, every September master drum and dance instructors from Guinea, Mali, and Senegal come to Urbana-Champaign to teach workshops and give demonstrations. Mark your calendar for next year!

As I have mentioned with the other dances above, there is a very interesting evolution of contemporary dance in West Africa that dialogues between traditional dance and international modern styles. Unlike most contemporary and modern dancers from the U.S. and other western countries, it is common that modern dancers from different African countries are trained first in traditional dance and then they train in other dance forms and techniques. Afrique Danse Contemporaine (Contemporary African Dance) beautifully presents the trajectory of Salia Sanou, renowned dancer and choreographer form Burkina Faso, where he makes a clear statement on the relevance of African voices in the global contemporary dance scene. Here is Poussières de sang, a stunning performance by him in collaboration with Seydou Boro, another choreographer from the same country.

DOUBALEY (LE MIROIR). Photo credit: http://www.saliasanou.net Mouvements Perpétuets, Direction artistique Salia Sanou

A dancer performs Salia Sanou’s Doubaley (Le miroir). Photo credit: From Mouvements Perpétuels

All of this is just a little taste of a larger African dance scene. Find more in an engaging documentary called African Dance: Sand, Drum and ShostakovichWe have a vast variety of library resources related to all types of African dance in general and West African dance in particular.

Thank you for joining me in the exploration of this art form. If you are as excited about dance as I am and want to keep reading, watching and listening, check out the large amount resources available at different library locations about folk, modern, and classical dance, among others. Especially check out the Music and Performing Arts Library Dance Research Resources.

You can also contact our Dance at Illinois department on campus where Faculty have extensive experience about varied international styles, including several professors interested in African influences on contemporary dance. Also, the dance department annually invites guest artists from diverse origins. This year, guest artists bring works influenced by traditions from China, Taiwan, and Israel.  You can also follow the schedule of events at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts which is always showcasing events of interest. You can also ask Mara, our South Asian Studies Librarian about Indian dance! She has a lot to share. For more information and posts like these, follow the International and Area Studies Facebook page.

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