When the ancestors dance

Gule Wamkulu dancer MalawiIn various parts of Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, the spirits of the ancestors take on corporeal form and dance for their living descendants. Not just to entertain, but also to inform, to chastise and to guide. The forms they take are varied and spectacular, and the occasion of their portrayal is called the gule wamkulu – the great dance.
I first saw the spirits dancing at a lakeshore hotel years ago. It was a spectacular piece of dinner theatre and, of course, the dancers were paid performers but it had a power and immediacy that I have not forgotten in over a decade. But there is much more to the gule than mere tourist entertainment.
The dancers prepare weeks in advance by carving masks and making the outfits in secret. These are not thought of as costumes, but as actual spirits, each representing a character that fulfils a purpose or delivers a message. The masks may not be seen by uninitiated people, and the dancers must keep their identity secret, compartmentalising their daily lives from their parallel existence as spirit dancers. The outfits are stored in secret places, and the dancers change far from the village in the forest before making their way from the relative wilds to the civilisation of the village. – See more at: http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-19/african-dance-malawi-gule-wamkulu-chewa/#sthash.MUI8nV4x.upSQkI37.dpuf