Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre performs Sohu, a ritual cleansing dance from Togo.
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The Togolese Republic, or Togo, is located on Africa’s west coast, a thin strip of land between Ghana and Benin. It is home to approximately 6.8 million people. Togo was part of the "Slave Coast" from which people were captured and shipped abroad by Europeans during the 17th century. At various times in its history it has been under German, Britain, and French rule. French remains the official language, but many native African languages are spoken as well.
Togo gained independence in 1960, but it has been the site of controversial and often violent governance since then. Togo's culture reflects the diverse influences of numerous indigenous cultural groups as well as the influences of the European countries that ruled it. There is a strong oral culture. And while Western religion plays a role in Togolese life, many citizens practice traditional religions and rituals.
The Sohu is not only an interesting dance, but also a powerful sacred ritual of cleansing. Communities traditionally performed the dance upon the death of a loved one, but its function eventually enlarged to also be used as a symbolic rite of purification in which all the bad spirits plaguing the community would be removed.
Dancers do not smile while performing the Sohu, but maintain serious expressions reflecting spiritual focus. As the dance begins, dancers point to their eyes to symbolize tears that would be shed, moving their bodies to the floor in an act of prayer. They push their hands out to ward off bad spirits and pull their arms in to gather good spirits.
One dancer enters carrying a brush and a bowl containing a powerful potion. The community's elder uses the potion to clean the environment and all the participants.
Bi-Okoto Dance and Drum Theatre is a professional African dance company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bi-Okoto was established in 1994 with the mission to preserve, promote, and share the rich cultural heritage of Africa and Africans using drums, music, dance, food, languages, and other arts. The company performs and conducts school residency programs.
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