Components of Traditional African Theatre


Components of traditional African theatre include riddles, jokes, proverbs, dances, myths, beliefs, and the audience. Others are venue, costume, storytelling, and carved puppet accessories and masquerade.

Riddle: They are used as means of teaching and testing the individual knowledge.

Jokes: Jokes are deployed as reliefs during tensed moments in plays to provide catharsis and avoid confrontation.


Proverbs: Proverbs are accepted as truths as ascertained through experience. Hence they are used to offer instructions on how to avoid pitfalls in life. They also warn, instruct, advise, and guide members of the community.

Music: In traditional African theatre, music manifests through songs and drums. Traditional songs are used to convey moral lessons as well as for entertainment purposes. Africans love being engaged in daily activities or occupations, using traditional songs to ease the tensions involved in the performance of such activities or occupations.

Storytelling: Performances in traditional African theatre have accumulated resources drawn from shared experiences and historical contact with other cultures.

Carved puppets accessories and masquerade: These are used to reinforce the visual impact of traditional African theatre.

Dances: There are several categories of dances. There are ceremonial dances, vocational dances, and ritual dances. Ceremonial dances are performed at weddings, funerals, and chieftaincy installation ceremonies. Vocational dances are peculiar to particular professions and performed by members only. For example, famers, warriors, hunters, blacksmith, etc. Ritual dances are performed to appeal the gods and/or spirits of the ancestors. For example, the Hausa Bori Dance staged by women in honour of their spirits is a ritual dance. The dance is staged during the initiation ceremony or when a member has an occasion to celebrate, with the main purpose of appeasing the gods and the ancestors. The common feature of Bori Dance is that when it is raised in crescendo to the peak, the participant invariably falls into trance.

African beliefs and myths: Performances in traditional African theatre showcase the link between the physical world and the spiritual realm. The player therefore serves as a link between the two worlds.

The venue: The venue may vary from community to community; the village square sometimes while in other cases, the palace, and the forest or even on water. Most performances take place in an arena setting with the audience forming either a circle or semi-circle around the performance.

Costumes: Costumes also vary from community to community. Multi-coloured garment, grass, leaves, animal skins, and dyed or painted raffia are common costumes in traditional African theatre. There is no expensive costume as common with European and America theatre production since it is not commercialised.

The Audience: They are the people who have embraced the attendance of such traditional theatrical performances in Africa as fulfilling their communal responsibility. The audience in traditional African theatre is a committed one but its degree of participation depends on who is performing what. For example, the audience could mix freely with the performers and give them gifts or could be hostile to non-initiates. Thus, women and children under the category of non-initiates keep their distance, even though they are not harassed.

Scenic Design: Since an art of this nature is not commercialised, there is usually no elaborate scenic or architectural design. Expensive costume and scenic designs are usually meant to please the audience and are therefore not emphasised in traditional African theatre. Instead traditional African theatre operates on the principle of minimal stages which require human presence as the purpose of theatrical event. Hence, when one or two actors present themselves in a given play for purpose of representing an action, the space on which they perform becomes the stage.



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