Top African Tribal Dances

Maasai Adumu Dance- Jumping Dance

Ancient societies across the world are known to possess esoteric and spiritual elements, and undoubtedly the continent of Africa is made up of an eclectic range of tribal ethnic groups. These tribal groups possess a rich cultural heritage which includes traditional dances that are performed during various occasions and for different purposes. These African tribal dances are loaded with expressions, symbolism, and spiritualism. 

As  French dancer Alphonse Tiérou rightly states ‘’ Because it has more power than a gesture, more eloquence than a word, more richness than writing and because it expresses the most profound experiences of human beings, dance is a complete and self-sufficient language. It is the expression of life and of its permanent emotions of joy, love, sadness, hope, and without emotion, there is no African Dance.’’

The African traditional dance has a purpose. Whether it’s about connecting to ancestors or celebrating a wedding or ritual birthing, the African tribal dance provides a living memory of the cultural wealth of the tribes. 

Africa consists of a vast number of ethnic communities which have their own traditional dance that has a variety of social purposes, for instance, in a religious ritual,  rites of passages, funerals, harvest celebrations, or birthing ceremony. The African tribal dances can be classified into three major categories notably: ritual dances, ceremonial dances, and griotic dance (dances depicting local history). 

Below we have compiled a list of top African Tribal Dances: 

Courtship Ritual African Dance 

The Guérewol – Wodaabe Fula People of Niger 

In the southern edge of the Sahara desert right at the fame oasis and salt flats of In-Gall, Niger, meet the Wodaabe tribe decked up especially for the Guerewol- a courtship ritual competition. Every year both the Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads celebrate the Cure Salee festival at the end of the rainy season each September.

Tribal African Dance
image: Jimmy Nelson (Wodaabe Tribe)

The Wodaabe men are decked up at their best to impress a potential partner. They paint their face with red, yellow, and white clay. Each color is very symbolic. The red ochre represents blood and violence, while the yellow color represents magic and transformation. Additionally, they wear black lipstick made out from the charred bones of the cattle egret.

Wodaabe Tribe- Dance Ritual in Africa - Niger
image: KerryMacNM

Akogo – Iteso People of  Northeastern Uganda 

The Akogo traditional dance takes its name from the thumb piano music instrument Akogo– a traditional Ugandan music instrument made up of a series of metal tongues varying in length, and kiaat wood. The idea behind the traditional dance is to imitate the Akogo music instrument while dancing. 

This courtship dance is originally danced by the Iteso people, who are believed to come from the Nilotic (indigenous to the Nile Valley) ethnic group from eastern Uganda and western Kenya. The tradition of the Iteso people originated somewhere in the area of Alexandra in Egypt. The Iteso people are believed to be descended from the Hebrew Joseph who had married a black Egyptian

African Ritual Dance


Fertility Dance 

Kakilambe – Baga people of Guinea or Mali

This ritual dance is associated with the God of the Bagas-Kakilambé, who was known to be the master of the waters,  rain, winds, and fire. He is summoned every seven years by his people to bring prosperity and a good harvest. the ritual dance is a symbol of the celebration of life, growth of crops, and birth of children.

African Ritual Dance
image: Courtesy the Pontificio Museo Missionario Ethnologico, Vatican City.


San Healing Dance 

Healing Dance – San/ Bushmen of Botswana, Namibia, and Angola

Another ritual dance is the healing dance or trance dance of the San (Bushmen) indigenous people who come from Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. The dance consists of inhaling the smoke of smoldering organic matter, singing medicine songs, clapping hands in a sharp, staccato rhythm, and among others.

San - Bushmen Trance Dance- Healing
image: Petr Kosina

Traditional African Harvest Dance 

Gombey – Senegal

Gombey is a typical folk dance of Bermuda, but its origin harks back to the harvest ritual dance in Senegal practiced by the indigenous people in Senegal. Gombey dancers are predominantly male, and they are outfitted with masquerade costumes.

Traditional Dance of Senegal

Funeral Dance

Emina – Dogon of Mali

The Dogon tribe is an ethnic group of indigenous people from the central plateau of Mali, and in West Africa, south of Niger bend and in Burkina Faso. These people are known for their mask dance, architecture, and religious traditions. They performed the Emina dance- a post-burial ritual dance to pay tribute to their deceased ones 

Dogon Mask Dance

Jumping Dance: Coming-of-age Ceremony

Adumu Dance- Maasai of Kenya

Maasai is another Nilotic ethnic group of people, who are touted for their ‘jumping dance’, which is basically a long-observed ‘Coming-of-age’ ceremony, whereby young Maasai warriors showcase their strength. 

Maasai Adumu Dance- Jumping Dance
image: John Willis

War Dance

Indlamu –   Zulu, Swazi, and Ndebele or Xhosa 

The purpose of the Indlamu dance is to prepare tribal warriors for the war. Closely associated with the Zulu tradition, the Indlamu war dance is also performed in the Swazi, and Ndebele, or Xhosa cultures. The dance steps consist of ‘stabbing movements’, and dancers are decked up in full traditional attire pieces including, headdresses, ankle rattles, shields, and weapons. 

African War Dance

Ancestral Dance

Mbira – Shona people of Zimbabwe 

Mbira ritual dance is performed to invoke the ancestral spirits of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. This dance ritual is a way to communicate with ancestors who guide the tribe for good harvest, and prosperity. Music is played by the ancient mystical music instrument ‘Mbira’ which is believed to be played by certain tribes of the Shona people for a thousand years. 

Shona Witch


Community Dance 

Timoulawine – Tuareg of Algeria

In the city oasis of Djanet in southeast Algeria meet the Tuareg who celebrate the Sebeïba-a ritual ceremony that lasts for ten days in the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Both male and female dancers compete with each other during a nine-day contest called ‘Timoulawine’. While the male dancers parade with their weapons, the female dancers sing traditional songs accompanied by the tambourine. Knowledge is transmitted directly from elders to young members during the ceremony. 

Sebeiba- Djanet, Travel Guide in Algeria
image: Nora Schweitze

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