Tooro Kingdom which is one of the four traditional Kingdoms in Uganda is located in the western part of Uganda with Fort Portal town as its Capital. The Kingdom was once part of the large empire of Kitara under the reign of the Babito Dynasty. We look at the runyege dance which is a courtship dance and performed by young energetic men to the women they are attracted to.
The kingdom is run by a king known as Omukama wa Tooro, whose literary meaning is ‘the lord of Tooro’. The Kingdom has always enjoyed a rich culture of oral tradition. To this day, the batooro boast of customs that include respect and value of elders, indigenous handicrafts, patriotism, and very high self-esteem. The culture of the batooro people has many types of dances including the Amakondere dance which is performed for the royals.
Many call it ‘the royal dance’ and ‘the runyege dance’ which is a courtship dance and performed by young energetic men to the women they are attracted to. While speaking to Mr. Arari Kigambo, who is a talent development coordinator for the Engabo za Tooro cultural troupe and also coordinator for artists in Tooro, he said, “Runyege is a small element of the Tooro culture since the culture is a little wide and referred to as a dance culture. Mr. Kigambo explained that this dance is usually performed in an open arena, like a market, play ground or any other place the dancer is sure the lady he is attracted to can access”.
The courtship dance is the African way of taking a lady you are attracted to on a date. Instead of taking her to a dinner date or any other such dates, in Africa the young women and men gather for these dances. The young man invites her to a dance in the evenings which is the time many of the dances are performed; this was always the best time because everyone would have finished their work and would be relaxing. The runyege dance is also performed in the evening. Unlike the western world where the date involves only two people, this particular date will bring many people together and will include family and friends because the young man invites many people to come see him perform the dance.
In this dance a combination of instruments which consists of four drums, a big drum (Embuttu), a long drum (Engalabbi) and another big drum, a shaker (Akasekendde) which is usually made from a young and cleaned dried gourd and a rattle (Runyege) which the young man ties around his leg. When the young man begins to dance to the beautiful rhythms of the songs, drums and shakers, he expresses a lot of energy and strength.
The shakers and rattles in this dance are used to express and present the beautiful sound and gentleness of the batooro people who are known to be very gentle and polite people.
Mr. Kigambo noted that in Tooro when a young man is ready to get married, and has seen a young lady he is attracted to, he begins laying his ‘trap’ as to how he can get her to accept his intentions and what better way than to get his siblings and his runyege ready to impress her.
He ties his runyege round his legs, gets his drummers, singers and shakers ready and in an open arena like a market or playground invites his friends and family to come cheer him as he pleases his lady. When performing the runyege he has to dance with a lot of vigor so that the young lady sees that he is the right man for her because he is strong and will be able to protect her and take good care of her.
Mr. Kigambo says since many women in Tooro like a strong man who will give her protection, through the dance, so that when a woman sees a strong man she is sure and is able to tell that he is the right man to marry. If the man does not dance with energy and vigor he will be considered a weak man and may fail to please the woman he is attracted to thus failing a possible marriage.
According to Mr. Kigambo, the women who participate in this dance are usually the people singing and clapping their hands. Some few can join the dance so they will tie enyamuziga (These are costumes made from papyrus reeds) around their waists to bring out her beauty, because this costume will express the curves of the woman better.
During this dance, the young man is joined by his younger sisters and brothers as if to send a message to the young woman that she would be going to the right family of strong people who will be able to protect and take care of her.
The young man’s elder sisters and brothers sing songs to praise the young woman’s beautiful eyes, beautiful curves and beautiful legs and tell her she is the most beautiful woman in the village, while others are cheering on the main dancer. It’s another way of encouraging him not to give up the dance. When the young man has won the heart of the young woman with his dance and she has accepted to marry him, both the girl’s family and the boy’s family come together and begin arrangements for a marriage where bride-price and other gifts will be exchanged between the two families.
The marriage ceremony is usually a big feast with plenty of food, alcohol and a lot of dancing and so many other young boys and girls will perform the runyege dance again during the marriage ceremony to entertain the guests and attract young ladies who will be present at the wedding. This is done because in the African culture during marriage ceremonies and funerals, many young men spot the young women of their preference, because they are allowed to interact freely.
Mr. Kigambo says that with modernization, the Tooro culture keeps changing with time and what used to happen in the past doesn’t happen anymore. He added that runyege dance today is performed especially for entertainment and not for courtship anymore.
Today the ladies dance alongside the men when performing the runyege dance, unlike the olden days, when it was the young men who would perform the dance for the young women they were attracted to.