Don’t try this at home kids! I don’t know how they do it, nor do I really want to know. I enjoyed the show for what it was, even thought it made me cringe. It does, however, reinforce my respect for fire! Don’t play with flames at home – it may look harmless, but it is not! Leave it to those who know what they are doing. Only a few people in the village have the gift to be able to carry out the dances, not everyone can do it.
Aspect # 9: I could not bear to look at this, let alone take photographs, so I’m afraid there is just one lone picture from the aftermath. As he would do with himself, the dancer would pick up a handful of broken glass and rub it all over a young child, including into his eyes. I shiver just at the thought of it as I am writing this.
Aspect # 8: Holding the fire in the palm of his hand, it looked from where I was sitting that the dancer’s hand was on fire. He must have covered hisskin with something to stop him feeling the heat and the pain.
Aspect # 7: With bare feet the dancer would approach the bonfire and slowly at first step on the burning embers. Then he would speed up and dance till the glowing sparks would spray about the arena. Only once did a dancer carry out this move, I am not sure why.
Aspect # 5: A bowl with broken glass immersed in water was passed round for the audience to check out. The gals had very sharp edges indeed. Kneading the glass with his hands, the dancer would pick a handful up and thrush it into his face. He also picked up individual shards and would rub them hard against his exposed skin. You could see he was putting pressure on the glass, as his skin would give a little under the force. Or he’d try and cut his eyes or his tongue. Grotesque!
Aspect # 4: This can only be described as fire eating. Taking a long twig with a healthy flame on the end, the dancer would lean his head far, far backwards, and insert the burning stem into his throat. The branch would still be burning – why did his lips not become blistered?
Aspect # 3: With the drummers pounding there instruments into a frenzy, the dancers would swirl round and round the fire before throwing themselves backwards on to the flames. Again, why did their trousers not catch fire? They were all barefoot, and their arms and legs were resting on the burning embers.
Aspect # 2: Taking a stick from the fire, the dancer would ensure the flames had died down, and the embers at the end of the branch were glowing red hot. He would then bite off a sizable chunk of the smoldering cinder, placing it between his teeth. You could see the heat radiating from the wood. Closing his mouth, he would swallow the sizzling twig. What does it do to his insides?
There were many aspects to the Dance. #1: A dancer would take a lit stick from the fire, making sure it was fully glowing and burning as far down the branch as possible. Holding it by the unlit end, he would rub the burning end all over his exposed body – the arms, the legs and his torso. Why did his clothing never catch fire?
Noah explained the story behind the origin of the Fire Dance: The Kotokoli were often fighting with the neighbouring Taberma tribe and often the they were caught unawares whilst tending to their everyday activists. The women and children were in the huts, by the fire, and weren’t always able to escape in time, so it often happened that they got burnt. The Kotokoli therefore made a pact with the God of Fire. The dance is to recognise this alliance and celebrate it.
While the fire was getting going, the drummers arrived and would try and whip up some enthusiasm from the audience with a hypnotic and rhythmic melody. There were several drummers; I couldn’t quite work out exactly how many, as the darkness was enveloping us. The only available light was that from the growing bonfire.
The fire was started after we arrived. This made me suspicious of its authenticity – was it just put on for tourists? Noah insisted it was not, and I wanted to believe him. Benches were brought for the foreigners to sit on and local children were ushered away to make room for us.
Aspect # 6: Picking up the glowing embers with his bare hands, the dancer would hold on tight to the glowing wood with his clenched fist. You could almost feel the heat, even at several feet away.