This post part of a series, in which we try to understand the essence of theater in São Tomé e Príncipe.
A lot of music and dancing in Santomean theater, almost to the point that for a moment I thought I was writing an article on Santomean dances – we will see why this is not the case.
There’s quite a number of popular theater pieces in the archipelago, including the Tragedy of Marquis of Mantua and the Emperor Charlemagne, better known as Tchiloli, and Floripes, which is enacted on Principe. But this time we focus on Danco-Congo, which I think is the most colorful.
Danço-Congo is a great big show. Mostly enacted on religious holidays, for example during the Gravana Arts Festival every month of August. The full title of the piece is The Tragedy of Captain Congo (Tragédia do Capitão Congo).
There’s a great story to the dance. For me this is the key point what makes Danco-Congo so theatrical. The story is rooted in a Congolese folktale, starting when an old plantation owner dies, leaving the roca (plantation) to his four stupid sons, who quite are inept in managing the farm. Here a clear comparison becomes evident between the sons, and the Angolans, who are depicted as strong and brave. This piece was prohibited by the Portuguese during colonization. I guess they didn’t appreciate their portrayal.
Canal Santola says, this is the most African of all the Santomean dances. Donald Burness says it’s a warrior dance. Caroline S. Shaw says it’s a ritual and a spectacle. Without any academic credentials whatsowever, I say it’s a great piece of theater.
So What Does it Look Like?
In a nutshell, if you were on Sao Tome in August, you would see a group of about 30 dancers with great big hats.
The dancers are guided by a king, accompanied by drummers, and a number of other colorful characers. Everybody has fitting costumes. Some dancers are on stilts. There are lunatics going crazy. And a dying angel, and also singing angels, all dressed in green colors. Sounds pretty cool, right?
But there’s even more – a wicked sorcerer, his apprendice, and finally the devil himself, who are dressed in bright red dress. The sorcerer is fittingly terrifying!
So this was a introduction to Danco-Congo. If you’re hungry for more, the excellent African Folklore Encyclopedia by Philip M. Peek and Kwesi Yankah, gives a great in depth description – and you can even buy it on Amazon, although at sky high prices, which is why I recommend you come back to SaoTomeBlog for more.