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The Twin Dance: a celebration of life

Megan Murdock ’14, a resident of Currier House concentrating in Neurobiology, was awarded an Office for the Arts at Harvard

Megan Murdock teaching the Girl Guides arabesques

(OFA)/Office of Postgraduate and National Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship this year to spend two months in southwestern Uganda, where she is studying traditional East African dance and learning traditional dances and movement rhythms from the local community near the Kasiisi Primary School outside Fort Portal. Murdock is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher with the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company and a dancer with the Harvard Ballet Company who co-directed a collaborative production between the companies, “Counterpoint,” on the Loeb Drama Center’s Mainstage in fall 2012. She plans to dance professionally after college. This is her second post from Africa; read her first post here.

I have been talking with Mr. Kabutuku Stephen, the music teacher and choir master at Kasiisi Primary School, to learn the stories behind some traditional dances throughout Uganda as well as the movement.

The Twin Dance:

A long, long time ago the bush people, the Batooro Tribe in the Tooro Kingdom, had the belief that giving birth to twins was a bad omen which signified that a curse had been put on the family. The only way to remove the curse was to go into the mountains and kill both the mother and the twins. When a man married, he had to marry a woman from outside of his clan (clans are identified by different animals, and contain the entirety of an extended family), and the birth of twins would cause hostility between clans because the woman would be killed and the man was encouraged to marry again.

One time there was a man who married a woman who then gave birth to twins. To remove the curse, she and the twins were killed and the man remarried. His second wife then proceeded to give birth to twins and was killed along with the babies. His third wife gave birth to twins as well. The third wife’s father did not want to kill his daughter, and her clan began to raise the argument that the probability of three wives having twins was so low that the blame should be placed on the husband, and therefore he should be the one to be killed. To avoid greater hostility forming between the husband’s and wife’s clans from the debate over who should be killed, the clan leaders decided to go into the mountains to determine which individual should be killed.

The Girl Guides performing at an assembly in front of the whole school.

The leaders decided that they didn’t want to kill anyone, but they knew they would need a very strong reason before both clans would accept it, so they waited in the woods trying to think of a way to defend their decision. All of a sudden there was severe lightning and thunder and rain accompanied by a huge earthquake. The clan leaders had their answer! They began dancing and emerged from the bush to share the news with their clans. They came back to their people and told them that through the earthquake the Twin God had decreed that no one should be killed, but in order to avoid the curse everyone from both clans must dance for four days (or until the naming ceremony took place 3-4 days after the birth)! If anyone did not dance, they would be killed instead. The friends who came to watch the dancing were told to go home and bring back food for the dancers who were exhausted after dancing for so long.

To this day, the birth of twins is marked by a huge celebration and a lot of dancing. The Twin Dance begins with the dancers creeping in from the bush and becomes progressively more joyous as time goes on, depicting the change from twins being a sign of a curse to a celebration of life. Their costumes include bark cloth wrapped around the torso, and vines wrapped around the bark cloth and head.

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