Basoga dancers spark laughter, joy

Basoga dancers wearing red sarongs and goat’s hair belts greeted students in Jinja, at the source of the Nile. (Sophia Raymond | The Media School)

After a nearly three-hour bus ride to Jinja, a Ugandan town east of Kampala, we were eagerly anticipating taking photos at the source of the Nile in Lake Victoria.

We didn’t know what to expect from this weekend excursion, other than standing in the middle of the world’s most famous river. Little did we know we would gain insight into Ugandan tribal culture and make new friends in the process.

When we stepped off the bus, we were greeted by a lively group of dancers and musicians. The dancers consisted of about 15 women and two men. They were barefoot, with red sarongs wrapped around their waists. Their hips were adorned with special belts made of cascading goat’s hair. Their faces were decorated with euphoric smiles.

The traditional harvest dance of the Basoga tribe in Uganda is called “Tamena Ibuga.” It symbolizes friendship and unity. The dancers shake their hips continuously, seemingly without tiring. When we arrived in Jinja, they danced with one another, and they performed solos. They were naturals in front of the camera.

It wasn’t long before a few of the dancers reached out their arms to us. “You come,” they said, and transferred their goat hair belts to our hips. They held our hands as we struggled through the dance moves, and we couldn’t suppress our laughter. In spite of our apparent inferiority, we wazungu danced to the musicians’ drumming and took photos alongside our new Ugandan friends.

The disarming joy that radiated from everyone was inspiring, and it’s an experience that will stay with me forever. I have never smiled so much in my life as I did in this brief encounter with the Basoga people.