Academic journal article Women & Music

Baakisimba: Constructing Gender of the Baganda (of Uganda) through Music and Dance

Academic journal article Women & Music

Baakisimba: Constructing Gender of the Baganda (of Uganda) through Music and Dance

Article excerpt

There is a dialectic relationship between baakisimba and gender constructions among the Baganda people of Uganda. (1) On the one hand, baakisimba--the term denotes a drum, a music genre, and dance type accompanied by this music--participates in the very construction of gender relations among the Baganda. On the other hand, Baganda gender construction helps to shape and restructures baakisimba. I contend that "sexual differences are a fact of biology, but what significance societies attach to sexual differences is a human cultural creation. These differences in value and behavior assigned to women and men are embodied in gender role" (Strobel 1984, 88).

The performance practice of baakisimba prescribes drumming and dancing roles to individuals depending on their being "men" or "women." Among the Baganda, the construction of categories of "men" and "women" depends on certain social and cultural practices and not simply on biological differences. Moreover, shapes of the drums, dance movements, costumes, and the interaction of drummers, dancers, and the audience during baakisimba performance crystallize the constructed gender relations in Buganda. This performance practice is historically contingent, however, on cultural, social, and political structures that have shaped Buganda, a context in which gender relations are continually resignified and negotiated. Therefore, baakisimba's form and meanings are contingent on the Baganda's revolving social, cultural, and historical contexts. Baakisimba is an ongoing process through which the Baganda's gender relations are actively constituted, reinscribed, challenged, and negotiated.

Although gender plays a significant role in shaping the music and dance structures of the Baganda, neither musicologists nor ethnomusicologists who have so far studied the Baganda's music have examined the implications of gender on music and dance performance. (2) In this essay, I question how gender ideologies affect dance and musical thought and practice, as well as how music and dance function as vehicles through which gender is defined. I examine the ways in which baakisimba helps to construct gender relations in Buganda. What are the social and cultural issues that distinguish between "men" as musicians and "women" as dancers? I focus on the symbolism of the drum (the major accompanying musical instrument), performance practice, and choreography in relation to baakisimba performed in the palace before the abolition of the Buganda kingdom in 1966.

The view that music and dance are created within a specific cultural context and that these performing arts articulate broader social values and ideologies guides my essay (Turino 1993). While the term "articulation" may be interpreted in many ways, Stuart Hall's discussion in Race, Articulation, and Societies Structured in Dominance (1996) informs my use of the term. I use Hall's definition to argue that, although there is a relationship between baakisimba and gender of the Baganda, the relationship they have is "not that of an identity, where one structure perfectly recapitulates or reproduces or even `expresses' another; or where each is reducible to the other" (1996, 38). Instead, baakisimba is a site through which the Baganda construct ideologies about gender relations. The performers and audience of baakisimba participate in constructing the Baganda cultural ideologies about how "men" should relate with "women" and vice versa.

I contend that one cannot deduce the meaning of baakisimba solely from what happens in the structures of music and dance, because the Baganda historically constructed baakisimba through their beliefs and ideas and through the "natural organization" of their world. This formulation of the Baganda's world also manifests outside baakisimba, including, but not limited to, myths, folk tales, proverbs, and language. To these we should turn for a deeper understanding of baakisimba and how it relates to the society of the Baganda. …

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