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Research in African Literatures 30.4 (1999) 144-155

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The Turner-Schechner Model of Performance as Social Drama:
A Re-Examination in the Light of Anlo-Ewe Haló 1

Daniel Avorgbedor

This essay isolates dramaturgic procedures in Anlo-Ewe haló performance and evaluates them along the hypothetical and theoretical ideas of Victor Turner and Richard Schechner. The procedures are situated in their significant social and aesthetic formulations and along the manner in which they enhance the communication of dramatic impulse. The influence of the social framework, the deliberate framing or staging (with set rules and procedures), and the competitive engagement of rival groups in haló will clarify the notion of "social drama," as propounded in the works of Turner (The Anthropology of Performance; The Drums of Affliction; Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors; and From Ritual to Theatre) and Schechner (Performative Circumstances; Essays on Performance Theory; and Performance Theory). I will begin with a summary of the components of haló.

Haló is a proscribed performance event that centers around interpersonal and intergroup hostilities among the Anlo-Ewe of Ghana. This event represents a climax and choreographed articulation of conflicts, tensions, and hostilities among performing groups in a village (or from two villages), and among individuals from different performing groups. Individual acts or behaviors that significantly depart from accepted norms (e.g., theft, incest, miscegenation) are often the target of haló performances. The collective framework of Anlo-Ewe society and polity promotes the spontaneous engagement of a whole group on behalf of an individual member, whenever discords arise between individuals of different group affiliations. Physical encounters occur sporadically as a result of growing hostilities, and police arrests sometimes ensue. Haló is staged deliberately to aggravate the existing framework of hostilities and it discolors relationships among warring groups and individuals for a lifetime. The social significance of this performance tradition is also demonstrated in its emphasis on public display (i.e., nudede xgã me na ame, or lit., "putting mouth into someone's bedroom" ["washing someone's linen in public"]). In addition, rival groups actively travel to promulgate their cause and advertise their antagonists through scheduled performances in different villages. In this way the social fields of aggression widen and gain momentum, till the encounters reach levels of attrition or are arbitrated and outlawed by local and government authorities. The performances exact heavy tolls on human lives, as reflected in reports of deaths that are associated with physical and spiritual (i.e., destructive magic) confrontations

A haló performance, in a consideration of genres and means, derives its basic principles and resources from existing practices of music and dance, simply known as ( uƒoƒo (lit., drum-beating) (see Fiagbedzi; Ladzekpo; Anyidoho; Avorgbedor). A group may take an existing music and dance [End Page 144] such as Kinka, assign it a new name, and compose new songs and drum phrases in order to transform it into a halóu (see Avorgbedor, "Freedom to Sing"). The procedures and modes of participation are, however, reinvented or extended considerably. For example, rival groups take turns in performance so that they may take opportunities to audit and evaluate insult songs; an opponent from the audience must show his/her presence by raising a hand or finger, or by standing on a chair; audience members should react physically when their insults are being sung; and so on. Performers make special effort to intensify insults by introducing performance ideas that cut across several genres and techniques. The normal song, dance, and instrumental modes are therefore greatly diversified through the strategic integration of spoken forms, mime, and concrete moldings of insults. Performance items are usually precomposed and learned in secrecy, but new forms and contents such as verbal glosses on songs, extended and musical improvisation of insults, and new drum patterns are also created on the spot.

All performance events assume varying dimensions of dramatic design and enactment, and the works of some symbolic interactionists such as Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman, Herbert Blumer, and Erving Goffman stress and...


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