Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Movie Marathon #4 War Dance

War Dance

"In everything we do there must be good music to make life good. . .
"When I am singing I feel like things are exactly as they used to be."
"When I dance my problems vanish. The camp disappears. I am proud to be an Acholi"

words of children living in war zone Displacement Camp.

The movie, War Dance, takes place in the civil war torn Northern Uganda. It follows the lives of three young children who attend school in a refugee camp. They have all directly experienced the tragedy of war and "grown up having heard the sounds of gun shots since their birth". Music for them is an escape from the horrors of their country's civil war. It is therapy against the trauma inflicted by war. Most of the villagers of Patongo, the most remote and vulnerable, village to the attacks of the rebel forces have fled to the camps for safety. The children, enrolled in school, find hope through the rich tradition of song and dance. They come from a world in which many of them have seen their parents murdered, and relatives abducted and missing. Some of the children have been abducted from their families and forced to fight in the rebel army.

Nancy, a thirteen year old recalled the following, "The rebels cut my father into pieces with machetes and ordered my mother to bury the pieces...That night they came to the village...The rebels ordered my mother to go outside...They disappeared and we did not see them anymore. . . I gathered my siblings and took them into the bush. We never got to say goodbye to our mother. . . I am the one responsible for my three siblings.
After subsequently reuniting with her mother Nancy still has to care for her three siblings because her mother travels to the various camps to looking for work.

Four years after the murder of her father Nancy's mother takes her to the site where her father was murdered. The grave is marked by a cross embedded in the hard soil. "This is where your father is buried" Nancy's mother stated.

"Mommy, I want to lie down here with daddy... They should have killed me with my father" declared a distraught Nancy.
Children living in the war zone of Uganda have been left with a lot of scars and the music is a healing therapy for them.

Nancy prays this prayer at her fathers grave, "Dear God: You took him away from me. My brothers and sisters did not grow up to know father. You took him away. Maybe one day you will bring him back to me so I can see him one more time. .. Father I will keep you in my heart. I have nothing more to say."

Dominic, age thirteen asserts, "I've been living in the war zone my whole live...I love the xylophone. I feel better when I play. I was nine years old when I was abducted...We were shaking because we had no way out...They threatened  to kill us if we looked at them. They tied us up and marched us into the bush...I was held prisoner for two weeks. I saw my brother beaten. I hope my brother is still alive. They may have killed him.. . I know God is not happy with me...One day we saw two men and a man in the field. We ordered them to lie down. The rebels ordered us to kill the farmer with his own hoe. Anyone crying would be killed... Three rebels told me I was really brave. The farmers had done nothing wrong.. . You are the first to know that I killed.

Rose - Rose's parents were murdered by the rebels. They had been abducted and beheaded and their heads placed in large cooking jars When Rose looked inside she discovered the heads of her parents to her horror.

When it comes time for the children to leave for Kampala for the National Music Competition that they have worked so hard for, Rose explains, "Nobody is helping me pack because they don't want me to go." 

Rose's aunt had threatened to not let her go because then there would be no one to take care of the children while she was gone.

Rose is one of 200,000 children orphaned by the war.

If my mother could see me sing she would be so proud of me. Things would be different (if she were alive.) Rose's aunt treats her like a servant demanding she assume as many of the household responsibilities and care for her nieces and nephews as she can cram into a day. And she threatens to beat her when she does not move quickly enough. Rose says, "When I sleep I  dream about my parents. Rose's one respite is music.

Kampala Music Festival

"I am excited to see what peace looks like. (remark from one of the children traveling to Kampala)

"These people think because we are in the war zone that we cannot do anything good. But we will show them we are giants."

In 2005 The children of the village of Patongo traveled to the capital city, Kampla, to take part in the prestigious Kampala Music Festival. For two days they traveled by truck and accompanied by armed guards through rebel infested territory. Over the next three days three hundred and fifteen participants competed for the prestigious grand prize along with numerous other distinctions including: best musician award;  traditional dance award;

The simple prayer that was said to send off the children to Kampala was, "Almighty God, we pray for your servants. May you be with them. Guide them; protect them Until we meet again. Amen."

Some of the children from the South insulted the children from the village of Patongo. They called them murderers. They called them rebels. As they prepared for their performances they were reminded by the adults that have worked tirelessly to prepare them for the competition that, "mood - your mood is the most important thing."

Five thousand children competed and the Children of Patongo Village were awarded Best Musician Award and Best Traditional Dance Award. Some of the following comments followed:

"Patongo has exceeded every ones expectations. Even for themselves." (observer)

"We went on the stage and did the best. We danced so well...People were proud and wanted to come and dance but that was not allowed." (one of the children)

"In my heart, I am more than a child of war. I am a musician, I am the future of my tribe. I am talented!" (one of the children)

"Now people will not see me as the girl whose parents were killed but as the girl who won a trophy."

"Even though we are in a war zone we can do things of value."

"We won for our entire Acholi tribe!"


The children returned home as heroes and sheroes. They all still live in the camp. Rose hopes to become a music teacher. Nancy was accepted at a Trade School and hopes to become a doctor. Dominic gave his new xylophone away to the school. He hopes to become a traveling musician.

This movie was a masterful example of the use of creative artistry that captures the tragedy of war while depicting the resiliency of the human spirit. I promise that you will not be able to watch this movie without weeping at both the tragic loss of innocence and the amazing ability of individuals to prevail in the face  adversity.

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Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah