the fire dance of the Itsekiri

An encounter with the fire dance of the Itsekiri people

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I saw the men dancing on fire, stepping on the burning coals without a care in the world.

I was mesmerized as I watched them.

the fire dance of the itsekirithe fire dance of the itsekiri

“How can man be superior to fire? How can man step on fire without being burnt?”

It was an occasion for the fire dance of the Itsekiri people, an ethnic group in Delta state, Nigeria.

They had gathered for their cultural festival.

Clad in colourful outfits, white tops with orange wrappers, orange headties and bandanas.

They waved white handkerchiefs in their hands in all directions.

I saw them, they were old and young.

I moved closer, the beats of the drums rang out in the arena.

The beats were seducing and inviting me to dance.

The men and women danced energetically, shaking their waists rhythmically to the beats.

The drummers played like men possessed with the spirit of drumming.

The people danced and the dust rose in the air.

I saw three logs of wood placed in the centre of a circle.

Petrol was poured onto the logs of wood.

A man struck a matchstick against a matchbox and threw the flaming matchstick into the woodpile.

Fire sprung in the air.

The fire dance of the itsekiri people was set to begin.

The dancers came out and danced around the fire several times.

They danced barefooted and some were bare bodied. They chanted words and phrases as they encircled the fire.

Suddenly, one of them jumped into the fire and danced inside it.

the fire dance of the itsekiri

After some seconds, he jumped out and kept dancing.

Some people applauded while some stared in awe.

I moved closer to the scene, captivated.

A young woman was shaking hysterically holding a staff in her hand.

She danced around the fire and jumped in still shaking.

The fire sprang up and covered her.

I counted forty seconds before she jumped out.

Three men surrounded her and led her away.

She was still shaking violently.

“She is not normal, she is possessed by the spirit” I said to myself.

The men stoked the flames of the fire, adding more wood to it.

The smoke went up in the air.

Another group of dancers filed out, dancing around the fire.

I gazed around, I saw the people seated at decorated tables, chatting, eating and having a good time.

“This is a cultural festival,” I said to myself and continued, “But I wonder if they are ingesting or applying any substance that makes them impervious to the fire”.

The fire dancers were stepping into the fire and dancing on it.

As I began moving around to explore the arena, I heard a deep voice sound behind me,

“Young man, it is now time for you to join the fire dance!”

I turned around and took to my heels!

Watch the video of the fire dance here


Iniobong Leroi Umoh is a storyteller, a satirist and creative writer. He blurs the line between reality and fiction and seeks to create a connection with the reader through engaging content. His works have been featured across various online and offline platforms. He hopes to one day travel around the world on a luxury yacht, sipping expensive wine and documenting all his experiences in a journal. You can send him a mail at

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