Riel (or Rieldans) is a Khoisan word for an ancient celebratory dance performed by the San (also known as Bushmen), Nama and Khoi. It is considered one of the oldest dancing styles of indigenous South Africa. Also known as Ikhapara by the Nama, it is danced at an energetic pace and demands a lot of fancy footwork.
The riel is the oldest entertainment form used as a social, cultural and educational tool by the Khoisan people long before Western cultures and traditions arrived at the Cape of Good Hope. It is an age-old dance of the Khoisan hunters, with distinct Irish and Scottish folk music influences, all performed to the beat of “boeremusiek”, Dutch folk songs and minstrel songs of the south of America (Click here for an example.). It became the dance of the working classes, particularly between the 1940s and 1950s and was danced, especially in the Northern Cape and Karoo and some other regions.
This lively dance was danced around the campfire after hunting expeditions, good harvests or during a celebration Later this also became the dance of farmworkers and sheep shearers, whose daily activities are often portrayed during a dance.
The riel was made popular again in recent years and is a true celebration of ancient traditions that finds new expression in contemporary forms. Its modern version has elements of colonialism as the accompanying instrumentation includes guitar and violin, and the outfits adorning the dances are commonly known as ‘working class clothes’.