“Of Dances for Enjoyment” by Mtoro Bin Mwinyi Bakari

Listen Seeker, I come in peace,

“The actual sight of a first-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build.” — Booker T. Washington

In “Ibn Battuta in Black Africa” by Said Hamdun and Noel King, the authors have an Appendix on East Africa which excerpts Mtoro Bin Mwinyi Bakari’s “The Customs of the Swahili People.” Mtoro was physically African but mentally non-African: he took up the Asian Islamic faith and betrayed our race by marrying a European German woman. Notwithstanding these errors, he has put his attempt to preserving our ancestral customs and from the attempt we gain insight into what Community is. Over a year ago I shared with you the positive account of our ancestry as given by the Asian Ibn Battuta. Today, see for yourself what good it would be to be self-determining.

Certainly, a reader will see signs of slavery, tribalism and shaming in the following songs and notes. In perspective, these were our colonized ancestors (the Swahili and the above authors), the result of Asian Slavery, a harsh, grotesque practice that precedes European Slavery; yet also you will see signs of leadership, courtship and mentorship–really pay attention to the beautiful Kigoma dance and the competitions. It’s these aspects which the African Blood Siblings are organizing to emulate. When you assist the African Blood Siblings, as by donating or enlisting, you will be assisting African-Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Restorism. Ase!

Of Dances for Enjoyment
Excerpt from, “The Customs of the Somali People”
By Mtoro Bin Mwinyi Bakari

OF ANCIENT DANCES

From ancient times the greatest expression of joy at weddings or on other occasions is the dance. If there is rivalry, they dance. All love the dance, the very old and the young. Even jumbes dance, for everybody loves it.

THE GREAT DANCE (OR THE BIG DRUM)

It is originally the dance of chieftancy. For it two drums are placed on beds in the yard and beaten with two sticks. The drummer, unless he is a jumbe, bares his head and feet, and the piper, if he is a slave, has bare feet, and the horn player too; but a freeman retains his cap.[1]

After these drums the third great drum is set up on a log. It is called mkuwiro, and it is the most important of the great drums. When these drums are beaten, the people dance, two at a time. They must be freemen: it is not the custom for slaves to dance the great dance. When the freemen dance, they bare their heads and feet.[2] When jumbes dance, they do not bare their heads or feet. A shaha or waziri dancing with a jumbe takes off his turban but not his cap. The dancers hold swords in their hands and ance with them, and when a jumbe dances he has two attendant slave girls, who circle with him. This dance has no songs.

THE SENDEMRE DANCE

The most common competitive dance in the past was the sendemre.[3] For this a big drum is placed in the yard with two cbopuo, a mrungura, a pipe, and a metal tray.[4] The big drum is set in the fork of a tree and beaten with two wooden sticks. The piper has a platform built for him in a tree. It is made of mats in the shape of a house. He has a bed made for him up there and a shade of betel branches. He plays and sings, and the people below respond with words such as:

We were together; now we are apart.
You eat from wooden platters; you have no plates at home.
Let us sew the Mtondoo people in a sack and throw it in the sea.

or:

The Sitirihali folk are slaves; let us use them as slaves.
No very sick person can meet with the Prophet.

or:

Do not incite me to sing, Amri, or you will cry.
Your brother has built a house And runoffto Unyanyembe.[5]

In the dance the men hold swords, machetes, or walking sticks, and the women dance holding bunches of betel, and they dance round the yard. Then a man steps out of line and confronts a woman, and they dance together. This dance used to be danced on high days or wedding days or for fun or for competitions; but it is danced no more.

OF COMPETITIONS

In the old days there wee on the coast many competitions.[6] For this they said, “Let us form a society of one quarter of the town to challenge another.” They chose their leader, a vizier, a counselor, and a messenger. All affairs were referred to the leader–if a man died, or was going to be married, or was bereaved, the leader took charge. The vizier’s business was that if any matter arose in the town, it was referred to the vizier, and he reported to the leader. The counselor was consulted on every matter, and the messenger summoned the people, going to every house to tell them, “Tomorrow there is a meeting at the leader’s at nine o’clock, because somebody is dead,” or “We are going to a funeral,” or “We are going to condole.” Then the society acted as one man. If anything happened to displease the leader, all followed his instructions, and if at a party somebody annoyed the leader, the party broke up.

In their dance competitions they danced all night for six or seven nights of continuous dancing. They spent a great deal of money, because if one society killed two goats, the other would kill four. On the last night of the dance there was a party, and the visitors and the local people were told. Every house made buns, and from every house were snet three pishi of rice and one of wheat flour and butter and sugar.[7] If not, one house was in disgrace.

The song of the competitors is:

Mr. So-and-so, stop your gossip,
The wedding is tomorrow and the fungate next day.
You will be bankrupt; leave Gongoni alone.[8]

and the other society sings:

We ask for peace for the water to flow,
For the kolekole and the kowana to hide.
Do not pass where the enemy is.[9]

This is an account of the competitions; but now they do this less than in the past, for “empty hands are not licked if they hold not a single grain.”

THE CHANDO Dance

There are set up one chapuo (double-ended drum), one vumi (also a drum, but upright)), a mganda, and a pipe. It is performed in the yard by both men and women. They kneel down to dance, and they sing:

Chando is indeed a dance [for adults],
How can you, a little girl, wander about at night?
Chando is indeed a dance.

or:

We have come with the children to light a fire.
We have come with the children to light a fire.
The people of the house are asleep, not awake.
Open the door for me to come in.

THE KIGOMA DANCE

Originally this dance was held at weddings or just for fun. To it were invited men and women. When the women know that today there will be kigoma, they get ready their best clothes and scent themselves. To perform the dance they use a house with a large outer room. The women stay on the roof with buffalo horns, and the men stay downstairs. One is the singer, called the sogora, two play the chapuo, one a vumi, and one a tray and one a pipe.

When the dance starts, the young men come out in their best clothes, with handkerchiefs in their hands. The sogora sings, “Here we are, here we are, you.” Then two of the young men dance, and when they are tired two others relieve them. When the women see the men dancing, they trill on the roof, and they tie in a cloth chains or bracelets or rings to give to the dancers as their reward. Then the leader sings:

So-and-so, son of so-and-so,
Is dancing with his best friend.

and the men and women reply:

Yoo yoo, sir, yoo yoo sir,
He is dancing with his brother.

or:

Sleep, sir, sleep.
Where you slept yesterday, sleep there today.

or:

Like you, like you, like you, hee.
Like you, like you, like you, hee.
We shall get another as good as you.[10]

or:

The way of the monitor lizard, the monitor lizard’s way,
Everywhere he goes, the monitor lizard’s way,
The way of the monitor lizard.

Finally at the end of the dance the rewards given by the women to the men are returned to the women. Those who have them ask, “Whose is this chain?” or “Whose is this ring?” The woman who owns it recognizes it and comes to take it. If the man likes the owner of the chain, he makes an arrangement with her and they become friends. But the flowers fastened to the clothes and called posies are taken by the men. They are made with cardamom and basil and treated with sweat oils. The kigoma is danced for three to seven days. There is no feasting, and the dancing starts in the afternoon or evening.

THE TINGE DANCE

This comes from inland. It is danced by men only and consists of buffeting each other without any drums. They arrange themselves in two rows, one on this side and one on that. They stamp with the right foot and then suddenly raise the right foot. If one raises and lowers it quickly and the other is too slow, he is captured and joins the other side. They sing:

Who comes will be beaten–you,
Who comes will be beaten.

or:

The porpoise diving and coming up.

or:

Friend, O friend,
Move a leg, friend.

or:

The tomato plant grows where you plant it.

or:

Who goes to Pemba, who goes to Pemba,
Greet Mbaruk from Somanga.[11]

or:

Here is one, here is another,
The tinge player is quiet.
Here are two and another two,
The tinge player is quiet.
Here are three and another three,
The tinge player is quiet.
Here are four and another four,
The tinge player is quiet.

and so on up to ten. Then they sing, “Here is none, and here is none.” They cheer over the beaten side, saying, “You are tired, you are tired.” All respond, and they go on playing until they are tired.

THE KIUMBIZI DANCE

This is in the form of a fight. They play the chapuo, the vumi, the upatu (a sheet of metal beaten with a switch), and the pipe. The dance starts at 4 P.M. and goes on until midnight. It is danced under a tree that gives good shade, such as a mango. The young men come dressed in their best kanzu, (shirt almost down to the ankle), and the piper plays:

Come, devil, come, devil,
We will whitewash him.

The young men throw their sticks to each other, meaning that one is inviting another to dance with him. They dance with the sticks, and at first they dance properly with gestures, the sticks clashing together with no ill will; but if one is dancing with one whom he dislikes, for taking his wife or some longstanding disagreement, their enmity comes out in the kiumbizi. When they wish to break off such a kiumbizi at sundown, they play a bondogea roll, and they play with thin sticks and dance with them. Thin sticks are given to children to learn the kiumbizi, and men use them for dancing with children.

The kiumbizi is now danced at weddings; but in old days it was danced at any time.

THE KIDATU or MSOMA DANCE

This is danced by young women, vigori (maidens), wari (initiators), and married women.[12] It is danced at night, and it is danced in the yard, and the men come to watch. The women clap and sing:

Leave me, leave me, Ramadhani, leave me,
Do not strip the whole tree, For a piece of jackfruit.[13]

or:

Learning, you read learning,
The Qur’an with jealousy is not Islam.[14]

or:

When a kigori is pregnant, She is partly a mwari–partly.[15]

or:

She moaned, ah, she moaned,
I am still but a mwari–and she moaned like a cow.

or:

Leave off and take me again,
Leave off and take me again.
To be seduced is bitter.[16]

or:

Not home, not home, Mkwaja is not home.
You eat your grain, and I will eat my yeast.[17]

Notes on “Of Dances for Enjoyment”
By Said Hamdun and Noel King:

  1. Jumbe may be translated “chief” and ujumbe “chieftaincy.” In the Bagamoyo context it signified a member of one of the old “royal” families who partook of certain corporate sacral functions going back to ancient times and also exercised some political power. The title has to be distinguished from mwinyi, which often signifies “possessor” or “master” (as a title) or is perhaps the remnant of an older form of government. In German East Africa the term jumbe came to include such posts as mwangi, mtemi, mwami, and mkulungwa.
  2. Something may be discerned in the ngoma kuu (great dance) of the elements of Bagamoyo society. A slave may not dance, though a woman slave attendant may circle with a chief. If a slave plays, he does so with bare head and feet. The freemen (the proud waungwana) are prominent, the shaha and waziri who have inherited or attained special status have their place, then come the jumbes.
  3. This dance appears to have been danced by factions who sang antiphonally, litanywise (in the case the Mtondoo people and the Sitirihali folk). They seem to have consisted of two great lines or shallow crescents of people facing one another, each line dancing back and forth or sending out “champions” who confronted the other side. Here e see how closely some dances approximate ritual battles.
  4. The chapuo is a double-ended drum; the mrungura is a long drum; the pipe is a like a reed flute; and the sound of the playing on a metal tray can be imagined, in that these days a debe, a five-gallon metal drum for carrying gasoline, with some stones in it, can be shaken in time with the music.
  5. “Unyanyembe”–the country of the Wanyamwezi, capital Tabora (Kaze) or Urambo, at the junction of the routes to Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Swahili traders reached it fairly early in their travels and used it as a base for their expeditions into the Congo and the Buganda.
  6. We see here stated on an elemental level the basic human need for factionalism and competition, a need that has generated such diverse events as the rivalry between “houses” artificially set up by the masters in Arnold’s English public-school system, the family plague that beset the late medieval Italian cities so starkly portrayed in Romeo and Juliet, and the civil war that destroyed European hegemony in 1914-18. To sing, dance, and potlatch our hostility seem more enjoyable ways to ruin. Among the Enga of Highland New Guinea, for example, this type of quasi-warfare takes the form of the “pig exchange,” though in some years actual warfare reemerges.
  7. Pishi of rice–about four pints or six pounds.
  8. Fungate–a part of the wedding celebrations, mentioned above. There is a hint here of a pre-Islamic seven-day week. Gongoni is a quarter of Bagamoyo.
  9. Kolekole and kowana–fish, known for stupidity or other such qualities, used here as names for the opposite group.
  10. “Like you”–this English translation is ambiguous; the meaning is closer to “similar to.” This is apparently the song of a woman being divorced by her husband.
  11. These are islands off the coast of East Africa.
  12. In this dance the women of Swahili society appear in their appropriate functions and ranks–maiden, initiate, initator-tutrix, and married woman. There are both African and Arab dances in which very old women played an essential role, but there are not mentioned here.
  13. In this verse we may suppose a young woman begs her lover not to rush ahead to sexual intercourse, because all may be ruined by such haste.
  14. “Learning” is elimu–Islamic higher studies beyond Qur’an.
  15. The kigori is the girl who has not yet been recognized as having had her first menstrual period. Once she is so recognized, she begins the education of initiation and becomes a mwari. A girl’s first ovum may become fertilized if she is having regular sexual intercourse, but beyond this the song speaks of the feelings of any young woman, no matter the calendar age, who finds herself pregnant before she feels ready for children.
  16. Velten takes this to be the lament of a man who has been committing adultery and hears from his wife that she has done the same. Innumerable folk songs from England and the United States contain this common theme of the (usually) woman’s sorrow that her lover has coldly packed his bags.
  17. Mkwaja is a place between Pangani and Sadan.

A reading man and woman is a ready man and woman, but a writing man and woman is exact.

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