Competitive Dance and Social Identity: Converging Histories in Southwest Tanzania

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Mashindano! : Competitive Music Performance in East Africa


On a hot, dusty, late September afternoon in 1996, in a fenced­ in clearing at the heart of Ikombe, a fishing village on Lake Nyasa's northeast shores, dancers from the plains to the north danced to the beat of their lng'oma drum while the people of the village followed their moves. Four dancers in a front row wielded staffs in a fashion resembling bayonet drills. A back row of dancers held calabashes and fly whisks made of tail hair. The dancers followed the directions of their leaders, called kings, some of whom carried wooden spears. After a few hours of dancing punctuated by rests, another Ing'oma drum could be heard approaching. People from the mountains of Selya to the north were bringing their drum. They had been traveling the whole day by foot. The newcomers entered the village in formation with their own drum sounding a steady beat. They passed, but ignored, the ongoing dance in the village . " Vita Mbele"-"War Up Front" in KiSwahili1"-was painted on the arriving men's drum, and their demeanor left no doubt as to their seriousness: they had come to compete.2


Published as:
Ellison, James. "Competitive Dance and Social Identity: Converging Histories in Southwest Tanzania." In Mashindano!: Competitive Music Performance in East Africa, edited by Frank Gunderson & Gregory F. Barz, 199-231. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, 2000.

For more information on the published version, visit the distributor's website, African Books Collective Ltd.

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