THE settler colonial authorities and missionaries in the then Rhodesia considered many traditional dances and rituals ‘magical, witchcraft and heathen’ dances and sought to suppress them with the ‘Fox-trot’, ‘Cha-cha-cha’, ‘Tango’ and other Western-style ballroom dances.
Before the colonial period, traditional dance was an integral part of the socio-religious life of ethnic communities in the country.
With the arrival of Christian missionaries, however, and the consequent changes in the lifestyle of the indigenous people, traditional dance was being usurped and even eradicated. Spirit possession and dance are closely associated.
Examples of caves with traditional depictions of traditional dance ceremonies are in Domboshava, Chivero – Dembo, Bindura and Chikupo/Chitubu (the spring) in Glen Norah, Harare.
Other than some mining companies which arranged ‘tribal dance competitions’ as a form of entertainment for their employees, little was done to encourage the promotion and development of traditional dance in Zimbabwe.
Early in the 1920s, traditional dance groups began to form in urban areas.
By the end of that decade, many other dance groups had been formed in Harare, mainly by Mozambican, Malawian and other migrant workers who used dance groups to consolidate their ethnic ties.
For the next 20 years (1930 – 1940), several groups of Shona and Ndebele traditional dancers were formed, performing mainly in beer halls in urban areas.
The dance groups were also hired to perform their dances and music by urban and rural councils, political parties, cultural associations as well as individuals. Agricultural show societies also promoted traditional dance through ‘tribal contests’ at annual trade fairs.
In the late 1960s, the first Neshamwari Dance Festival took place backed by the Harare City Council.
Among the many groups performing at these festivals were: Boterekwa Dance Group, Jerusarema No. 1 Dance Group, Mtilikwe Mbakumba Dance Group, Zvido Zvevanhu Dance Group, Mhuri yekwa Gweshe Mbira Group, Mhuri yekwa Muchara Mbira Group and Bikita Chinyambera Dance Group.
Many traditional dances have survived the colonial era in Zimbabwe.
Although now the preserve of a few traditional ceremonies that are still being upheld, many of the traditional dances are today performed for social and entertainment purposes by various dance groups.
There has been a tendency for traditional dance groups to master dances from particular parts of the country only.
The most dominant traditional Zimbabwean dances which have survived the onslaught of the colonial era are:
l Amabhiza/Hoso – A popular Kalanga dance (Matabeleland South).
l Dandanda/Dhinhe – Originated among the Korekore people and performed at religious rites and ceremonies. It is popular in Mashonaland Central.
l Chihoda – It is an exclusive women’s dance announcing their fertility.
l Chinyambe – It’s a hunter’s dance.
l Chinyambera – A ritual hunter’s dance of the Duma people of the Bikita area.
l Isitshikitsha – A dance the Ndebele performed during ritual ceremonies.
l Isangoma – A religious dance among the Ndebele.
l Jaka – It is performed in Buhera, but has Ndebele origins.
l Mbende – A puberty and fertility rite dance performed in Mashonaland East and Central.
l Mhande – A dance performed in parts of Midlands, especially in Shurugwi and Mvuma.
l Mbakumba – Originally performed by the Karanga people to celebrate good harvests.
l Majukwa – A religious dance among the Karanga people.
l Muchongoyo – A typical Nguni war-dance, now established among the Ndau people of the Chipinge area and Bulawayo.
l Zunzamazakwatira – A female funerary rite dance performed at funerals as a supplication for the continuity of one’s relationship with the in-laws in the next world.
Among indigenous peoples the world over, traditional dance is the most developed of all the performing arts.
Dance is the genre that carries the spiritual, cultural and social identity of Zimbabwe’s unique tradition.
Traditional dance should be encouraged and promoted by all, beginning at schools because dance is a cultural medium which retains our identity and restores as well as perpetuate our rich cultural values.
Zimbabwean traditional trade festivals such as Chibuku Road to Fame, Chibuku Neshamwari, and other traditional dance gatherings must be maintained and always celebrated.
Intellectuals and academics must make an effort to record the symbolism, patterns of communication, dance paraphernalia and livery, the narrative central to the ceremonial nature of our dances.
We must no longer dance to the tune of others.
Credit: Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci Michelina
Photo Credit: Zimbolife