previous sub-section
1 Settings and Samples in African Cults of Affliction
next sub-section

Ngoma On The Swahili Coast

One of the foremost common characteristics of the cults of affliction of Kinshasa and Dar es Salaam is that they are rituals imported by immigrants from all regions of the nation. In Tanzania these cults of afflic-


tion from the coast and the interior are differentiated around particular themes and issues; they are also ethnically diversified. In the urban setting, their practitioners continue the particular emphasis of the classic rite. But they also are sensitive to the changing expectations upon healers in the urban setting and may shift their emphasis to new issues.

Despite the diversity of cults from across Tanzania and the tendency for them to become generalized to the urban setting, there is a sense in which cults of affliction are more homogeneous in Dar es Salaam than in Kinshasa. The term ngoma is widely recognized as connoting performance, drumming, dancing, celebration, and ritual therapy. This understanding of ngoma means that the performances are independent of the healing functions, leading to a distinction between ngoma of entertainment and of healing (ngoma za kutibu ).

The dominant community of ngoma therapies in Dar is that of the coastal Zaramo and Zigua peoples. An important work devoted to the subject by Finnish ethnographer Marja-Lisa Swantz (1979) identifies the major indigenous ngoma as Rungu, Madogoli, Killinge, and Ruhani. Many other distinctive ngoma rites have been identified among immigrants to Dar from coastal cities and the islands. A Kilwa healer practices ngoma Manianga and Mbungi. Another ngoma cell group of healers practices Msaghiro and N'anga. In addition to these ngoma of coastal societies, one also finds ngoma of inland groups in Dar. The BuCwezi cult of the lake region is found in the city, as are those of other Western Tanzanian societies such as the Nyamwezi, the Sukuma, and even some Nilotic groups such as the Maasai. The extensive writing on ngoma in Sukuma society near Lake Victoria may be summarized briefly for its excellent portrayal of a backdrop to some of the national activities that occur in ngoma today.

A Classic Profile Of Ngoma In Sukumaland, Western Tanzania

The Sukuma people, studied extensively by Hans Cory earlier in this century, offer a rich and elaborate array of historic ngoma comparable to that described among the Ndembu by Victor Turner. Cory, an Austrian ethnologist who worked for the British colonial government, left both extensive published and unpublished archival notes, now housed in the African Studies Center Library of the University of Dar es Salaam. These documents illustrate varied approaches to classify and understand the ngoma associations.


According to Cory, some ngoma were devoted to ancestor worship and divination: Ufumu, on the paternal side; Umanga, on the maternal side; Ulungu and Luwambo specifically belonged to particular clans. These ngoma Cory called "non-sectarian churches," since individuals could belong to several at once, and they were never intolerant of one another. Mabasa was joined by parents of twins and was concerned with the ceremonial cleansing of twin children. Other ngoma Cory saw as guilds for the study and practice of particular arts and occupations. They formed strong, disciplined fraternities, involved in mutual assistance and the protection or perpetuation of professional and technical secrets and obligations. These included: Uyege, for bow-and-arrow hunters of elephants, which had evolved into a fraternity and dance society; Utandu, a type of guild for rifle hunters of elephants; Uyeye and Ugoyangi, for snake handling and treating of snake bites; Ununguli, for porcupine hunters; Ukonikoni, a guild of medicine men devoted to witch finding; and Usambo, a thieving or thief-catching society. Ugumha (or Ugaru) and Ugika were ngoma societies without discernible function other than performance in dance competitions. Salenge was a mutual aid and dance society into which only the leader was fully initiated. Uzwezi (or Bucwezi), which had come to the Sukuma from Usumbara, and Migabo, which had come from the Swahili coast, had, after being concerned with the ancestor worship of certain clans, evolved into generalized dance societies (Cory 1938).

Cory, the colonial ethnologist, thought that the ngoma orders among the Sukuma had a positive role because they did not meddle in politics. In the absence of other Sukuma initiations, they instructed the youth in respect for elders, provided social solidarity, and instilled fear of the consequences of neglected social obligations. Thus they contributed to social stability. They also offered outlets for artistic and histrionic expression. The dance competitions he saw as generally positive, although they took much time away from the peoples' work in the fields.

Ngoma Of The Land, Ngoma Of The Coast

The particularism of naming in the Sukuma ngoma setting suggests that there is much innovation and adaptation in the overall idiom. In ngoma of the Dar es Salaam Swahili coast, the proliferation of orders arises at least as much from specific spirit classes as from particular functional specializations. Whereas the ngoma association names appear to offer a particularized view of ngoma, spirit classes diagnosed


to possess afflicted individuals are generalized into two or three groups. Among the coastal Islamized peoples, spirits are called masheitani or majini, both Arabic-Swahili words. The distinction between the two is not as important, apparently, as that distinguishing spirits of the water from those of the land, with some occasionally identified with the beach or coast. Thus, Msaghiro is an ngoma for sufferers of chronic and severe headache caused by a combination of Maruhani, Subizani, and Mzuka spirits, all coastal or beach spirits. Each of these classes is subdivided. The Subizani, of whom there are ten, are beach or rock spirits; some are male, some female, who have to do with children, both making them ill and helping to raise them to health. N'anga ngoma is a manifestation of Warungu spirits of the land, hills, baobab trees, and mountains; their mode of affliction is chronic severe headaches. Frequently each spirit type will be "played" in an ngoma ritual by a particular type of instrument. Not surprisingly, it is the major inland spirits that are usually represented by the classic single membrane ngoma drums.

Emmanuel Mshiu and I. A. J. Semali of the Traditional Medicine Research Unit had arranged for me to see Botoli Laie, a healer they knew from their surveys, to work with ngoma. Botoli was a Mutumbe from coastal Kilwa who lived in the Manzese locality of southwest Dar es Salaam, not far from the main road but back in the villagelike area filled with houses surrounded by banana and palm trees and lush gardens. Botoli was home, with his two wives and children, and yes, he would gladly talk. And yes, he did work with ngoma: Manianga and Mbungi. His house was large for the area, with a raised courtyard suitable for ngoma performances and a mazimu ancestor shrine in one corner (see fig. 2).

Botoli had become an mganga (healer) in 1952 and had obtained the ngoma dimension of his work apparently without sickness having drawn him into it. I asked him whether he had suffered prior to his initiation. "No," he said, he hadn't been sick, but he was called to do ngoma Manianga and Mbungi after he was in practice. He resisted it, but then went ahead anyway.

Botoli was a vigorous man who talked in an authoritative voice. He willingly answered my questions, ready to show me the basic lines of his work with ngoma. He was a full-time healer, established with a well-built house, exuding a cohesive ambience. His children and two wives listened attentively to our conversation.

"Ngoma Manianga," he said, is used to deal with spirits of the interior of the country, that is, from Tabora and other regions across


Figure 2. 
Compound of Botoli Laie in Dar es Salaam; (a) house; (b) ngoma
drums kept here; (c) ngoma performance area; (d) mazimu ancestral
shrine; (e) tomb; (f) consultation and medicine room; (g) stream lined with
banana trees.

Tanzania and East Africa. These masheitani are ten in number: Makogila, Ali Laka, Akiamu, Akolokoto, Akimbunga, Amiyaka, Akitenga, Ananditi, Chipila, and Ndwebe. When people are affected with these masheitani, they have bodily weakness, loss of weight, or general bodily swelling; they get shaking of the body, headache, and loss of appetite. They need then to be treated, to be taken through the course of treatment including specific materia medica from the mkobe (medicine basket), as well as dancing.

For his work with ngoma Manianga, Botoli uses a simple costume consisting of a red blouse and matching skirt, with designs sewn on the blouse (see plate 7). His paraphernalia include a small ngoma drum (musondo , also used in puberty rites) sometimes a smaller double membrane drum, and about ten sets of gourd shakers. There were also sets of cloths in red, black, and other colors, associated with various spirits. The strings Botoli wore around his shoulders had red, white, and black bags sewn onto them, which symbolically articulated cosmological oppositions such as the domestic versus the wild and land versus water. Each of his ngoma included a medicine basket (mkobe ), in which he


kept a collection of a dozen or so small jars and tins of medicines specific to the ngoma. (This set of ritual items is strongly reminiscent of the nkobe of western Kongo.)

Ngoma Mbungi has much the same paraphernalia: drums, shakers, and mkobe . The five ngoma drums of Mbungi represent five up-country masheitani: Mchola, Matimbuna, Mbongoloni, Chenjelu, and Kimbangalugomi, each of which is roused and manipulated by its own drum. The instrumentation also includes two wooden double gongs, which Botoli demonstrated. The resemblance between this ngoma kit and those of the Southern Savanna-to-Kongo region is striking and raises questions about their common history. Further research is needed to establish the approximate historical connection in the spread of these rituals across the mid-continent. Were they products of the coast (Kilwa)-Tabora-Kigoma trade route in the nineteenth century and earlier? Or were they the product of an even earlier common framework?

Botoli said he works with five to seven other waganga (healers) in the ngoma rites when the performance is at his house and he is the leader; elsewhere the host for that event is the leader. He noted that he has had many novices and was still in touch with them through ngoma events, although he could not give their precise number.

Although Botoli owns the instruments that are part of the paraphernalia of each ngoma of which he is healer, he is not the expert drummer in the rites. For major rites he hires drummers who are noted for their skill; they need not be novices or patients. The performers who do therapeutic ngoma are thus the same as those doing secular ngoma, or ngoma for circumcision, or any other festival or ceremony. It is the context and content of the songs, then, that identifies ngoma as therapeutic.

Ngoma Dispensaries, Fee-For-Service Ritual

Further insight into the organization of ngoma in Dar es Salaam was afforded by a visit in Temeke District of Dar es Salaam with the Hassan brothers, who are prominent in the Shirika la Madawa ya Kiasili, a coastal organization of healers. I was accompanied by E. K. Makala of the Ministry of Culture, whose music and dance section not only sponsors ngoma dance competitions around the country but also is conducting research on the song-dance aspects of therapeutic ngoma.

Mzee Omari Hassan's house is also his clinic. The main hall and sev-


eral side rooms and the back court were loosely filled with sick people and Omari's family. In this family all three wives helped care for the sick, as well as the two sons. The wives were introduced at one point, then disappeared; the sons were allowed to participate in the talks and even asked questions later. Omari's brother Isa, who is also a healer, came by at one point to say hello.

This particular tradition had been transmitted from one generation to the next in the patriline for a long time, well before the time four generations ago when the family had converted to Islam. Omari and family are of the Wazigua tribe, of the Bagamoyo District. He had moved to Dar in the 1940s.

Omari Hassan spoke of the way he had learned the teachings of healing from his father. His father, like himself, had involved his children in the work. The children would go along with him to search for medicines in the forest, and he would explain details to them. Similarly, Omari involved his family; the children play the ngoma drums in the rites.

As in the case of Botoli, Omari's ngoma techniques had been picked up as part of his occupation, rather than in connection with an ordeal of sickness and possession. He specifically denied having been sick with the diseases that were treated through the ngoma he knew. All six had been learned from his father, and were very old: Msaghiro, for persons suffering chronic headache, if no other cure is forthcoming (small drums resembling tourist drums are used); Madogoli, for treating mental disturbances in persons with a high state of agitation; N'ganga (or N'anga) for incessant, severe, migrainelike headaches; Manianga, for persons with numb or paralyzed limbs, especially on one side of the body (shakers are the instrument here); Lichindika, for lower-back pains, when persistent; and Kinyamukera, for those suffering from an affliction whose signs include partial loss of eyesight and twisted mouth or face. When asked how many ngoma he had performed the previous week, Omari indicated that it had been about fifteen, that is, several per day. This occurred in the context of up to fifty patients per day frequenting his clinic.

This picture of ngoma differed from the one I had encountered earlier. Rather than a sufferer-novice being initiated to a cell or network, this style of treatment resembled a clinic with a doctor and many public clients. Was this the result of urban complex society, or of professionalization, in which the rituals are taken over by a specialist and dispensed to patients?


Omari treats a variety of cases with herbs and mineral medicines. When asked what his most frequent cases are, he mentioned cancer, diabetes, asthma, gonorrhea, hemorrhoids, headaches, backaches, mental disturbances—in other words, he tries his hand at about anything. Makala told of how Omari Hassan had treated a boy with a distended eyeball, after this child had been to the State Hospital at Muhimbili and they could not do anything for him. A picture taken by Dr. Emmanuel Mshiu had been in the newspaper with a write-up of traditional medicine as a resource. The eye had been put back, or had retreated back into its socket, following Omari's treatment. When asked what cases he would refer to hospitals, he said, "ordinary sickness" but not sheitani (spirit) sicknesses.

I tried to determine how Omari related his work as mganga ngoma to Islam. He had studied in Koranic school, as had some of his sons. When asked which order he belonged to, he said "Muhammadiyya," unwilling to commit himself on whether he was Sunni, Shi'ia, or Sufi. When asked about those Muslims who believe their Islamic belief will not permit them to practice ngoma rituals, he said that was an indication of their not being well trained. They do not know about ngoma. A competent Muslim doctor has to use ngoma, if one is confronted with sheitani -caused illnesses. Ngoma, he said, helps the patients to express their anxieties and to perceive treatment methods from the sheitani as they speak through the sufferers.

Omari's guidance for his therapeutic work came from another source, an Arabic text. He showed me a thick book, "from Egypt," without title or author (it had been rebound and started on page 15). He also kept notebooks in which he recorded some of his own techniques and interpreted them for his sons. He said that he had not added to the very old ngoma his father had taught him, but that he had improved on some of the methods. He also showed me notebooks (Swahili in Arabic script) in which he copied and interpreted medical practices from the book, as well as his findings about plants and ngoma techniques. This gave evidence of the active codification of African herbal and ritual therapy in interpretative writing, alongside whatever version of Islamic medicine this book offered.

Omari's involvement in the Organization of Traditional Medicine, Shirika la Madawa ya Kiasili, meant that he could practice in an authorized ngoma dispensary. The organization, with branches in Dar, Bagamoyo, and Morogoro, utilized these dispensaries for their meetings and their therapeutic sessions. Omari showed me a file of corre-


spondence with the government, dealing with the Shirika's organization and with government authorization. One letter authorized him to practice on condition his place be checked annually by someone from the Ministry of Health.

During another visit I was witness to performances of ngoma Msaghiro and N'anga. We received the same welcome as before; little children came to meet us and took our bags from us for the last part of the walk. We again received Pepsis. Omari came in and welcomed us, although he dashed off again to make preparations for Msaghiro and N'anga. We sat for a time, and Makala of the music section of the Ministry of Culture chatted with an Msukuma fellow and with another man, dressed in a suit and dark glasses, who said he represented the political party in power. Another individual was a patient, and a second said he, too, was a patient, but he also turned out to be involved in a healers' organization with the Hassan brothers.

Presently we were ushered several houses away where about twenty-five to thirty men and women and many children were seated or stood around the open courtyard that led to the roofed and partially enclosed ngoma dispensary. One part of this area was a dance or performance area. Beyond this, accessible by a door from the performance area, was a medicine room on whose door was posted the doctor's hand-painted shingle (see fig. 3).

When Makala and I entered the courtyard we shook hands with nearly everyone, amidst much excited pushing and positioning. Then they began Msaghiro, an ngoma for sufferers of chronic and severe headache caused by a combination of Maruhani, Subiyani, and Mzika spirits, all coastal or beach sheitani . The Subiyani, of whom there are ten, are "beach" or "rock" spirits. They are male and female, and have to do with children, both with making them ill and helping to raise them to health. If a male spirit appears, the healer treats the right side of the body; if female, the left side.

The female patient of this session was told to sit on a small stool, before which were placed three small gourd medicine containers covered with strands of red, white, blue, and yellow beads. Omari's brother Isa took one of these and spread the medicine, with a form of swab or tube, atop her head, and at several symmetrical points on her face, and down her limbs, and on front and back, thus "outlining" her person. As the singing continued, with five small double membrane drums and a rattle, the men and women danced and sang in pulsating movement toward and away from the patient (see fig. 3). Then Isa brought out a


Figure 3.
 Ngoma dispensary in Dar es Salaam, as used by Isa and Omari
Hassan of the healers' organization Shirika la Madawa; (a) street entrance;
(b) open courtyard; (c) household rooms; (d) roofed ngoma performance
stage; (e) medicine room. Stage shows locations of performers in session
witnessed by author and described in text.

big antelope-horn container, and circled it around the patient several times counterclockwise (looking down).

Following Msaghiro, they announced they would do a traditional greeting of the visitor, first one of them being the subject of attention, to show how it went, then it would be me. The greeting pattern, similar to the therapeutic ritual, was that all adults present would dance-shuffle toward me, first a row of men, then women, and thrust themselves close to me, then back off in the same shuffle. After a number of these group advances, each one in the row shook my hand three times. It made me feel I had become the event's center, that they were affirming me. I felt strengthened and focused by their attention. Surely there was iconic power in the healing dances around a sufferer, although it was difficult to analyze the components or even the source of this power.

Then came the N'ganga (pronounced "n'anga") dance, again for chronic severe headache, a manifestation of Warungu sheitani , spirits


of the land, hills, baobab trees, and the mountains. The instrumentation was limited to shakers this time. Singing was led by Isa, in a call-and-response manner. The patient was the focus of the dance. The short "fee for service" dance was a highly eliptical version of ngoma compared to what I had seen in Southern Africa, or in the historic Western Equatorial African examples. It was closest in comparison to one ngoma unit I observed in the Western Cape (see chapter 4). The patient did not enter trance, although this had probably been done previously.

Evidently each of the ngoma sessions follows a divination that identifies the spirit utterance and that then leads into the therapeutic response. M. L. Swantz speaks of the healing rite in the coastal ngoma as "exorcism." This may well fit the situation in which there is no initiatory follow-through. This may be related to the very low rate of persons treated (exorcised) going on to be trained as waganga, which, according to Isa Hassan, is only three to four per hundred, a rate confirmed by Lloyd Swantz (1974). The implications of this pattern for professional control of the resource, as well as of the model of therapy, are taken up again in chapter 6.

Ngoma And Islam

Not far away in Manzese-Kwadjongo lives mganga Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri, a Sufi Muslim of the Matumbe people from Kilwa. Unlike mganga Botoli, described earlier in this chapter, Mahamoud works with Kitabu (the book), magi (water), and nzizi (roots), and with Ruhani and Majini spirits of the sea. Unlike mganga Omari Hassan, who is Muslim and uses ngoma, as does non-Muslim Botoli, Mahamoud does not use or relate to ngoma, on grounds of his adherence to Sufism. The matrices of Bantu-African and Muslim culture, and the use and nonuse of ngoma by waganga, are clearly illustrated by these three healers.

Mahamoud has a well-built house near a stream, with banana and palm trees surrounding it. The two-story house contains his study, where he has his books; it also features a consultation bench, a place of prayer, a purification-bathing room, and an outdoor treating area.

When I visited him with a guide from the Traditional Medicine Research Unit, several of his four wives were seated in the hallway, with children on their laps. Mahamoud has had fifteen children, twelve of whom survive. He impressed me as an ambitious, intelligent, religious man, who took his work seriously and cared for his family. When asked whether he had been to Mecca on a pilgrimage, he said no, he could


not leave his wives and children that long, they needed him; anyway, he did not have the money.

With his several interrelated treatments, Mahamoud works with afflictions as diverse as polio (for which he has a compound of twenty-one medicines, to be taken with water over three days), excessive or irregular menstruation (I observed him treating one such patient; he read to her from a book), convulsive fevers, diarrhea and vomiting, and the preparation of aphrodisiacs for the impotent. He also works with Majini (of which seven are good and help treat, and five are bad and bring disease), and Maruhani (all seven of which are good and help treat). These spirits all stay in the ocean, but they come out or are found in other places; the Maruhani at clean places, the Majini at dirty places like latrines. When he treats, he begins with the name and other aspects of the life of the patient based on the birth date. Following a reading of his Arabic (geomancy?) texts, he goes to sacred places, starts to pray, and the spirits come forward, telling him what to do with the patient.

The Arabic text Mahamoud uses most is by the Egyptian Abdul Qattah of Macina. It tells of all types of diseases and treatments, including Maruhani and Majini. He also uses the Koran and has numerous other Arabic books in his study. He spoke Swahili and English. His father had insisted on sending his three sons to Koranic school, but he was the only one who had followed this line of work in the family tradition from his father and grandfather. One of his sons was being groomed to succeed him.

The family (patrilineal) therapeutic tradition began in the context of village protection during the Maji-Maji revolt earlier in this century against the German colonialists. Mahamoud's great-great grandfather had been head of a Matumbe village near Kilwa. In the thick of the Maji-Maji struggle, his grandfather was sent to the Arabs to learn of better medicine, for they felt inadequately protected. When his grandfather died, the work was passed on to Mahamoud's father, then to him.

When Mahamoud became mganga, he locked himself in a room and read books. Thus in isolation, the Maruhani came to him and asked, "What do you want?" "To be mganga ," he replied. The Maruhani explained cleanliness and emphasized purification with water. His house, especially the areas for prayer and healing, was immaculately clean; a floor of white porcelain tile was visible beside the "bath tub."

I asked Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri why he did not use ngoma, when some others—Zaramo, reported in Swantz, and Zigua such as Isa Hassan—did, especially with Ruhani spirits. He emphasized Islamic restric-


tions but also that ngoma was just "happiness," not real medicine. Perhaps a further answer lies in his being part of a Sufi brotherhood, which is in effect a ritual community that functionally substitutes for ngoma. This Sufi brotherhood did not have a saint, he said, but they had a tradition of sheikhs.

The three Tanzanian waganga profiled here represent a continuum from classical ngoma practitioners to degrees of Islamization. In the coastal association in which the Hassan brothers are instrumental, Islamic brotherhood structure and urban professionalism have changed the ngoma tradition. The symbolism and the rituals have been affected less. With Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri, the etiology of ngoma is addressed from within an Islamic framework. Plant lore has been retained, but the legitimation has become that of folk Islam and mysticism. A similar continuum could be traced from classic ngoma to independent Christian churches in Tanzania, which, however, I could not pursue.

Ngoma Of Healing, Ngoma Of Entertainment

The distinction between "therapeutic" and "entertainment" ngoma is an important one in understanding the larger dynamics of religion and ritual in Dar es Salaam society. This distinction already seems to have existed in early twentieth-century Sukuma ngoma, as described by Cory. It was implicit in the observation of Botoli Laie that the ngoma drumming-dancing is distinct from the medicines and is done for the exorcistic or therapeutic initiatory seances by hired musicians. Here the definition of ngoma as "performance" comes into its own. The sacrality or secularity of ngoma depends not on the music or dance form as such, but on its function or use, its context. Ngoma performances in night clubs and folkloric events put on by the national dance troupe do not, thus, differ in their form from possession or exorcistic rituals conducted by waganga. However, the secular ngoma "for entertainment" possibly reflects an evolution of the particular ritual from its original context, focused on a sufferer in the midst of personal crisis, to a more generalized performance outside that focus and the timing of a crisis.

On a particular day during my stay in Dar es Salaam in 1983, the following ngoma, licensed by the Ministry of Culture, were performed. Mungano, its name derived from the Sukuma snake dance ngoma, was performed in a bar, and later in the week at the Village Museum; Tanita; Utamaduni, an ngoma group sponsored by the Tanzania Rail-


way Corporation; DDC Kibisa; Zinj Dancing Troupe; and Kikundi Cha Sanaa, sponsored by the National Textile Corporation. At the urging of the staff at the Ministry of Culture, I attended a Sunday evening performance of the Baraguma ngoma group from Bagamoyo at the Almana Ilala nightclub (see plate 8). Over thirty such groups were registered in Dar es Salaam alone, in addition to dance bands and jazz groups (Martin 1982). This richness in entertainment music reflects not only the musicians' openness to new idioms such as jazz, but the diversity of musical offerings in the historical culture of East Africa.

E. K. Makala at the dance section of the Ministry of Culture, who concentrates on ngoma, noted that ngoma in the "traditional" setting is used for a range of occasions, including circumcisions, weddings, and mourning, not to mention healing and dance competitions. The songs are about the occasion, thus highly contextualized. Every performance features extensive improvisation. The size of the group depends on the wealth of the promoter or sponsor. Makala found it impossible to speak of a "typical" ngoma group. However, groups are distinguishable by criteria of song, dance step, distinct rhythm, and sometimes costume. In the village, he noted, one would hire a local group; in Dar one might be obliged to hire one from another ethnic background. All of the thirty ngoma groups in Dar derive from rural areas. In their hired events these groups might perform a song-dance (his term) that had been used for healing, such as Manianga, but this would be a "mistake," that is, a misapplication or change of the pure form of the rite from its original purpose. Makala feared that these kinds of changes meant the real meaning of the dance was getting lost in the city. He lamented the lack of good teachers and a loss of awareness of the dance's history. However, the standard of staging in the urban setting is better, he thought, with lights and amplifiers for live performances, performances on Radio Tanzania, and even promotion for overseas tours. In 1983 the ngoma groups rarely made recordings for resale.

Mungano, the name of a historic Sukuma and Nyamwezi ngoma for snake handling, had been adopted by Norbert Chenga of the Ministry of Culture as the name of the ngoma group he organized. He had studied with a Sukuma mganga for about six months but had not completed his apprenticeship. His Mungano troupe performed regularly at the national Village Museum in Dar es Salaam for an audience of Dar residents and a few tourists and foreigners. The troupe consisted of fifteen young men and fifteen young women, who donned a different costume for each dance, mainly arrangements of colorful African print


cloths. They were accompanied by about twelve—mostly ngoma—drums and two xylophones. An amplifier was rigged so that the microphone could be shifted from one instrument to another. Prior to the performance, it was propped against a cassette recorder playing Congo jazz with Lingala lyrics.

The troupe began with ngoma Msewe, which originated in Zanzibar, and it used to be performed at Islamic festivals. The dress was appropriately Islamic, with white caps for the men and print aprons for the women. Men and women danced separately in two long lines. This was followed by Masewe, a dance originating in the Lindi region of southern Tanzania, performed on "happy occasions," for which the dancers whitened their faces.

Ukala, a "hunting" dance from Tanga, depicted a hunting expedition and glorified hunting as a reputable activity. It was preceded by a pantomime of two hunters stalking game, shooting, cutting up the meat, finding honey. Then they were joined by troupes of men and women with bows and arrows and baskets.

After an interlude of acrobatics, the group performed ngoma Sindimba from the Makonde region of coastal Tanzania and Mozambique. Sindimba is done when the youth return from initiation camps, having graduated into adulthood. It is a lively dance with sexually suggestive movement.

This was followed by Chitumbo, Lingwele, and Ngongoti masked stilt dancing. Then came Bugobogobo, a "social realism" ngoma in which the dancers used hoes and baskets, shields and guns, as props. It was a rigidly choreographed depiction of work with these tools that took the ngoma work-song idiom and applied it to national consciousness. Everyone must take up arms and be vigilant, just as farmers work together with hoes. The ujamaa cooperative spirit that has always been evident in productive work is pointedly applied in this dance. The big ngoma drum used here is an original instrument used as pacer in communal farming among the Sukuma, even today.

Finally, at the close, came the snake-handling dance, Mungano, after which the troupe had been named. It was preceded by skillful acrobatics by members of the Directorate of Culture. As the drums beat their special Mungano rhythm, a large chest was opened in the public circle. Two pythons were taken out by the dancers and released to slither around and frighten the crowd. Volunteers were sought to let themselves be bitten by the snakes. A man and a boy came forward, and when the lethargic python finally did strike the boy in the buttocks, the


crowd roared. Chenga, the director, told me later that these snakes are very tame and have short teeth, and are not, of course, poisonous. The principle being demonstrated was, however, a very serious one. In western Tanzania, where there are poisonous vipers, this exercise is intended to educate the public about snakes, and to teach them not to fear snakes. Within Mungano, members of the ngoma have knowledge of antidotes and are themselves immunized with the venoms; they allow themselves to be bitten during the performances.

The "folklorization" of ngoma, as seen here, reflects the process of bringing together ethnically and regionally diverse dances that are performed in a rather different context than originally intended. This process is to some extent guided by the governmental units. Competitions are organized, just as in earlier times; song-dance is sometimes utilized, as in the Bugobogobo, for nationalistic emphasis. Some of these same dances were performed by Baraguma—actually the teaching staff of a secondary school—at the night club, where the audience had paid at the door to see the show. Therapeutic ngoma are thus, in Dar es Salaam, a small part of all ngoma, but a very central and formative part.

previous sub-section
1 Settings and Samples in African Cults of Affliction
next sub-section