Mganga Dance

By Sarah Sadian

“Would you like to listen to it,” Mama Hadija asks.

We just discovered that we share the love for music and art. But Mama Hadija of Zanzibar is making a special kind of music: she is singing and dancing in a group of medicine women!

Abu goes to bring an old tape recorder. It is big and heavy, and the dust and sun have turned its once black color into an ugly gray. He holds an old cassette in his hand. I sit down next to Mama Hadija while he puts it into the slid and connects the old appliance with the electricity.

“Play,” he pushes the button and a fast rhythm begins to emerge with a scratchy sound.

“Here, you hear, this is me singing,” Mama Hadija says proudly while we both begin to lightly bend with the rhythm.

I keep my legs crossed while moving faster and faster with the upper part of my body, together with Mama Hadija who seems very pleased: “You love dancing, don’t you?”

Oh yes, I love dancing! There are not many things in life that can make me as happy as dancing! We laugh together and move with the rhythm, faster and faster, both getting more and more excited.

Suddenly Mama Hadija jumps to her feet, throws herself to the dusty earthen ground in the middle of the room. Then she sits with her back straight, her face giving the image of some different person whom I don’t know.

“Salam aleikum,” Abu says, and I understand that a Jinni has taken possession of Mama Hadija. I hesitate for a moment, then greet the Jinni, as well.

“Aleikum salam”, the Jinni replies.

Mama Hadija’s body, controlled by the Jinni now, begins to dance. She remains on the ground, moving her buttocks into the air and back to the ground, holding both her hands up, keeping a joyful smile on her face, occasionally making a cheerful sound. She keeps moving like this for perhaps half an hour, faster and faster and ever more joyfully.

Abu and I quietly watch. I cannot help moving with the rhythm while staring at the body in the red dress, fascinated. I know that there is no use to talking to her now, she wouldn’t hear, because she is not around. It is the Jinni, and I don’t know how to communicate with the Jinni. The dance becomes ever wilder, little pearls of sweat form on the body’s forehead, and the screams of excitement that come out of its mouth become ever more frequent and cheerful.

Suddenly the tape recorder stops.

As silence breaks in, the body falls to the ground, lies on its back. I am amazed to see that it doesn’t breathe faster than usual, as if it had not made the least effort.

It lies there for about two minutes. Abu and I don’t dare speak or stir.

All of a sudden, she opens her eyes, and her normal smile returns to her face.

“Salam aleikum, Mama Hadija,” Abu says, and I repeat these words after him.

She smiles, breathing evenly and quietly, gets up and sits down again on her place next to me. “Aleikum salam,” she greets us in return.

“Would you like me to start the music again,” Abu inquires…

“No,” she says, still smiling, “I would not have the strength to go through this again!”

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Posted in Zanzibar. Tags: . 1 Comment »

One Response to “Mganga Dance”

  1. Maragret Amon Says:

    I’m all over this with this write-up, I honestly think this excellent website is extremely good. I most certainly will be back again to see more, thanks for that info.


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