Sunday 10 February 2013

Swahiliness in Swahililand

 In the 21st century, to be referred as Mswahili is far from a compliment.  To be called "Mswahili" is a form of scorn. Mswahili is a person who will not keep their promises, time inefficient, careless and anything negative!  Literally, if one says Mswahili, it should mean " A Swahili Person"; just like when we refer to a person born and bred in London as being  "A Londoner" or a Cockney speaker, etc.  I personally identify myself as a Swahili woman so that will make me a "Mswahili" and very proud of it!!  This little post will tell you exactly why.
Myself (centre) with my Swahili sisters representing, at the River Thames Carnival in London September 2010

Being born and raised in Dar es Salaam on the East African Swahili coast there are times when I reminisce on the uniqueness of the Swahili culture, its traditional music and dance, visual arts, cuisine and of course fashion; a collage of daily activities, depending on where you are. You would see women weaving mats, baskets, pounding corn or vegetables to prepare meals.
You would also encounter ladies and young girls decorating themselves with henna or braiding hair and actually, the cost of braiding is not that exorbitant in these neighbourhoods. Knowing that someday you could return the favour. You would see men enjoying a game of “bao”, young boys with their creative engineering skills constructing a “car” using materials they have found in the neighbourhood, men scaling palm trees for fresh coconuts which are peeled and cracked open for refreshing drinks, etc! Oh, how I miss that!
As for the music and dance … on weekends you could bump into a group of people getting together with their musical instruments and just having fun! I remember when we used to live in a particular area in Dar-es-Salaam called Magomeni,  it was disastrous in a good way!  You would be in the house minding your own business and my word; you hear these hypnotic sounds of drumming and singing, the wonderful sounds of Gombe Sugu, Beni, Mkwaju- Ngoma (later on was replaced by Mdundiko) and of course Mdumange, passing outside your street, before you know it you have slipped out of the back door and enjoyed the carnival… destination unknown!!!  I used to get into a lot of trouble for that, I can laugh about it now.   

Beni man

Proper Beni going on here!!!  
  I am so grateful that I had the full Swahili experience when we moved from Oyster bay to this typical Swahili area of Magomeni; It felt strange in the beginning, as the two areas are totally opposite to each other, after a few months being a child, I adapted, and boy, I loved it!.  This is the area where all these carnivals used to happen on our street, sometimes it could be too many in a day, but hey.... it swept me alright.  I remember once going as far as Mwembe Chai with my neighbour friend called Mwana Hamisi.  That is when I really got smacked by my dad because we came back late; around 6-ish... and boy no child was allowed out of the house during those times.

Hey! Those bygone years Taarab a typical Swahili genre sort of music was on the scene; nowadays it is Bongo Flava – a combination of both Swahili and Western forms. 
I will not talk much of the mouth-watering cuisine cooked with local spices! The fresh fish from the Indian Ocean, available at the open fish market along Kigamboni beach. This can be picked fresh fish to be prepared at home or grilled right there; or roasted (grilled) corn and cassava chips, fresh vegetables,  fruits (i.e. different types of mangos, bananas), etc. I could go on, but you get the picture.
When it comes to fashion, women like to adorn themselves with Khanga, which continues to be recognized as traditional attire as well as Vikoi (kikoi, singular) mostly worn by men, a pride of Swahili women and men. 
 There is a lot of history about the Khanga fabric which I had written about in my earlier blogs.  I am proud to highlight that Khanga continues to maintain its status as it enters into the 21st century.  Designers use this traditional fabric in the revolutionary styles of today.
With that I say,  please enjoy some of the snippets of the Swahili Flavour.

Men playing Bao

Women Catching up / sharing...

Going for coconut (someone has to do it!)

Photographer waiting for her coconut juice prepared by Juma.

Coconut  leaf weaving was one of my favorite pass time when we went out to the farm, few miles from Dar.  Nothing goes to waste!
Basket weaved from the coconut leaves

Sokoni  (At the market)

oooh my favourite! Raw mangoes with pili-pili to give the flavour!

Rice doughnut (Vitumbua)
Vitumbua!! My Swahili breakfast special, love them! 

Young ladies getting ready for dance

Fish Market

Simply colurful! I hope you have enjoyed the post!
Kwaheri kwa sasa!

Images courtesy of:
Maggid Mjengwa - Maggid
Ruth Masunya Lukindo
Ehster Sabuni
Amita Kilumanga
The Swahili Coast Magazine

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