Article MT210

Music of the Bakalanga

of Botswana and Zimbabwe


Having realized that Botswana's traditional music is becoming obsolete, the author of this article chose to conduct a research on one of Botswana's tribes' musical types, the Bakalanga.  This documentation will assist in the preservation and sustenance of knowledge transmission from one generation to the next.  Bakalanga are found in North Eastern Botswana, some parts of the central district in Botswana and Western Zimbabwe in Bulilimangwe District.  This article covers Bakalanga musical types of the two countries regardless of the political borders.  The article covers music for rain praying, music for healing and music for entertainment.  The qualitative (ethnographic) method was used in collecting data in conducting this research.  Open ended questionnaires were either completed by respondents or by the researcher through oral interviews.  Information was also collected during annual cultural festivals, ceremonies and rituals.

Music for Rain Praying

Bakalanga music for rain praying is found in two types namely wosana and mayileWosana music is performed by male and female dancers whereas mayile music is performed by females only.

Wosana music

Wosana music will be discussed under the following sub-headings: wosana songs, wosana dancers (performers), wosana costume (past and present) and finally instruments.

Wosana songs are sung by a special group of people, also called wosana.  According to some informants, individual group members compose wosana songs in different ways.  Any wosana, who is gifted and can think of a tune he/she can sing, dance and teach the group, is free to do so.  The writer was made to believe through oral interviews that some members catch the song when sleeping in the form of a dream.  Some tunes are copied from other places and relevant lyrics are fitted in.

Tapela Mudongo Mbulawa who was born in Mapoka village in 1939 and who unfortunately passed away in June 2000 stated that Bakalanga artists who are concerned about the dying away of their language and culture nowadays compose new Ikalanga songs.  Wosana songs are a plea, request and praise to the Bakalanga Supreme Deity Mwali, who is communicated to and pleased through song and dance.  Wosana music is sung to ask for rain and good life for the Bakalanga people in general.  Wosana ritual music and dances are performed when rain does not come at the expected time of the year, which in Botswana is usually September to October.

According to Bourdillon's (1976:30 1) observation of the Shona people in Zimbabwe, the rain praying ceremony is held at the beginning of the wet season to request adequate rains - either too much rain or too little can spoil the crops and lead to famine.  Although the time for performing this ceremony may be as early as September or as late as February (the rainy season normally lasts from October to March), some ceremony to request good rains is an annual event throughout most of the Shona region.  In some places, people may delay organizing the ceremony until there is reason for anxiety because the rains are late or sparse, but the early months of the rainy season are always an anxious time and the slightest abnormality in the weather can inspire people to hold the ceremony if it has been omitted earlier in the season.

Wosana songs are also sung to praise the Supreme Deity Mwali as a Bakalanga traditional thanks giving or appreciation belief, especially during years of good harvest.  wosana have special songs related to thanks giving such as Amnandi amahele:

Call: Amnandi amabele - Sorghum is nice/tasty
Response: Amnandi - It is nice/tasty
Call: Amnandi siya wadla - It is nice/tasty we are eating it
Response: Wo wole ha woye amnandi - Wo wole it is tasty
Call: Amnandi siya wadla - It is tasty we are eating it
Response: Amnandi - It is tasty
The sorghum referred to in this song is traditional beer made from sorghum.  So this is in an Isindebele song literally meaning “sorghum is nice or rich/plentiful”: harvest is good.  It has to be understood that most of the wosana songs are in the Ikalanga language.  Some are in Isindebele which is an intrusive culture to the Bakalanga of Botswana from the Bakalanga of Western Zimbabwe across the border, who seem to have been acculturated by the Isindebele speakers in their country.  This acculturation of the Bakalanga with Nambdwa.  He has this to say; this is another dialect (Nambdzwa) of Ikalanga cluster which is still a 'living' language.  It is in lesser danger of falling into disuse than perhaps even Ikalanga (the speakers of which are inclined to lean towards the use of Ndebele).

Some of the wosana songs are even a mixture of the two languages, Ikalanga and Isindebele.  This influence comes from Njelele hill in Zimbabwe, which is the headquarters of Botswana wosana.  This is the talking hill in which Mwali is believed to be living.  Njelele hill is also known as Ka Mwali.

Wosana Dancers

Wosana music performers, who are named after their music, are believed by Bakalanga to have been specially chosen by their Supreme Deity Mwali.  Except for a few cases, wosana normally come from the same families, i.e.  descending from adults to the offspring.  The example is that the Ntogwa family in Ramokgwebana village in North Eastern Botswana.

The majority of wosana music performers are usually women and only very few men take part.  When the wosana start dancing, they all converge in the direction of sunrise towards the three drummers.  This symbolizes that when they send messages and gifts to the Bakalanga Supreme Deity Mwali, they do not look elsewhere.  They have a particular direction to face at a specified period.  During the dancing process.  anybody who feels highly entertained from the audience of the non-wosana, can throw or place some money on the dancing ground.  This is normally done for the dancer whom one feels is the best entertainer.  This process is called ku fupa bazani (to show appreciation to the dancers in the Ikalanga language.

The wosana Costume

The manner of costume varies from region to region.  The occasion on which the dance is going to be performed also determines the design as well as the colour of the dancer's costumes.  For example, professional mourners throughout Africa clothe themselves in black togas.  A black band of cloth around the arm or black feathers worn in a tuft on the head is a sign of mourning (Kebede 1982:103).

Wosana costume is elaborate.  According to oral sources (informants), in the past.  wosana used to wear costumes made of wild animal skins, beads and ostrich eggshells.  Nowadays the wosana costume has changed because of the newly enforced wildlife laws concerning protection and conservation of wild animals.  According to one informant, Mbako Mongwa, the wosana zwitimbi (beads) were locally made out of ostrich eggshells.  After the arrival of the Portuguese and Arabs, zwitimbi (beads) were bought from Kilimani (Mozambique).  Van Waarden (1999:5) also confirms this fact in her research about the origins of the Bakalanga.

Besides being used by wosana dancers to revere badzimu (ancestors) who are believed to have invited the wosana into the profession, zwitimhi can also be used to ornament malombe (praise-singers) and small children's hips.  In the past, zwitimbi were placed around the breasts of virgins.  These had a special name known as mammani in the Ikalanga language.  Mammani beads were not supposed to be touched by boys without an intention of getting married to that particular maiden who is wearing them.  Bakalanga maidens had a cultural right of not taking the mammani back anymore if a boy forcibly touched them without aiming at marrying her.  Touching mammani beads on the body of a maiden was equated to the proposal of marriage.

Wosana costume is basically the same for men and women.  During their rain praying rituals, the wosana could be singled out from the whole audience by black skirts with black cloths covering their heads before dancing commences.  Wosana also put on zwitimbi for decorations on the head and hips, and percussive mishwayo (leg rattles) made of the zwigogoro zwe mababani - plural (cocoons) of a certain inedible type of mopane worm called babani - singular.  These worms are associated with the mopane tree because they feed on its leaves.  A few small stones are placed inside these cocoons for them to produce a highly percussive sound.  A great number of them are threaded together and wrapped around the dancer's ankles.  The rhythms produced amplify the dance rhythm.  Inter-rhythm improvised rhythms may emerge when a virtuoso dancer executes rapid stamping movements, interwoven with the basic rhythm of a dance in

Wosana Dance Accessories

Wosana use a good number of accessories in performing their music.  The phende (flywhisk) is made from any of the following available animal tails: mbizi ye shango (zebra), n'gombe (cow), pkhwizha (eland) and vumba (wildebeest/gnu or hartebeest).  The zebra tail is mostly preferred because it is big and well decorated to attract the audience.  The zebra is also regarded as a fast and rare animal.  This tail, compared to the other two, satisfies the whole purpose of a phende (flywhisk) in the dance, which is to be decorative and to attract the audience.

In their dance, wosana also use three drums of different sizes (tjamabhika, shungana ne shumba and dukunu).  The wosana drums are made from two different trees of light wood.  These trees are nlidza dumha/mpiti (erythrina abyssinica), ngoma (schinziophyton rantanellii) and in some cases nthula (marula - sclerocarya caffra).  These light drums enable performers to carry them around with ease.

Wosana Music performed during festivals

The North East District Council of Botswana, which mainly constitutes Bakalanga, hosts a cultural festival normally held on the 21st of May annually.  The event is called Ngwao Boswa in Setswana language, literally meaning 'culture is heritage'.  This event is organised by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs through the Department of Culture and Youth.  Before this department took responsibility these activities were organized by the Department of Community Development and Social Welfare.

The tjilenje (Ngwao Boswa) cultural festival is composed of any Ikalanga singing groups from all over North East and Central Districts.  All kinds of Bakalanga community and school cultural groups are allowed to attend this festival.  Schools hold their own cultural festivals at different times and venues.  They are sometimes invited to the adults' performances as entertainers during short breaks.  Ritual music such as wosana, mayile and sangoma serves a different purpose in these festivals.  They are meant to entertain people and promote/preserve the Bakalanga culture.

Bakalanga cultural competitions also have cultural dishes (food) for competitions.  These cultural dishes are aimed at teaching the youth about how they were prepared, who they were prepared for as well as the nutritional value they provide.  Some of Bakalanga traditional food the researcher observed at Tshesebe village in the 2000 competitions was:

Shadza le zembwe - Porridge prepared from millet
Shadza le mathunde - Porridge prepared from sorghum
Shogwana - Porridge prepared from refined millet grains
Tjimone - A mixture of samp, beans and ground nuts
Tjimone tje mathunde matjena - A mixture of sorghum mealie-meal, beans and ground nuts
Kendenge - No English equivalent name
Dhitima - Pumpkin
Bhobola - Pumpkin leaves
Delele - Okra
Manongo - Peanuts
Dobi - Meat cooked with ground peanuts
Mashonja - Mopane worms.
Groups of other cultural backgrounds from any part of the country are welcome to perform in these festivals, mainly for cultural exchange.  The most popular group that attends this festival from outside North East District and the Bakalanga culture is called Dipitse tsa Bobonong, literally meaning 'horses of Bobonong'.  This group comes from Bobonong village in the Central District and it is a non-lkalanga speaking group.  Their costume resembles the colours of a zebra.

It has to be noted that this annual cultural festival gives all performing groups an opportunity of practicing and presenting each other's music types outside the ritual concept.  This also helps in the cultural and musical cross-fertilization as well as preservation from one group to the other.  It becomes very interesting, for example, to see a wosana dancing a different music type such as sangoma or mukomoto and vice versa.  The author finds this interesting because sangoma and wosana music belong to different rituals that are not related.  wosana is for rain praying whereas sangoma is for healing so one would not think these two different groups would be interested in each other's music.  This shows a sense of musical appreciation among these cultures.

wosana Dum Communication

The wosana drums are sometimes used as speech surrogates to the Bakalanga Supreme Deity.  Their language is centred on the rain wosana are praying for.  According to Ms L L Tshandu of Moroka village, a primary school teacher at Jakalasi No.1, and the following messages are conveyed by wosana drums in the form of drum sounds:
Drum 1 (tjamabhika) This drum produces the lowest pitch.  The message communicated is: Zwitimbi, Zwitimbi - Beads, Beads.
Drum 2 (shangana ne shumba) This is the middle pitched drum.  The message communicated is: Matshime, Matshime - Water fountains, Water fountains.
Drum 3 (dukunu) This drum produces the highest pitch of the three.  The message it is said to be delivering is: Vula, Vula - Rain/Water, Rain/Water.
Hand clapping is regarded as a body percussive accompaniment that helps to bring out the simultaneous rhythms of wosana music.  The singing carried out by both performers, is another instrument of paramount importance in wosana music.

In some cases, the main dancers in wosana music dance with a ludozo (lkalanga word for a walking stick).  In other instances some wosana dancers use a gun-like stick.  Both types of sticks are acceptable and simply meant to decorate the dance.

Adepts pray and chant laments to Mwali and sing of oracles and famous adepts of the past and present.  They mime things and memorize events of broad significance to every congregation in the cult's domain.  They dance with a stick or a wildebeest tail in a sacred place's clearing or ring, sometimes imitating a fatted cow, an eagle.  a game animal or horse, an elder bent with age.  a marksman or hunter with a gun, a soldier on military drill with a rifle, or an afflicted victim (Werbner I 977a: 189).

Mayile (Circle Dance) Ritual Music

Mayile is the second type of rain praying music.  Only women perform this music.  Unlike wosana music, which is performed by wosana dancers only, mayile accepts any woman who feels like joining the dance.

Mayile performers sing and dance, running and clapping in a circulating manner.  The Botswana Society (1991:100) calls mayile a passing dance because one woman approaches the opposite and passes her moving round in a circular form.  Whilst running, hand clapping and singing, the performers also criss-cross in turns around this circle.  This criss-crossing style is said to be imitative of some birds associated with rain such as njelele (eagle), nyenje (white stork), makololwani (storkbirds) and nyenganyenga (swallows).  These birds are seen around the rainy season.  The picture below visually explains mayile dance.

Unlike wosana music where nobody is allowed in the dancing circle, in mayile, wosana are allowed to join.  However, men and young children, both boys and girls, are not allowed in the dancing ground.  They can only be spectators.  The mayile rain-praying dance normally takes place at the local village chief's court called lubazhe gwa she/khuta.  Sometimes this dance takes place at the nzeze (peltophorum africanum) tree where the wosana normally perform their dance.

Mayile songs are short and repeated.  The singers are divided into two groups of call and response.  Hand clapping results in a communion pattern because of these two groups that clap interchangeably.

According to Waters (2000:32), traditionally women would perform the rainmaking songs called mayile.  In these songs, the words are not important; the hand-clapping and dancing are the primary focus.  In fact, words can be added or dropped at the discretion of the performers.  Despite the fact that wosana music is performed by men and women, mayile by women only, these two music types finally converge by serving the same purpose of rain praying.

Traditional Music for healing

Bakalanga traditional music for healing purposes is of three types: mazenge (shumba), sangoma and mantshomane/mancomane.  The latter two music types are intrusive cultures to Bakalanga, but have been adapted to form part of the culture from the neighbouring Amandehele in Zimbabwe.

Mazenge Music

This is music performed by women who have been confirmed to be shumba, literally meaning lion.  These ladies are believed in the Bakalanga culture to have powers of communicating with the ancestors for healing sick people; Mazenge music is performed by chosen old women to appease the ancestors to heal the sick person.

Children are allowed to attend mazenge rituals.  However, they are cautioned not to sing mazenge ritual songs out of the ritual place.  Children strictly adhere to this because it is believed that when mazenge songs are sung outside the ritual place the sick person (zenge) who is under treatment during this ritual can die.  It is also believed that after dying this person's corpse is eaten by termites and turns into an ant hill.

During mazenge rituals, all participants eat cooked Bakalanga traditional food known as makapugwa (gapu) only.  Makapugwa is a Bakalanga traditional dish which is preferably a mixture of samp, beans (shanga) and bean leaves cooked in crushed ground nuts (nlibo we nyemba waka khabutegwa).  This dish is eaten from a Bakalanga traditional mud pot called tjilongo.

Mazenge shumba music is private and personal and has great emotional appeal - it can make people cry.  It is usually sung at night to a select audience in the singer's shut.  It is believed that when this music is performed, the sick person normally gets healed.

Sangoma Music

The sangoma religion is today found all over Southern Africa, mainly among the Nguni people (Zulu, Swati) although occurrence of this religion has been reported as far as Tanzania.  In Zimbabwe it is common among the Amandebele and Bakalanga.  Other people who have links with either the Amandehele or Nguni are known to belong to this religion of affliction (Nthoi 1995 :49).  Oosthuizen has noted that:
The sangoma emerges as a person, usually a woman, who is called to the profession by her ancestors rather than by inheriting it.  Dance, symbolic garb and ritual are vital and divination forms an essential part of the isangomas practice (Oosthuizen 1986 :97).
The possessing spirit normally manifests itself through affliction; mainly through protracted illness: e.g.  dizziness, stomach problems and headache.  A traditional healer/diviner called in to determine the cause of the illness attributes affliction to the desire of a particular idlozi (Isindebele) spirit to possess the afflicted individual.  Eventually the afflicted accepts his/her calling and is attached to a renowned specialist (usually sangoma far away from the novice's home) for ukutwasa (Isindebele) initiation.  The initiation often takes a period no less than a year.  The sangoma (amatwasa) novices, who undergo a year long initiation, also abstain from sex for the whole duration of their initiation rite (Nthoi 1998: 87).

During, and certainly before the successful completion of the initiation, ilitwasa (Isindebele) the novice is expected to fall into a trance, during which the sangoma spirit reveals its identity and the genealogical link between its former medium and the present one (Nthoi 1995: 50).  Besides that, they would opt for a family traditional doctor called bango (log).  Bakalanga of Botswana are not fond of Izangoma because they are believed to be an intrusive culture from the Amundehele or Mapothoko as they are commonly called.  The name Mapothoko is a gossip term that was devised during the Nguni raids among Bakalanga.  The name Amandebele was avoided because they could be alert that the discussion was about them.  These people come from across the Botswana border in Western Zimbabwe.  Sangoma songs are believed to belong to Isindebele speakers, which is why they are sung in Isindebele, which is their language.  One can also conclude that the Bakalanga of Zimbabwe has nonetheless accepted wider the Amandebele tribal identity.

Both men and women perform sangoma music.  Despite this fact, most of the izangoma found in Bukalanga are women.  These Izangoma attend to sick people through singing, asking for the healing power from the ancestors as well.  It is through these songs that these Izangoma (traditional healers/diviners) have special powers to identify the source of misfortunes, diseases arid other negative things afflicting an individual.  According to one of my informants, Mr Mbulawa, in the past, when the Izangoma visited a certain family to heal someone, anybody sick from the neighbourhood was allowed to attend for free treatment.  There is singing, hand clapping, drumming and dancing in sangoma music.  In most cases, the Izangoma in Botswana do not use drums, for reasons to which the author has not been alerted.  However, this is not the case with all Izangoma.  When discussing this fact with one of my South African Zulu informants, Mr Thulasizwe Nkabinde, he confirmed that the South African Izangoma use drums since they regard them to be therapeutic.  Dancing is only performed by the Izangoma themselves.  The rest of the people present at the scene clap, sing and respond to what the sangoma is saying.  The sangoma normally shouts “Vumani madoda!”  The audience has to shout back by saying “Siya vuma”.  These slogans, coupled with strong answering from the audience, are believed to give the Izangoma more strength to dance more forcefully.

Mantshomane/Mancomane (Mabashi) Music

Bakalanga practice mantshomane traditional dancing.  When interviewed, they explained it was an intrusive culture from the Zimbabwean Amandebele.  The Bakalanga mantshomane dance is not very different from that of the sangomas.  The dressing is almost the same thought, marked by tshala/ndlukula (ostrich feathers) on the forehead and a python vertebra crossing each shoulder down the waist.  According to the Bakalanga mantshomane dance uses three drums like most of the dances in this tradition.

In actual fact, mantshomane is originally a Tsonga dance, which is used in the exorcism of the evil spirits, which are believed to “possess” certain of the Tsonga from time to time.  The woso (ndjele - Tsonga) is used, with mantshomane drum, in the exorcism of evil spirits that are supposed to inflict certain unfortunate individuals.

Bakalanga Music for Entertainment

There are seven main types of Bakalanga happy occassion and entertainment music: ndazula.  mukomoto, woso, iperu, tjikitja/tshikilsha, bhoro and ncuzu and these are performed by both men and women.  Iperu is only meant to be performed by young men and women.  Nowadays, since boys and girls lack interest in traditional music.  Bakalanga elderly women perform iperu to preserve culture.

While both men and women sing, another vocal style, called pululudza (ululation), is exclusively the province of women.  It is an expression of approval or encouragement for all the performers and it adds to the excitement of the music.  In response to the ululation.  Participants put more of themselves into whatever part they are playing in the total music event.  The counterpart of ululation for men, a powerful, rhythmic dental whistle called nlidzo, is also heard periodically throughout the music.

Ndazula Music

Ndazula music is normally performed when there is good harvest.  This is happy music also performed on occasions such as bukwe (engagements), ndobolo (marriages), ndale (beer drinking sessions) and other feasts that are meant to praise the Bakalanga people.  The most effective occasion on which ndazula music is performed is after a good harvest.

In the past there was a short growing crop called lukwezha (finger millet) in the Ikalanga language, specially grown for traditional beer brewing.  When there was a good harvest ndale (traditional beer) would be brewed from the lukwezha crop.  The purpose of this was for elderly people to rejoice and show appreciation tot he ancestors for this good harvest.  During the day, these people would be drinking traditional beer without much singing.  Ndazula songs were meant to be sung after supper.  This was done at this time to allow children to go to bed so that adults could sing these songs, some of which are metaphorically vulgar, with freedom.  It is permissible to sing abusive songs about named members of the group, whose conduct is deemed unsatisfactory.

These songs also have a high degree of sexual jargon referring to both men and women.  This jargon does not imply that there is a fight or some form of misunderstanding.  This is carried out in a happy, descriptive, provocative mood between men and women.  None of the two parties would be offended since they know the intention of the songs.  It is from these types of musical sessions that creative singers and dancers would be identified.

Ndazula songs also carry important messages in addition to the vulgar jargon.  When ndale (traditional beer) was tasty, ndazula songs were performed to express happiness and appreciation to the brewer who is always a woman.  In the Ikalanga culture, traditional beer brewing is a woman's job.

Ndazula Dancers

Despite the fact that men and women perform ndazula songs.  it is evident that men take the lead.  Women mostly do drumming and hand clapping.  Men, depicting what wealth they have, especially cattle, would perform some songs.  This would be demonstrated by shaping cattle horns through and movements.  In cases where a cow was slaughtered, real horns were used for ndazula dance as demonstrated below.

Because ndazula music is initiated by beer drinking sessions, there is no special costume for it.  Anybody can appear the way they came dressed from their homes in their normal clothes.  In most cases, it becomes interesting when men are putting on their boots.  The excitement arises when they jump up and strike their boots together, imitating ncuzu dancers.

Ndazula music involves a limited number of instruments.  It has two drums of different sizes and pitch (mafumba mabili a singa lizane), woso (hand rattles) and pemba (referees whistle) that acts as an accompaniment.  The two drums are beaten at a slow speed to determine the tempo of ndazula music.  In situations where drums are not available, improvised materials such as tins are beaten on.

The effects of drought and mechanisation on ndazula music performance

Lukwezha (finger millet) has been gradually replaced by sorghum for traditional beer brewing.  Nowadays African traditional beer is mostly brewed from sorghum.  Women no longer have an opportunity of enjoying pounding of lukwezha or sorghum accompanied by rhythmic singing as it used to be in the past.  Grinding machines have taken over this activity.

Drought that continued for years in Botswana also had a negative effect on traditional beer brewing.  People do not produce enough crops to brew traditional beer.  As a result, modern breweries have taken over the task of traditional beer brewing.  Nowadays, people go to chibuku depots to buy this traditional beer.  In the past, they used to drink at their homes, brewing beer in family turns.  In these drinking sessions, people used to sing and rejoice together.  Apparently, stereos and jukeboxes have replaced this singing.

While other people enjoyed ikalanga traditional beer supplied by the North East district Council Cultural Festival at Nlapkhwane village in 2001.  Mr Maphane Mukhopo was drinking his chibuku bought from a nearby depot, as can be seen in the above photograph.

At the modern chibuku depots, people have very little or no opportunity to sing traditional songs.  Chibuku beer is expensive for the villagers who are mostly unemployed.  So, it is not easy for one to get drunk and be merry to dance ndazula as it used to be in the past.  It should also be noted that when elderly people are drunk and happy, they perform ndazula songs.

Mukomoto Music

Mukomoto is a happy type of music performed by men and women during occasions such as bukwe (engagements), ndobolo (marriages) and other feasts.  This music is used for entertainment and most of the performers are women.  Mukomoto music can also be used as a source of entertainment at beer drinking sessions.  Other happy feasts that mukomoto music is usually used at are those of Bakalanga praises.  Mukomoto is a fast type of music, comparable to wosana in speed.

Men and women perform mukomoto music.  Normally men become very reluctant and women dominate the dancing.  The costume for mukomoto music has no specific restrictions.  The concerned dancers agree upon clothes.  Mukomoto performers also put on mishwayo (a type of leg rattles)

The Performers of mukomolo use three drums of different sizes.  In cases where performers run short of drums, two are acceptable even though the effect would not be the same.  Mishwayo (leg rattles) and pemba (referees whistle) are also used as rhythmic accompaniments for mukomoto music.  The dancer, who is also the lead singer for that particular song, blows the whistle.

Woso Music

This music is meant to entertain people in happy occasions such as bukwe (engagements), ndobolo (marriages) and ndale (beer drinking sessions).  Woso music is sometimes played to entertain people at wosana ritual dances.  Malombe - plural/lombe for one (praise- singers) who are Woso sometimes lead wosana dancing groups when they enter the dancing ground.  These dancers also entertain the audience when wosana have their resting breaks.

The main dancers of Woso music are men with their hand-held rattles, also called Woso.  This rattle is traditionally made of a hollowed gourd with hard seeds or stones inside.  It is sometimes called lende.  Women are occupied with drum beating, hand clapping, singing and ululating.  There are three drums of different sizes and pitch in Woso music.  Leg rattles are another percussive instrument used.  The concerned singers decide upon Woso music uniform.  In Woso music, the lead singer would be creative and just sing about what is happening in that area.

It is true with Woso that, in traditional songs, the words seem to take precedence over the tune.  The good lead singer is the one who does not have to repeat words he/she has already sung.  Instead, he goes on improvising new words, which closely fit the pattern of the singing and also make musical sense.  Because of this practice, the melodic line does not receive the attention it deserves, and very often the same type of short phrases are repeated time after time, without the melody developing any further.

Iperu Music

Iperu music is meant for entertainment on occasions such as bukwe (engagements), ndoholo (marriages) and ndale (beer drinking sessions).  There is drumming.  hand clapping, singing and dancing in Iperu music.

The main aim of Iperu music is young men and women's evening games in the moonlight.  “As a social activity, dance brings men and women of marriageable age together” (Kebede 1982:102).  Young people perform this music after finishing the household chores such as cooking and dish washing.These teenagers meet at their chosen playing area from different families.  They make two lines, one for boys and the other one for girls.  These two groups face each other to start playing and singing.  The leading young woman sings and blows a whistle while the rest respond.  Young men answer by producing frog-like sounds or overtones.  These two groups sing; provoking each other.  In most cases young men and young women from these groups ended up getting married.  Since young men and women nowadays lack interest in performing Iperu music, old ladies have taken over the event to preserve the Ikalanga culture as can be seen below.  Here is an example of their song:

Tjbhako Call: Wa tola uwe nga tole - The one who takes his/hers should take
Response: Tibone wa tola - For us to see who has taken
Call: Wa tola hema iowa seka - If you take a fool we will laugh
Response: Tibone wa tola - For us to see who has taken
Call: Wa tola gamu tjilengwe - The one who takes a relative is a fool
Response: Tibone wa tola - For us to see who has taken
Call: Wa tola hema towo seka - If you take a fool we will laugh
Response: Tibone wa tola - For us to see who has taken
Call: Wa tola gamu tjilengwe - The one who has taken a relative is stupid
Response: Tibone wa tola - For us to see who has taken
Call: Tjibhako - Snuff container!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into the bush
Call: Tjibhako - Snuff container!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into, the bush
Call: Tjibhako - Snuff container!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into the bush
Call: Tjibhako - Snuff container!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko It has fallen into the bush
Call: Tjibhako tjangu banana - My snuff container oh girls!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko baisana tja wila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into the bush boys it has fallen into the bush
Call: Tjibhako tjangu banana - My snuff container oh girls!
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko baisana tjawila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into the bush it has fallen in the bush
Call: Tjibhako tjangu banana - My snuff container oh girls
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko baisana tjawila mujokotjoko - It has fallen into the bush boys it has fallen in the bush
Call: Mu jokotjoko baisana - In the bush boys
Response: Tjawila mujokotjoko baisana tja wila m-ujokotjoko - It has fallen in to the bush boys it has fallen in the bush.
Iperu is similar to a Xhosa dance called intlombe.  Intlombe dance-songs are meant for marriageable young men and women.  These dance songs show the change in attitude, for these are young adults of marriageable age.  The two-part structure is still discernible, but the style of movement is different.  The men keep their feet fairly close together, lifting their heels, using their knees to feel every nuance of rhythm.  The young women remain on the outside of the circle, the young men inside (Honore 1988: 14-21).

Blacking in Malan (1982:460-461) has this to say about the Venda people music, which is also similar to Iperu.  On moonlight nights during autumn and winter, and especially during 'the time of staying home' (madzula-haya), unmarried people of both sexes come together to dance on an open piece of ground.  The dances are known by different names.  according to the areas in which they are performed.  They may be called dzhombo, nzekenzeke, tshinzerere or tshifase (a Tsonga word).  It is surprising that they are most popular in areas where Tsonga live amongst the Venda, because the Tsonga prefer to settle in flat, open country, which is ideal for this type of dance.  One is inevitably reminded of the similar scene depicted by the song, Boys and girls come out to play.  Drums are not used.  Hand-claps and the foot-stamps of the dancers accompany songs.  Boys stand opposite girls and at some distance from them.  One of them dances out and touches a girl, who then dances back with the boy and touches another boy; this boy dances out with the girl whilst the first boy takes his place with the other boys.  The dance continues in this fashion and boys and girls naturally like to touch a partner in whom they are interested, as they can dance provocatively close to each other while moving from one group to the other.

Blacking goes on to say that the songs are rhythmically and melodically more advanced than the children's songs proper, though their texts are brief and repetitive.  Their brevity gives young people an opportunity to improvising new words to the basic pattern.  They may attempt no more than repeating the names of persons and places, but it is good training in the art of fitting words to a given pattern.  When they dance, they must stamp and jump in time to the rhythms in the same way that adults dance to beer-songs.  Thus the play-dances lead a child towards mastery of the techniques, and appreciation of the ethos of adult music.  An evening of dancing is sometimes enlivened or terminated by a musical game.  There are little songs that accompany the antics of people in various types of disguise, or a game in which boys tie ambers to their limbs and then dance in the dark.

Tshikitsha/Tjikitja Music

The statement below was made when the Amandebele were following the Bakalanga at Dokonobe Mountains during their fightings:
So the Ndebele stayed at the foot of the mountain, eating, drinking, being without cares; dancing, also dancing for those of their home a Ndebele dance (called “Zwichikicha”) (Wentzel 1983a: 265).
Tshikitsha is entertainment music from the Isindebele culture.  Bakalanga sing tshikitsha songs when they are taking a bride (nlongo) to her place of marriage (njimbo dzi no kotosa nlongo).  This music depicts some Bakalanga traditional chores the bride is expected to perform at her place of marriage.  Such activities include sweeping with a bunch of grass, which is a typical traditional Bakalanga broom.  A bride in the Bakalanga traditional culture is expected to sweep the whole yard every morning before people wake up.  She is also expected to make fire and warm up water for the whole family to bath.  So these are some of the activities demonstrated in tshikitsha music.  Women dancing tshikitsha music are easily recognized by their multicoloured sashes across shoulders.  In the Bakalanga culture, such a sash is a sign of respect to either a daughter-in-law (nlongo) or a son-in-law (nkwasha).  Tshikitsha dancers put on different coloured sashes, which are a sign of respect to either the daughter-in-law or son-in-law.

Bhoro Music

In some villages, the San used to live side by side with the Bakalanga.  According to the elders of villages, their songs and dances mingled (Waters 2000:32).

Bhoro is an intrusive traditional music practiced by the Bakalanga.  It is a San culture.  San sing bhoro songs when they are satisfied from lots of milk and the cattle post.  They also sing these songs when they are drunk and happy.  One of the informants, Reverend M Mothibi, explained that bhoro music is for entertainment as well as for praising the San's Supreme Deity called Toro.  Another informant, Ms Mavis Mlilo of Dingumuzi Primary School in Plumtree (Zimbabwe) gave an additional view of bhoro dancing.  In bhoro dance, each man dances in front of his wife to avoid interference with each others wives after drinking, as it is common with the San people.  This fact also confirms the past presence of bhoro music, even though it is now obsolete in Zimbabwe.

Bakalanga traditional music groups have no full knowledge of horo.  For instance, the San put on their costume called misubelo (animal skins covering the bottom part of the body) when they dance.  This attire is made from animal skins.  Bakalanga, on the other hand, dress normally when performing bhoro music.  The San use zwingwango (concussion plagues of iron) instead of hand clapping.  In the absence of these short hoes, San use Zlvikei (cattle yokes).  In performing bhoro music, Bakalanga use hand clapping only as an accompaniment.

Ncuzu/Maskhukhu (Gumboot Dance - Isisca Thulo) Music

Ncuzu is another type of entertainment music, mainly danced by men.  This music was practised among the Bakalanga of North Eastern Botswana, adopted from the Amandebele people of neighbouring Zimbwabe.  It is now becoming obsolete.  However, a similar dance called phatisi is flourishing in Kweneng District of Botswana.  Unlike other types of entertainment musical styles that are being revived through cultural festivals, maskhukhu has not taken off the ground.  Ncuzu music is predominantly amen's dance with women responding to the men's call, through singing, drumming and hand clapping.  Women also shake their shoulders and breasts vigorously (tshitshimba Isindebele) to encourage/excite the men to dance more lively.  Nowadays, there are very few men taking part in Bakalanga traditional music.  This is either because they are shy to perform indigenous songs, or because of being occupied with other forms of work, most probably in towns removed from their home setting, or because they are not interested in taking part at all.  Performance of maskhukhu music might also have been affected by the absence of traditional beer (Ndale) brewing and drinking sessions as it used to be the case in the past.  Men usually performed maskhukhu music after the excitement during these traditional beer-drinking sessions.

There are several elements of gumboot dance that are characteristic of pre-colonial Nguni music and dance practices.  These include: the call-and-response interaction between dance teams and within the teams, as it occurs between individual dancers (this is particularly so in the improvised solos that team members perform).  This shows the importance of audience community support in performance (drawn from both traditional and minstrel performance) and the manner in which gumboot dance engages with, and is constituted from, the substance of everyday life and experience (Muller 1999: 93).

During his field work, the author of this document had an opportunity of meeting one ncuzu dancer by the name of Mr Caiphas Thusani at Jakalasi No.2 village.  Mr Thusani was born in the year 1936 in Bulilima-Mangwe District (Matabeleland South Province) of Zimbabwe.  A farmer called Malingers owned the place he was born at.  This place was popularly known as Home Farm.  Mr Thusani started dancing ncuzu/maskhukhu when he was a young boy.  Being given tickeys after dancing in stokfels motivated him.  The more coins thrown, the better the spectacle.  The practice of throwing money has a long tradition in black performance culture.  Mr Thusani came to reside in Botswana in 1947 after the death of his father in Zimbabwe in 1946.  He worked in Johannesburg for forty two years.  He was residing at Montgomery Park where he acquired skills in performing different types of music such as marabi, kwela, hump jive and ncuzu (gumboot dance).

The author finds it necessary to explain what stokfel means to the reader of this document.  According to Coplan (1985: 102), the term stokfel appears to derive from the rotating cattle auctions or “stockfairs” of English settlers in the Eastern Cape during the nineteenth century.  Cattle had been a principal form of currency in pre-colonial South African societies, serving, like cash, as a standard of value, a store of wealth, and a medium of exchange.  Cape Africans brought the stokfel to Johannesburg, where the word came to refer to small rotating credit associations based on African principles of social and economic cooperation.

Coplan goes on to say stokfels were and are credit rings in which each member contributes a set amount each week in anticipation of receiving the combined contributions of all the other members at regular intervals.  Commonly, each member in her turn uses the lump sum she receives to finance a stokfel party, at which other members and guests pay admission and buy food and liquor and even enjoy musical entertainment.  Profits go to the hostess of the week.

For most Bhaca migrants to eGoli, the City of Gold, work and leisure were continually controlled by structures of authority and surveillance in the form of mine bosses, managers and police.  In this context, all space was public.  There was little room for individual expression or privacy.  The nature of this experience gave rise to the particular aesthetic of gumboot dance performance, regardless of who now performs the dance (Muller 1999: 91). The gumboot style of dance draws on a variety of dance sources: Bhaca traditional dances such as ngoma; minstrel performance; popular social dances such as those that accompanied jazz music performance in the 1930s and 40s.  The jitterbug, for example, and most obviously, the tap dance popularised through films of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.  Gumboot dancers may have been influenced by touring black tap dance groups (Muller 1999: 100). Erlmann (1991: 99-100) argues that isicathulo or gumboot dance was developed around mission stations in KwaZulu Natal with the introduction of footgear to African peoples by missionaries in the late 19th century (Mulller 1999: 92):

Isicathulo means shoe, boot or sandal; it also refers to a boot dance performed by young boys since the first contact with Europeans (Muller 1999: 94).
In their search for aesthetic models and expressions of self-conscious urban status, v first became interested in the dances and songs developed in and around the mission stations.  Interestingly, it was on rural mission stations that isicathulo, one of the first urban working-class dance forms, developed.  Tracey maintains that the original isicathulo dance was 'performed by Zulu pupils at a certain mission where the authorities had banned the local country dances.'  The name isicathulo, shoe, boot or sandal, reflects the introduction of footgear at the missions, the sharp sound of boots and clicking of the heels contrasted with the muffled thud of bare feet in more rural dances such as indlamu-Zulu (Erlrnann 1991: 99).

Coplan (1985: 78) argues that schools picked up new urban influenced rural dances, even though missionaries forbade them.  One such dance, is cathulo (shoe) was adopted students in Durban; from there it spread to dock workers who produced spectacular rhythmic effects by slapping and pounding their rubber Wellington boots in performance.  All this rhythm made it popular with mine and municipal labourers elsewhere, especially Johannesburg.  There it became the 'gumboot' dance, divided into a series of routines and accompanied by a rhythm guitar.  By 1919, gumboot had filtered back into school concerts.  It soon became a standard feature of urban African variety entertainment, and a setting for satirising characters and scenes drawn from African work life.

What clearly distinguishes all gumboot dance from earlier rural practices is its use of footgear for its performance.  Pre-colonial dance forms are generally thought to have been performed barefoot.  One Zulu name given to gumboot dance, isicathulo, provides the first indication of innovation.  The root of the word cathama means to walk softly, quietly and stealthily.  It has been incorporated into two kinds of black performance culture in South Africa: isicathamiya and isicathulo.  The first is the style of music and dance performance recently made famous by Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  In this context it means to walk softly and stealthily, like a cat.  The second refers to the opposite, gumboot dance, which is characterised by louder stepping in gumboots, the clapping of hands and slapping of the boots (Muller 1999:93)

Perhaps the most revealing source, however, is the dance as practised by these older Bhaca dancers and transmitted to their sons in KwaZulu Natal.  Unlike the autonomy of many dance forms in the Western world, gumboot dance engages and comments on the exigencies of everyday experience in mine culture (Muller 1999: 98).

During the researcher's visit to the Jakalasi No.2 Primary School traditional dancing troupe, he also arranged to meet Mr Caiphas Thusani for a ncuzu dance oral interview.  Currently Mr Thusani is a farmer in his home village of Jakalasi No.2.  He does not have any permanent group to dance with.  He normally dances to entertain people in local village ceremonies such as weddings and other community related happy gatherings.  According to Mr Thusani's experience, whenever he dances, his audience appreciates his presence and they sing, drum and clap hands for him (i.e.  acting as his supportive singing group).  During his meeting for an interview at Jakalasi No.2 Primary School, Mr Thusani took advantage of the school traditional dancing troupe to sing, drum and clap hands for him while he performed his ncuzu dance.  This group was with its leader (Basetse Mamu) who is also a local parent in this village.  She had also come for the interviews concerning wosana music she is teaching to the school-dancing troupe.  The group sang one wosana song which Mr Thusani took advantage of to display his ncuzu dance skills.  Occasionally, he punctuated his movement by hitting his boots together at the ankles in a quick rhythmic pattern.


In conclusion one can say Bakalanga of Botswana and Zimbabwe are still practicing basically the same types of traditional music, regardless of the political borders.  The musical types still found in these two countries are rain praying music, healing music and entertainment.  It is also an advantage that through the Department of Culture and youth, the Botswana government is encouraging annual cultural festivals.  This keeps the music alive and a good platform for present and future researchers.

Dr Otukile Sindiso Phibion - 27.10.07 - University of Botswana


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