Mwazindika is a Taita traditional dance for the gods as well as celebrating life. Traditionally, the mwazindika was also used to exorcise evil spirits especially in women.
In fact the dance has remained a cultural showcase of all times, and no public function in Taita is complete without the Mwazindika dance been performed , usually to the excitement and ululation of all those present.
Mwazindika dance mainly involves drums, which are accompanied by a Taita traditional horn(lwembe). At times a sharp whistle is used to drive up the tempo. Other accompaniments include jingles which are fastened on the dancers’ ankles and ululations from women dancers.
In some places such as Bura in Taita, there is a variation of Mwazindika locally known as "gonda", while among the Sagalla, a sub-tribe of Wataita, there is another variation called “kirindi”, where a wooded board laid on the ground is truck rhythmically with dry wooden poles.
"Traditionally, male elders played the drums while the women danced and ululated. In some parts of Taita it was taboo for women to play the drums, but nowadays it's not uncommon to see women also playing the drums. A lot of things have changed, but the vibrancy and heartrending nature of Mwazindika remains," says Mzee Dishon Mwalui, a Taita elder.
In the days of yore Mwazindika was played on various occasions both to celebrate life, for entertainment and also to appease the gods of the Wadawida so that they could bless the Taita community.
The dance was performed during the birth of a baby boy, especially from a prominent family such as a chief’s family where the baby boy was expected to be a heir apparent.
According to Mzee Mwalui, the dance would be performed to the visitors who turned up to pay homage to the new born baby to appease the gods so that the boy could be inspired to be a wise leader in future.
Mwazindika was also performed during circumcision rites for both boys and girls during the years of yore, a rite of passage that bespoke a foray into adulthood.
rite of passage
Traditionally, when Taita youth reached puberty and were about to be ushered into adult life, he or she was secluded( kuaikwa) where they were taught the secrets of adult life by elders.
When they came out of seclusion a ceremony would be conducted to welcome them back into the large community during which the Mwazindika was performed as well as beer drinking by the elders.
The dance was also performed during harvest time as a thanksgiving to the gods for blessing the community with bumper harvest as well as when Taita warriors returned from war with their aggressive neighbours.
"When Taita fighters returned from battle a big ceremony would be held to welcome them back. There would be beer drinking, pouring libations to the ancestors which would be followed by the sharing of the livestock and other properties that the fighters had taken away from their enemies including women. This was called "kusara". This time of celebrating victory would be marked by mwazindika dance and beer drinking by elders and the seers," says Mzee Mwalui.
However, one of the prime functions of the mwazindika dance was exorcising evil spirits, pepo, especially in women.
The affected women would be given a slightly sickening herbal concoction called "mwalola" and invited to performs the dance as the seers and elders chanted and admonished the spirits to leave the victims.
The dance would go on and on till the victim went into a state of delirium and would collapse. Cold water would be poured on her body till she was still and calm. After a while the victim would come back to her senses and walk away free from the demonic spell that had gone into her.
It is a scenario similar to the one dramatized in “The dancing maniac” in “Just a moment ,God”.
In fact the Mwazindika dance has a very close equivalent among the Luo community of Nyanza in the “miend juogi”.
This is according to a report titled, “Healing Dances: A case study of the Luo Juogi and the Dawida Mwazindika Dances” by Charles Orawo Nyakiti published in the International Journal of Business and Social Sciences.
“During “miend juogi” and “mwazindika” dance ceremonies, the dancers dramatize the activities of the healing process. To perform the act of cleansing the possessed, the cleanser moves to the possessed, and pours water on the head. During such activities, the dance becomes more provoking and involving. The dance climax is known as “yiengo juogi”, for “juogi” and “benzi” for mwazindika. This is one of awe, wonder and admiration at the techniques of the drummers, especially the ones who play master drums ( “min bul” for juogi and the “shimba mbaa” for mwazindika). The “shimba mbaa” player steals the show, especially during “kuzira ngoma” or “kushevera ngoma”. The idea behind pouring water on the heads of the possessed is to assist them get rid of the evil spirits”, the report says.
It goes on: “The significance of the spirits is medical as it is believed that these spirits caused diseases whose cure lay in the dealing with them. It could be said that it was the diseases which were spiritualized, in the same way the illnesses were diagnosed in terms of the anger of the ancestral spirits, or the curse of the living parents. If it was stomach ache, headache, miscarriage and other diseases that are spiritualized, the techniques of treatment deal not only with the physical aspects; the patient was given herbs to drink or rub on the affected part, but at the same time receives psychological treatment as well. It is important to note that the complaints that deal with spirit possessions in the two communities are cases of anxiety. The diseases attributed to ancestral spirits result from guilt as a dominant factor. This is because the ancestors are angry because they have been neglected, because somebody among the living has not done his or her duty”.
“The dance would go on and on till the victim went into a state of delirium and would collapse. Cold water would be poured on her body till she was still and calm. After a while the victim would come back to her senses and walk away, free from the demonic spell that had gone into her”.