Get ready for Mwaka Kogwa Festival in the South East of Zanzibar, Makunduchi – 21 July 2012

23 May

One of the oldest traditional festivals is the celebration of Mwaka Kogwa. The festival marks the arrival of the new year, or ‘Nairuz’ according to the Shiraz (Iran) calendar. Shirazis were the first foreigners to settle in Zanzibar in any number, and many aspects of their culture were absorbed by the Swahili people and were given a local context.

The festival is celebrated in many parts of Zanzibar, but it is in Makunduchi, south-eastern Unguja , that the ancient rites are most enthusiastically and elaborately followed.  People flock to Makunduchi from all over Tanzania and beyond.

There are many different rituals involved in seeing out the old year, and welcoming the new one.  The Mwaka Kogwa usually lasts about four days.  However, it is the first day which is the most interesting and exciting.  In the centre of the town is Kae Kuu, a large, open space and it is here that the action starts at about 11 in the morning.

Two brothers from the southern part of Makunduchi take on two other brothers from the northern part in a ritual physical combat.

While fighting is going on, women (they not take part in the actual fighting) move around the field singing; dressed in their finest.  Their songs contain comments and messages about love and village life, and are mainly directed at the men in combat.  They sing in Kikae, a local Swahili dialect of Makunduchi. For instance; “msinikatia kanga Njama yangu haitende!” – meaning “he who does not buy me a new pair of khanga (a traditional Zanzibari piece of cloth) will not make love to me!”

When the fight is almost over and the combatants exhausted, a small coconut thatch pyramid-shaped hut is built at the eastern end of Kae Kuu.  A local magician goes inside the hut which is then set alight. With the flames roaring, the magician rushes out and throws himself unscathed into a nearby bush. Everyone around then, throw earth and stones on the fire to extinguish it. Thus it is believed, that if someone’s house should catch fire in the new year, there would be no loss of life.

People return to their homes to prepare for the feast after fighting has ended.  Celebrations continue on the nearby beach until the new year is well and truly welcomed.

One Response to “Get ready for Mwaka Kogwa Festival in the South East of Zanzibar, Makunduchi – 21 July 2012”

  1. May 24, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    It’s really fascinating how the locals in Zanzibar have been able to preserve the traditional rituals when celebrating the festival of Mwaka Kogwa considering that this is a region that has seen many foreigners in history bring their own culture to the Island. However, I think that it is the older generation that has played the biggest role in preserving this tradition by passing it on to the younger generation.

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