August 17, 2016

A Zanzibar's new year: The Fighting Festival

Mwaka Kogwa

While many of us in the West and the regions colonized by it may be used to celebrating the New Year in January, there are many places in the world where this is not the case. Take for instance Kae Kuu, Makunduchi, Zanzibar, they celebrate the new year between July and August going by the Persian calendar, Shirazi. Mwaka Kogwa festival is a new year celebration marked by a healthy dose of whooping with banana stalk. When the Swahilis adopted this tradition by the Middle East many years ago before Islam, sticks and clubs were used. This aggressive ritual is also a cleansing one meant to settle scores, to enter the new year with a clean slate.

Mwaka Kogwa festival lasts 4 days and many rituals are performed. 2 brothers from the Southern Makunduchi engage in a whooping fight with 2 brothers from the Northern part, then it takes off from there. A winner is declared by the lifting of both arms in the air to call a truce, but since there are basically little rules and no referee, another supporter could replace the fighter and the fight continues, all which are considered healthy. While the women don't engage physically in the fight, they cheer on, singing songs about life and love. They sing songs that taunt the men and often their sex lives would depend on it. They would demand gifts. For the fight to be over, someone (or the banana stem) must tire out, this is believed to be an exorcism of all negativity that allows them to look forward to the new year with a positive light.
Other rituals include the building of a pyramid thatch hut which is set ablaze by a local spiritualist who runs out in time to a nearby bush while the onlookers put the fire out. This is believed to protect them in the event that if someone's house would catch fire, no life would be lost. They also engage in rituals that would prevent the outbreak of a disease.

The celebration culminates in a feast that's elaborate and long prepared, livestock are slaughtered for the occasion. The feast is held in the open and everyone is welcome. No one is allowed to eat alone or it's believed that one is isolated and unhappy. The women go all out for the occasion dressed in their most colorful clothes. There's music and dance that go on into the night. A new year is born.

Mwaka kogwa festival is a tourist attraction in Makunduchi, Zanzibar, enjoyed by the locals and the many tourists that flock to the area during that period of time.
Images courtesy of Things to do in Zanzibar, Afrotourism


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