Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Sesarwa song and dance stands to make money, thanks to UNESCO

Once you have witnessed tsutsube, the dramatised Sesarwa healing song and dance, you should be able to recognise it anywhere. Girl/boy at work/play is poisoned via mouth/wound. Her/his alarmed companions set out to summon the doctor, who will then hover over the quivering patient, sniffing out the foreign object, and extracting it orally. She/he is healed and they all celebrate.

A report containing findings of research on the Sesarwa healing song and dance was presented at an information exchange workshop during the UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage held on the 26th and 27th July 2007. The report refers to the dance as Khoesan Indigenous Song and Dance because research interviews revealed that the ethnic groups based in disparate places such as Kgalagadi, Kweneng, Ghanzi, Okavango and Central districts, which perform the dance, do not refer to it as tsutsube.
The report also states that the dance was selected by the Department of Culture to benefit from the Convention due to its healing aspects.

This 2004 research was aimed for submission, by the Government of Botswana in a candidature file for the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity programme, which is recognised under the above-mentioned convention.
UNESCO Ambassador, Stephen Chifunyise, a prolific playwright, who was formerly the deputy Zimbabwean Minister of Education, Culture and Sports, facilitated the two-day workshop. He said the meeting was primarily about the implementation of the Convention as a pre-emptive measure, as it has been noted that some SADC countries have a tendency of mainly dealing with events to do with their proclaimed masterpieces and forgoing other safeguarding measures of making inventories, documenting and archiving the intangible knowledge associated with the masterpieces.

Representatives from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique were on hand to share their experiences of implementing the Convention. Zimbabwe has recognised the Zezuru-derived Mbende-Jerusarema dance which was originally simply known as Mbende (Shona for mole). A fertility dance that features acrobatic and sensual movements that simulate intercourse.

It is reported that an Anglican missionary actively opposed the dance, condemning and sometimes whipping those who performed it during the colonial era. Mbende lovers got back to him announcing that they had invented a new dance, titled Jerusarema! Which was in fact an endowment of Christian connotations to Mbende.

Zimbabwe declaration of Mbende as a masterpiece was opposed by the public. Due to its sexual undertones, they feared it would encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS. Research into the intangible knowledge revealed that Mbende dancers actually stuck to one dancing partner.

It also emerged two weeks ago when Mbende was announced as a masterpiece that although the last 27 years has seen ZTV News Programme introductory song being a recording of a skilful Mbende drummer, who is still alive but has not been remunerated, which brought in the issue of copyrights into question.

The other arm of safeguarding the intangible culture would be by revitalising it through the collaboration of custodians and researchers.

Revitalisation, most often than not, involves income-generating performances which call for the newly enacted Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights. Creative industries activists would re-enact material that is in the public domain intangible, and perhaps as prompted by their intangible heritage, compose new material.

Chifunyise made mention of a statement that ‘Africa is full of varnishing libraries’; these libraries being individuals with tremendous amounts of knowledge (intangible heritage) of clan history, craftsmanship, practices concerning nature, the universe and humanity etc.

The Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage advocates for documentation through research in newspapers, websites, magazines, books (including textbooks). “PhD students earn their Doctorate degrees by having their researches published in foreign magazines, which aren’t accessible to the communities in question,” said Chifunyise. What the Convention stipulates is for the commissioned Intangible knowledge researches to be accessible to encourage transmission of information from one generation to the other.

Zimbabwe and Zambia are the only countries that had ratified (heads of state have accepted and signed) the Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH. Both have made it before number 50 in ratifying the Convention automatically placing them in the Intergovernmental Committee. Botswana has not yet approved to allow funds to be placed in the proclaimed Khoesan song and dance masterpiece.


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