A Short Guide To The MWAKA KOGWA Festival In MAKUNDUCHI ZANZIBAR
The island of Unguja and Pemba, known collectively as Zanzibar, have a wealth of tradition and culture. One of the oldest traditional festivals is the celebration of Mwaka Kogwa. The festival originated in Persia and is older than Islam.It marks the arrival of the new Year, or Nairuz, according to the Shirazi Calendar. The Shirazis were the first foreigners to settle in Zanzibar in any number and many aspects of their culture were absorbed by the Swahili and given a local context.
The festival is celebrated in many parts of Zanzibar, but it is in Makunduchi, south-easten Unguja, that the ancient rites are most enthusiastically and elaborately followed. People flock to Makunduchi from all over, and the president of Zanzibar, Dr. Salmin Amour Juma, and the secretary General of the O.A.U. Dr.Salim Ahmed Salim, have both been guests of honor, officially opening the festivities.
There are many different rituals involved in seeing out the old year, and welcoming the new. The Mwaka Kogwa usually lasts about four days. However, it is the first day which is the most interesting and exciting.
In the canter of the town is the Kae Kuu, a large, open space, and it is here that the action starts at about 11 a.m. Two brothers from the southern part of Makunduchi take on two brothers from the northern part in a ritual combat. In pre-revolution days sticks and cudgels were used, but now these have been replaced by banana stems (makoa). The fight is governed by a number of loose conventions or rules, which are normally observed by the participants without the need for a referee. When somebody feels he has had enough, he simply raises both hands and surrenders, or changes his weapon. Matters are complicated by supporters of one side or the other joining in, and it becomes hard to find an un scathed banana tree in the area.
It is believed that since everyone has a chance to fight, or to vent their feelings, there would be no conflicts in the town for the coming year. The past year's misunderstandings and disagreements are exorcised, and the new year can be started with a clean slate and in harmony