THEATRE IN MOZAMBIQUE
Column by Vitor RAPOSO,
director of the Tambo Tambulani Tambo Center in Pemba
The Mapiko, the “dance of the mask” is among the origins of the Mozambican theater. It is a dance originating in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique, and it is performed by the Maconde, an ethnic group that inhabits the plateau bearing the same name between the districts of Mueda, Muidumbe, Nangade, Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia and Palma.
The Mapiko is danced all over the country even today, especially during initiation rites, or on Sundays and on days of celebration. And due to the proximity to Tanzania, it is quite often performed in this neighboring country, as well.
he Mapiko evokes ancient myths and beliefs, dating back to the period when the men of the tribe were trying to re-establish the dominance over the matriarchy of those times: women had in fact greater reputation as they cultivated the fields and were bearers of life.
So this is why a dancer represents in Mapiko the spirit of a “devil” who comes to do harm especially to women and who can be defeated only by men. Women, even if they appreciate the dance, fear the devil and avoid to get close to the lípico (the masked dancer) even today.
During the dance, 14 men play percussion instruments and they are sustained by a choir of people of the community in which it takes place. This choir, earlier consisting of men only, now includes women, too, as the mythological charge has been lost beginning with the independence of the country won in 1975. The democratic revolution has demystified many of its mythological aspects.
Due to its versatility, to the ability to pass from serious and interesting to exciting and cheerful, the Mapiko is dramatic and comical at the same time. Comical like most of the plays which are performed almost all over Mozambique today.
The lipiko (the masked dancer) is the main artist that represents the story through gestures and attitudes accompanied by the rhythm of drums: and the dance becomes theater.
So what is appreciated is the skill of the artist – the actor – the harmony of his gestures, his authentic attitude. On the other hand, the mask that he is wearing takes us to the symbolism that is present in the theater.
The Macua ethnic group can be found in the province of Cabo Delgado, especially in the south and they have a strong matriarchal tradition. The theatrical performance is called Ithele over there, it is a theater form that consists in telling stories. There is a narrator who has the responsibility of telling the story while performing it. It is a form of dramatization with choreography based on traditional dances and rituals like Winelia, term used by Macua to indicate the initiation rites for women.
The great sense of humor inherent in the Mozambicans is already enough to explain such a strong presence of the comedy in the country. But another reason is the fact that theater allows people to forget for a while the social traumas that exist both in Mozambique and around the world, globalized by now. It is a kind of escape and this happens both in urban, suburban and rural areas. The plays are often satirical sketches that reflect the relevant facts of the day.
Speaking of masks, the Macua also use the mussiro, a cream produced by scraping a wild tree root on a thick and smooth stone. It is a traditional cosmetic that was applied on the face, legs and arms of the virgins. Today this practice no longer exists, but it is still present in the satirical theater and comedies.
In the past the mussiro was used during the rites for women or when a girl announced a marriage. Today the mussiro is a cosmetic and protects the skin from the sun. It is a product used in fashion shows on a national scale because it makes the skin soft and fresh.