Mbende Jerusarema dance
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)
The Mbende Jerusarema Dance is a popular dance style practiced by the Zezuru Shona people living in eastern Zimbabwe, especially in the Murewa and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe districts.
The dance is characterized by acrobatic and sensual movements by women and men, driven by a polyrhythmic drummer accompanied by men playing woodblock clappers and by women handclapping, yodelling and blowing whistles. Unlike other drum-based East African dance styles, the MbendeJerusarema does not rely on intricate foot stamping or a large number of drummers. Instead, the music is performed by one master drummer, and no songs or lyrics are involved.
In the course of the dance, men often crouch while jerking both arms and vigorously kicking the ground with the right leg in imitation of a burrowing mole. The dance’s curious name reveals much about its vicissitudes over the centuries. Before colonial rule, this ancient fertility dance was called Mbende, the Shona word for “mole”, which was regarded as a symbol of fertility, sexuality and family. Under the influence of Christian missionaries, who strongly disapproved of this sexually explicit dance, the dance’s name was changed to Jerusarema, deriving from the Shona adaptation of the name of the city of Jerusalem, to endow it with a religious connotation. Both names are commonly used today. In spite of its condemnation by the missionaries, the dance remained popular and became a source of pride and identity in the struggle against colonial rule.
The dance is changing its character and meaning as its enactment as an exotic animation for tourist audiences becomes more widespread. It is also increasingly used at political party rallies, where it is removed from all its original intentions. The mitumba drum, rattles and whistles, which used to accompany the dance, have successively been replaced by instruments of poor quality, contributing to the loss of the uniqueness of the Mbende music.
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website
Safeguarding project (11-2006/03-2009)
A popular dance style practised by the Zezuru Shona people living in eastern Zimbabwe, the Mbende Jerusarema is characterized by acrobatic and sensual movements by women and men, driven by a polyrhythmic drummer accompanied by men playing woodblock clappers and by women handclapping, yodelling and blowing whistles.
The safeguarding project aims at strengthening the transmission process by,
- organizing workshops for master practitioners and training teachers,
- providing opportunities for youth to learn the dance and be introduced to its history and meaning.
- conducting research and audiovisual documentation of the traditional dance forms and repertoire of movements, accompanied by interviews of practitioners;
- promoting dance among young people in and outside the Murewa and UMP communities, through soliciting the participation of youth dance groups at local schools in the Jukinya and the National Schools Festival for traditional dance.
The safeguarding activities will be decentralised and implemented by local organizations and the Mbende Jerusarema Safeguarding Committee composed of master practitioners, local dance associations, traditional authorities and education experts.