Culture defines a society. It comes in different forms, including language and dance.
Realising that dance is an integral part of culture, choreographer McDonald Maluwaya has written a book; The Resilient Power of Dance: Ingoma and Identity of the Ngoni of Malawi.
The book analyses the Ingoma dance, how it has for a century and a half maintained the same forms and structures among the Ngonis nationwide.
“Significantly, it suggests that the Ngoni identity is typically strengthened in relation to Ingoma. For instance, when they perform it, or are wearing something that is connected to it, as is becoming fashionable these days such as wearing an animal skin head band, they are distinguishable from other groups; hence a symbol of identity and unity,” says the author.
With four main areas of focus, it first outlines Ingoma as a dance based on four specific forms, meanings and functions.
“The four forms are: Ligubo, Mngeniso, Hlombe pronounced as Skombe/Shombe and Chigiyo.
“Secondly, the book examines and analyses the dance’s four forms in terms of movement, song texts and music-making in relation to Ngoni cultural history and heritage. Thirdly, the book discusses the four main ‘characteristic features or values’ of the Ngonis; beer, meat, women and Ngoma/ Ingoma, in relation to the dance,” said Maluwaya.
The author said song texts of Ingoma contribute quite a lot to the meaning of the dance in the absence of Si-Ngoni, Chingoni as language of the Ngoni.
“There is a brief discussion of implications of transmitting the dance in the absence of an indigenous language,” he said.
Maluwaya said inadequate knowledge and less awareness about the dances of Malawi among most locals was his major motivation to research, document and disseminate knowledge about Ingoma.
“Over time I have realised that Malawi’s abundance and diversity in the domain of dance heritage is outweighed by inadequate scholarship and insignificant literature in the field,” he said.
Professor Pascal Kishindo, who edited the book, said the book is crucial in the preservation and promotion of culture.
He said: “The book is important for Malawi culture because for the first time an argument is being made that dance is an equally important aspect of culture that can be used for identity.”
Kishindo said the book shows how the Ngoni are using dance to assert their identity.
“Among several lessons that people can draw from this book are that dance is an important symbol of ethnic identity, Ingoma is a dance with its various dance styles and there variations between Ingoma of the Jere Ngoni and the Ngoma Maseko Ngoni, that Ingoma songs are vehicles for social, economic, and political commentary, and perhaps more importantly, when a people lose their language, it does not necessarily mean that they have lost their identity,” he said.