I don’t like to call it that, “a booty” dance, but it got your attention.
I’m presently in Tanzania as part of a reporting fellowship and I was talking to our fixer, a really interesting freelance journalist called Erick Kabendera, about some of the local cultural traditions among Tanzania’s more than 120 ethnic groups. He told me about the women of Tanzania’s Tanga region. It’s one of the coastal communities where you can see a strong Arab influence..here you’ll find the Wazigua, Wabondei, Wasambaa, Wadingo, Segeju ethnic groups and those who migrated are the Pare, Wataita, Wambugu and Wanago. These women have a customary tradition that appreciates sensuality; girls are taught the art of giving and receiving sensual/sexual pleasure…and to be good, submissive, appreciative wives–whatever that means, because obviously an African woman’s sensuality must be controlled at all times, right? So, throughout various stages of initiation into womanhood, Tanga girls are taught to massage their future husbands with powder from Msandali wood (which a lady is given when she is married) when he comes back from a long day of work. They also learn how to carry him on their back if he’s too tired to go to the bathroom to freshen himself up. Erick actually wrote a blog about the culture of sensuality among Tanga women (aptly named “Heaven on Earth? Maidens Made in Tanga Tanzania”) which you can check out here.
Coincidentally, Tanga women are shunned and desired and mythified in Tanzanian contemporary society for their sexual prowess. And yes, as is often the narrative surrounding African women, there is an element of magic and superstition that links sensuality, sexuality, femininity and power. But you can read about all that in the Erick’s story and in this post as well about a parallel custom in Calabar, Nigeria.
Of course, after talking to Erick, I was compelled to read up on the Tanga women and in my research, I came across several pictures of Tanga women bending their hips in a dance.
It’s called bakoko (also spelled baikoko), another iteration of the ubiquitous displays of rhythmically gyrating derrieres tagged by pop culture as a “booty dance.” Instead of being performed by high-heeled, Brazilian-hair tossing video vixens on location in, say in Atlanta, samba dancers in a favela in Rio, a house party in Jo’burg or a dance hall in Kingston, it’s performed at casual festive gatherings where hot nyama choma, fried seafood and mounds of pilau are generously rationed to backyard party goers across communities dotting the Indian Ocean. And… these… women… can… shake.
In this video…
the dance is described as “a traditional ‘vulgar’ dance from Tanga, Tanzania.” Vulgar, from what I understand is relative and perhaps the dance may be a contradiction from the Islamic aligned normative values on morality and modesty pervasive in Tanzania’s coastal region. Despite the seemingly blaring contradiction, this is a popular dance and it’s in high demand. The videos posted above have at least 65 thousand views.
Incidentally, Tanga’s got a bustling sex trade industry, much of it is underground of course, as recent government crackdowns are criminalizing sex workers in a bid to “purge the city.” Hey, there’s even a community of swingers, sex buddies and transvestites. It’s been suggested that the culturally-rooted appreciation of sensuality in this region is to blame for the home grown sex trade industry here that is feeding sex-hungry European tourists that make their way to the shores of Tanzania in the millions every year. That, my friends, is another story.
Anyway, I’m curious to learn more about this dance and the customs of sensuality among the ethnic groups in Tanga and I look forward to sharing what I learn here on Afrocentric Confessions.
By Chika Oduah