Namba: The Giriama dance on its death bed

nambaNamba Dance

In the larger Giriama community found mainly in the Kenyan coast with majority residing in Kilifi County, mention of the word Namba rekindles memories of a dance played many years ago but which is fast fading among the current Giriama young generation.

The dance was among the most revered dance played in areas like Kaloleni, Malindi, Kilifi hundreds of years ago and its rhythmic tunes and movements left a lot to be desired whenever it was played.

The Giriama community is best known for its culture preservation and the fact that this music is no longer getting attention is a clear indication that something is amiss.

There are so many cultural dances and songs that were played by this community. Some of these dances were Mwanzele, Msego, Kifudu,Kayamba, Mabumbumbu,Gonda, and many more dances. Unlike the other dances that the Giriamas upheld, Namba remained a unique one among them.

For example, it was played in an event for a rich man. Secondly, the dancers were in full dancing gears and its movement was marked with a rhythmic hit from a leading drum, leaving a trail of excellent art for this music. Third, the leading dancer among a crew of men and women had to hold a mirror in front of him and so as he moved in flow of the drum beat,he would just check his or her beauty in the mirror, make a two or three turn.And with that movement, the crowd was left in cheer for this merry.

For one to be a rich man in the Giriama community, one had to have hundreds or even thousands of cows, goats, sheep,and other domestic animals. Apart from animals, the rich man was also to have a lot of cereals like maize, millet and cassavas in his farm. With these riches,the man would be taken as a voice of the people in his neighborhood and would be defined as rich and capable. In the event that this rich man died or just wanted to throw a part, Namba dance was the choice and people would flow to the village to witness it.

 Although the young generation might not know exactly about this dance due to its habit of embracing western culture,the dance still exists though not like its heydays. In some rural Kilifi, the dance is still being played by mid age people who still have its fond memories.  

Some youths agreed that indeed they heard of the dance but would not recall seeing it played anywhere.

“I hear that this dance was there and it was very interesting. I don’t know how it is played and I will be happy one day seeing it played,” said Grace Katana, a student at Kilifi town. But there are dances that are easily identified with the community like Mwanzele and Mchechemeko which is played almost in every function in the entire Kilifi region. That Mwanzele and Mchechemeko dances are still visible among the Giriama community is real as some artists have been recording their songs associated with these dances. There were some artists who made their names playing Mwanzele dance like the late Ngumbao waHare (Bin Hare) and Nyerere Konde family in Gede. Other notable Giriama artists were Katungwa of the Msego dancefame, Wakikore and Mganga Lungo of the Mchechemeko fame. 

Recently during a function in Kilifi, a group calling itself Ngoma ya Magorani brought back the memories of the Namba dance lovers when it played the dance, rekindling the good old days when this dance reigned in Kilifi County.

The group enjoined in two lines moving in rhythmic style with a drum beat to an applause of the spectators, some even seeing it for their first time at Matsangoni Primary School as it was being played. 

According to group spokesman Kithi Charo, the group was formed in 2006 at Tezo with an aim of reviving the much adored dance that is now nearing its end.

“We saw the challenge. Namba dance was dying slowly. So we decided to form a group with an aim of reviving this dance for the future of our generation to come,” he said. 

Although the group leader Paul Kalala was not there, but Kithi added that the group has about 35 active members dedicated to the dance and making efforts to see that the dance is not forgotten among the current Giriama youth.

“We are campaigning hard to see that this dance does not die. As a matter of fact, we have been going through villages trying to send a message that Nambais a dance that can be used as an income generating activity,” he said.

 The group has been performing in various tourists’ hotels in Kilifi and Malindi and Kithi attribute this to overwhelming support from the locals who now see this dance as a fortune. In this effort, Kithi is much sure that he will revive this once adored dance among the Giriama community but which is currently dying.

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