Still going strong at 77 — Kalanga dancer Basetse Mamo

Updated: October 5, 2014

By Pini Bothoko, reprinted from MmegiOnline

FRANCISTOWN: As she performs energy-sapping Kalanga moves at the age of 77, the only thing that differentiates Basetse Mamo from dancers young enough to be her grandchildren is her grey hair.

A living legend from the small village of Jackalas No 2 in the north east, the septuagenarian is an extraordinary entertainer whose rattle-wrapped legs assume a life of their own.  For hours, she jumps, stomps her feet and contorts her body this way and that to the delight of onlookers.

Mamo was in the thick of things last weekend as she led the Jackalas No 2 traditional dance troupe, Bongolo Dza Ntongwa.

They performed their Hosana dances at the Zhizha Food and Music Festival held at Kuminda Farm on the outskirts of Marobela village.

The mother of six, three women and three men, told Arts & Culture that her all-enduring love for iKalanga culture and traditional dance is the reason she is not throwing in the towel.   As an accomplished dancer she is in the twilight of her life, three years shy of the ripe old age of 80, but vows that she is still fit enough to go ‘cha-cha-cha-cha’ in the ‘tanga’ (arena).

“I am a born dancer. I have been dancing since I was a child of about 10-years-old.  This is where my passion lies. I am a Kalanga woman and want to teach young generations our culture.  I can only do this through dance,” she says.

Mamo says her talent was revealed to her in a dream where she was shown the dance moves and the songs to sing.

“When I woke up I was able to sing the song I was shown in the dream and I also performed the dance moves without much ado,” she says.

For years Mamo has enthralled crowds all over Botswana with not only the dance moves, but also a stick shaped in the form of a gun that she holds and aims as if it is a real rifle.

Mamo says that she is talented in all kinds of iKalanga traditional dances like Nkomoto, Ndazula, Hoso, but mostly her love lies in Hosana dance, which is performed at rainmaking rituals.

From time immemorial, the Kalanga tribe has been known for rainmaking rituals, which involve using ancestors as intermediaries between them and a deity they call Mwali who supposedly lives in the hills on the outskirts of Masunga village.

The Hosana dancers make yearly pilgrimages to the hills where they dance and sing for Mwali and Mamo will be among them.

“We go there every year before the rainy season begins to plead for good rains so that we can have a good harvest as we survive on farming. When we perform the Hosana dance in the hills, pleading with Mwali for rain, we would be wearing our sacred clothing.  I cannot describe them to you because I do not want to disclose what we do at our sacred place of prayer for rains,” she says.

She says that there is also a place called Nzeze on the outskirts of Mapoka where they gather with others from Zimbabwe and for days they would sing and dance to the accompaniment of drums as they pray for rain.  On such occasions, cows and goats would be slaughtered and traditional beer brewed exclusively for the appeasement of the ancestors so that they bring good rains.

Mamo says that the Hosanas (as the dancers are called) are used to plead for rain as they sing while beating unique drums.

“Re simolola go ‘locha’ (pleading) re kopa pula (We start pleading for rains) around August until beginning of October wearing our special gear, while singing and dancing Hosana and beating drums.  But once the rains start, we sing without drums because if you beat drums the rain clouds will disperse,” Mamo sayss.

She says that she has assisted many groups and students in their traditional groups teaching them all kinds of the Kalanga traditional dance and they are successful in the entertainment industry.

“I assisted groups like Dikakapa traditional group teaching them Hosana and Nkomoto dance.  I have also assisted a majority of schools in the North East and Central Districts.

“I have won countless awards performing at the Presidential competitions with my traditional group. Even now I am still showing the ropes to upcoming dancers with proper Kalanga dance moves,” she says. She warns that children nowadays have a tendency of dancing Hosana bedecked in the black gowns, which are supposed to be worn by dancers during rituals. She says by doing so, the children are actually putting a curse on themselves, which may lead to them becoing mad.

“It is not everyone who should perform Hosana. It is exclusively for the Hosanas (the dancers).  As for Hoso, Ndazula and Nkomoto, there is nothing wrong with performing the dances,” she says.

She says that it is not only about dancing, as there has to be a proper way of clapping hands and beating of drums to produce a unique Kalanga rhythm.

Mamo dismisses the allegations that dancing Hosana can lead to being a Sangoma, explaining that it is a chosen talent. She says that even though she has been a dancer all her life, she has never had those attacks. Mamo has been to China, European countries whose names she cannot remember and Cote de Ivore.

“I was happy that people in those countries enjoyed our performances even though they did not understand our language,” she says, lending credence to a popular saying that music is a universal language.

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