Maulidi ya Homu, seen here being practised by the Mtendeni Maulid Ensemble, is a form of Sufi religious devotion with ancient Arab roots but found today only in Zanzibar. The line of performers sing in Arabic or Swahili on Islamic themes while moving in harmony with head and arm movements that gradually build to engage the whole body.
Zanzibar – Been There

The dance goes on

Photo by Ton Koene

Zanzibar – Been There The dance goes on

The rain comes suddenly, after a day so hot it is an effort to breathe. My nostrils fill with the smell of African dust, beaten up by the downpour, while the potholed road turns immediately into a muddy river.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

I find a taxi rank and head for the outskirts of Zanzibar’s old Stone Town. Out here, in the poverty-ridden slums of Mtendeni, the rain has even more effect. The water on the road is ankle deep and the uneven paths through the small shacks are fast-flowing muddy streams. I am thankful for my torch – there are no streetlights – as I pick my way to a tiny madrasah, little bigger than the two-room homes around it. I stayed here briefly many years ago, but the route is hard to recall. New buildings have sprung up, old landmarks are swept away.

I have come to see a performance of Maulidi ya Homu, a form of dancing peculiar to the East African coast that bears a philosophical resemblance to the better-known Sufi dance of Turkey. Instead of twirling, however, these dancers chant in unison, swaying together in a hypnotic wave as they kneel on the threadbare carpet covering the concrete floor. Aged from 11 to their 30s, they are dressed in uniform white robes and embroidered white cotton skull caps. Gleaming with sweat in the tiny room, they are led by one man beating a stick on a well-battered tin lid, while several others add the sound of hand drums.

After the rehearsal, the lads lose the anonymity of the group and dissolve into individuals. Some are shy, some outgoing. They talk of football and video games, or tease each other about girls. Mtendeni is a place where drugs offer one way out. Maulidi is another, better way to find peace amid the challenges of poverty.

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Barazas, or outside benches, are a focal point of community life in Zanzibar as they offer a way to entertain visitors without bringing them into the home – which is kept private for women in Islamic custom. In the rainy season, the concrete slabs also act as an elevated walkway to keep feet dry when roads turn into raging torrents. Photo by Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Canon EOS 5D-III

Aperture
ƒ/2.8
Exposure
1/320
ISO
200
Focal
24 mm

Barazas, or outside benches, are a focal point of community life in Zanzibar as they offer a way to entertain visitors without bringing them into the home – which is kept private for women in Islamic custom. In the rainy season, the concrete slabs also act as an elevated walkway to keep feet dry when roads turn into raging torrents.

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