Mwinamila

Mwinamila

Born Maziku, meaning "one born at night" in Kinyamwezi dialect, his given name was Swalehe Mwinamila was his artist name given to him by his dance mentor from the artist's own style of bending forward as he danced. The young Maziku grew up in his parent's homestead in Mabama village, Kagobole ward. The home was a haven of ritual and dance as both his parents were traditional healers. His father was the chief of all traditional healers in the land of Unyanyembe after being conferred a kiwangwa (crown) by the Queen of Unyanyembe, Queen Mkasiwa, aunt to the honourable chief Abdallah Said Fundikira (MP).

Mwinamila was the last born among five children born to the eighth and last wife of Ramadhani son of Isike Mwanakamaagi. His parents' healing practices, especially the ritual and song parts, must have inspired him and stirred his inborn talent for song and dance. At nine years he found himself singing in Queen Mkasiwa's court. His excellence in performance at that tender age made him candidate for a prize from the Queen on one of her visits to the artist's village Mabama.

He was given a prize of three shillings, which enabled him to buy a whole roll of kitenge cloth with some change left over, which he gave to his father's family. For an artist to get recognition at home was rare occurrence indeed, and that coming from the ruler of the land as well.

A humble man, jovial and always full of jokes to his peers, the youth and all, Mwinamila was proud of his family lineage, unhesitant to display his obvious pride in a kind of praise singing. He narrated to this author a few months before his death, for example, his royal lineage. 'Ours is a pure royal blood', he said. 'My father comes from the Unyanyembe royal house of Chief Isike Mwanakamaagi. His mother came from the house of chief Mirambo of Ulyanhulu. So you see, we are kings by blood'. He laughed, creasing his face and dilating his bright eyes to continue: 'My father was stinking rich from his healing practices. When he died he left three hundred cows, forty-nine goats and thirty nine thousand shillings cash. The cash was stored in covered pots, dug up from the earth from his different houses'. His father, the late Ramadhani son of Isike Mwanakamaagi, was no healer of mean capabilities, for he healed almost any disease except epilepsy.

Mwinamila never went to formal school, and only briefly attended adult education classes very late in his artistic career. In his youth, while still at Mabama village, Mwinamila heard of other artists making a living in Tabora town. Seven years after his father's death, in 1949, he went to Tabora, where he believed he would enrich his talent by learning from other artists and try to make a living form his art. Once there he joined a hiari-ya-moyo dance group, a type of dance he immediately fell in love with and which he worked on with his own improvements until his death. Even the dance group he created at Dodoma performed this dance and was appropriately called the Hiari ya Moyo dance group.

In 1950, Mwinamila heard of a famous dance teacher living at Ibiri. Always on the quest to learn and enrich his art, Mwinamila went to Ibiri where he found the famous Masola Mwanamnahala. Masola was an expert in manyanga dance, a traditionally men-only dance of the Wanyamwezi. The manyanga consists of five drums as instruments - the big rhythm drum (mdundo), two ndanda drums, the mahuge drum and one jigija drum. The manyanga is danced at weddings, during harvest time, at ceremonies at the royal court and on other ceremonial occasions. The songs of this dance often carry ethical messages.

Mwinamila trained at Masola's for five years, a period of hard work for his graduation. The training included mastering all instruments of the dance and also demanded him to innovate his own dance style as a criterion for passing. The long period of training was also a good chance for the mentor to assess the student's discipline, consistency and the quality of his performance. During his tenure as student at Masola's, Mwinamila trained with only two other artists: Mwanilimu and Sumnikilo. That was as many as the teacher could manage to make sure that he produced quality dancers - masters in their own right.

Apparently this system of training, from a practical perspective, surpasses by far the modern system of college training where most of the student's time is taken by theory classes.

Immediately after his training at Masola's, Mwinamila anxiously returned to Tabora to prove his worth. While still at Tabora the first national political party was born. The party, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), was formed for the main purpose of spearheading the struggle for independence that was spreading like wildfire around Africa. The event, which took place at Tabora, became for Mwinamila the fertile ground for his art and a springboard for his popularity.

The late Mwalimu Nyerere's fiery meetings of political mobilisation especially fired Mwinamila's imagination and compositional zeal. TANU Chairman Mwalimu Nyerere, himself a poet, was impressed by Mwinamila's art and became one of his fans. Later, in 1955, Mwalimu, in the company of Chief Abdallah Said Fundikira, met Mwinamila. On that occasion Chief Fundikira conferred a kiwangwa on Mwinamila, declaring him chief of all dance groups in the land of Unyanyembe.

Two years on, Mwinamila officially joined TANU. He had decided that within TANU he could best employ his talent and he had a ready audience for his messages. From that time, Mwinamila's compositions and hiari-ya-moyo dance style became one of TANU's signals of mobilisation for independence.

The artist and his troupe immediately catapulted to national fame. Together with the late Makongoro and his troupe they toured all the corners of Tanganyikawhere people needed to be enlightened on the struggle for independence. When Tanganyika finally got internal government status, Mwinamila was called to Dar es Salaam. At the TANU headquarters mobilisation unit, Mwinamila and one Juma Maharage were given the task of creating and organising the department of culture.

After full independence, the ruling TANU offered Mwinamila and his group a study tour-cum-performance program abroad. They toured Italy, Egypt, England, Spain, Guinea (where they were special performers during the general congress of the ruling party), Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya. In that trip Mwinamila could remember some of the officers who escorted them, people like Aboud Jumbe, Seleman Kitundu, Benjamin Mkapa (now president of Tanzania) and Lawrence Gama.

Returning to Tanganyika, Mwinamila and his group were given a special gift: Mwalimu Nyerere and Oscar Kambona purchased for them a house in Dar es Salaam. The house was on No. 8 Kwimba Street, Magomeni. Mwinamila remained in TANU as an art teacher specialising in dance and was one of the most active political mobilizers besides Makongoro and Moses Mnauye.

Come 1975, when the Tanzania government was pushing for transferring the political capital to Dodoma, Mwinamila was transferred to that town to mobilise the establishment of his party's headquarters. He worked hand in hand with another active mobilizer, Mzee Rashid Mfaume Kawawa.

Talking to this author the late Mwinamila warned that if appropriate steps are not taken our traditional artists and art are bound to fall into oblivion. 'Artists have to be supported and efforts made to make sure that traditional art is well nurtured and properly applied to modern concepts', said Mwinamila. Luckily, this is what is being done by organisations such as the Tanzania Culture Trust Fund, which has done a commendable job within the four years of its establishment.

Asked how he managed to become such an active mobilizer, at the same time retaining his artistic quality and remaining a devout Moslem, Mwinamila, who came back from his hijja trip a few months before he died, said: 'Religion does not forbid a person from pursuing his art, especially if the art is for good cause. Art also doesn't forbid one to have political inclination. It gives one the chance to express oneself more profoundly.'


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