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Performance and Politics in Tanzania

The Nation on Stage

Laura Edmondson

Publication Year: 2007

In Performance and Politics in Tanzania, Laura Edmondson examines how politics, social values, and gender are expressed on stage. Now a disappearing tradition, Tanzanian popular theatre integrates comic sketches, acrobatics, melodrama, song, and dance to produce lively commentaries on what it means to be Tanzanian. These dynamic shows invite improvisation and spontaneous and raucous audience participation as they explore popular sentiments. Edmondson asserts that these performances overturn the boundary between official and popular art and offer a new way of thinking about African popular culture. She discusses how the blurring of state agendas and local desires presents a charged environment for the exploration of Tanzanian political and social realities: What is the meaning of democracy and who gets to define it? Who is in power, and how is power exposed or concealed? What is the role of tradition in a postsocialist state? How will the future of the nation be negotiated? This engaging book provides important insight into the complexity of popular forms of expression during a time of political and social change in East Africa.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures

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pp. ix-x

Students of the Swahili language quickly learn two of the most famous proverbs— ‘‘little by little fills the measure’’ (haba na haba hujaza kibaba) and ‘‘haste, haste has no blessing’’ (haraka, haraka haina baraka). Given the length of time it has taken for the publication of this book, I have apparently taken these proverbs to heart. The blessings, though, have been abundant, as I have encountered so many...

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Introduction: Acts of Complicity: Meanings, Methods, and Maps

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pp. 1-13

In Dar es Salaam on June 21, 1997, a visiting Ugandan government official watched as Tanzania One Theatre performed lizombe, one of the most famous traditional dances (ngoma) in the country. In honor of the occasion, a special ‘‘high table’’ had been set up for the foreign guest and accompanying Tanzanian officials in the ramshackle space of Vijana Social Hall, located in Kinondoni...

Part 1: Imagining the Nation

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pp. 15

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1. Performing, Transforming, and Reforming Tanzania: A Historical Tale

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pp. 17-39

In writing a history of postcolonial Tanzanian theatre, I could tell a story of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank domesticated the fiercely anti-colonial, socialist, pan-Africanist government into a meek capitalist one under the rubric of democratization. I could then trace a similar tale in the history of theatre companies, in which actors and playwrights eagerly joined the struggle...

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2. Alternative Nations: Locating Tradition, Morality, and Power

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pp. 40-62

In 1993, the year of my first visit to Tanzania, Dar es Salaam betrayed few signs of the social upheaval on the horizon. Although the transition to a market-driven economy and multiparty democracy had officially begun, the city continued to display a systematic infiltration of the state. Newspaper stands contained few options besides Uhuru and Daily News, Radio Tanzania dominated the...

Part 2: Sexing the Nation

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pp. 63

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3. National Erotica: The Politics of Ngoma

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pp. 65-84

My first exposure to ngoma on the Tanzanian popular stage was Mandela’s version of sindimba, the most famous—and notorious—dance throughout the country. As a newly arrived researcher on constructions of gender and national identity in popular theatre, I tried to suppress my unease as I watched the women dance in a circle, swaying their hips in a sexually inviting way. Meanwhile, the...

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4. Popular Drama and the Mapping of Home

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pp. 85-106

On July 5, 1997, Tanzania One Theatre (TOT) performed in an expatriate and tourist nightclub in an affluent area of Dar es Salaam. Instead of its usual exuberant routine of skits, acrobatics, dances, and songs, TOT confined itself to performing a series of ngoma as a concession to the largely European audience, intermingled with a few African and Asian Tanzanians. The event predictably...

Part 3: Contesting the Nation

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pp. 107

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5. Culture Wars: TOT versus Muungano

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pp. 109-128

When local acquaintances in Dar es Salaam learned of my interest in urban popular theatre, I came to expect the question ‘‘Which do you like best—Muungano or TOT?’’ The plethora of companies that dotted the theatrical landscape in the 1980s had consolidated into a rivalry between the old-fashioned, traditionalist Muungano and the modern, trend-setting Tanzania One Theatre (TOT). The...

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6. A Victor Declared: Popular Performance in the New Millennium

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pp. 129-140

At the Bagamoyo College of Arts, I was frequently told that unlike Western audiences, Africans do not expect happy endings. This statement has haunted me throughout the writing of this book as I struggle against an academic version of a happy ending in which the theatre companies triumph over the hegemony of the state, the ruling political party, and the forces of neoliberalism. This struggle has...

Glossary of Swahili Terms

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pp. 141-142


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pp. 143-158

List of References

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pp. 159-168


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pp. 169-175

E-ISBN-13: 9780253117052
E-ISBN-10: 0253117054
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253349057

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures