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T anzanian T raditional C hildren Songs, G ames and Dances

Presented by

Seth Mesiaki O le Sululu (ssululu@yahoo.co.uk), G raduate Assistant

School of M usic, Northern Illinois University

De K alb, I L
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INTRODUC TION
Tanzania is the country in East Africa where Kiswahili , the national language, unifies more than
120 ethnic groups that have varied diversified and rich cultural traditions.
Many of these ethnic groups belong to the Bantu speaking people, the largest group among the
many ethnic groups in Africa. The Bantu ethnic groups, share several common cultural traditions
besides language, including songs, dances, and other ways of life. The Wasambaa tribe of
northeastern Tanzania, for example, is a Bantu speaking people.
Maasai tribe is a Semi-Nilotic speaking people, whose language belongs to the Nile-Saharan
region of Africa. The Maasai ethnic groups are found in several areas in East Africa, with the
largest number in the Northern part of Tanzania. Their language, songs and dances are different
from those of the Bantu speaking peoples.
Both Wasambaa and Maasai ethnic groups have children's songs, games and dances reflecting
their individual cultures in their unique ethnic languages. Some are sung by children in
Kiswahili, the national language.
Before her independence in 1961, Tanzania was a colony of both Germans and British at
different times. The colonialists introduced formal education for children. Children were also
taught songs and games from the Western world, because the colonialists considered those to be
superior in comparison to the native music and games. These songs and games, taught primarily
in Kiswahili with a few in English, became part of their tradition. Outside the classroom,
children continued to participate in singing songs, performing dances and playing games that
belonged to their culture, passed down through oral tradition from generation to generation.
It is my belief that these traditional songs, games and dances need to be re-introduced more in
elementary music clasVURRPVLQ7DQ]DQLDDVWKH\DUHEHQHILFLDOWRFKLOGUHQ¶VGHYHORSPHQW7KH
benefits include:
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because their music is embedded in the cultures of tribes in Tanzania;
‡5HLQIRUFLng each child's cultural identity through song games.
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games and dances.
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cultivating them to become responsible for teamwork.
Providing opportunity to develop the sense of leadership.
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open, alive, and ready to receive other knowledge being taught to them.
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This presentation highlights some of the traditional children songs, games and dances of the
Maasai and Wasambaa ethnic groups of Tanzania that can be used in elementary music
classroom. There are children games that do not involve singing or dancing; these are not
featured in this paper. The presentation limits itself to song games, by describing traditional
activities involved in the songs, including movements and rhythms. The background information
about the song games, the formation, rules of the games and other performance practices are also
provided. Various instruments, languages, and cultural settings of these singing games for
children will also be highlighted.

B A C K G R O U N D I N F O R M A T I O N O F C H I L D R E N SI N G I N G G A M ES
O rigins: culture and environment where the children are from and its surroundings.
Essential elements: physical, mental and emotional activities where patterns of lyrics, body
movement, drama, spontaneous improvisation and participation of all players.
M usical C haracteristics: syncopation, call and response, scatting (improvised singing using
meaningless syllables), and dance movements including jumps, leaps, turns splits, heavy use of
hips, swing arms and intricate foot movements.
Dance Formations: circles, couples, and lines in relation to the content.
E ducational A pplications: enhancing greater understanding of world cultures through music

SH A M B A A C U L T U R E A N D T R A D I T I O N A L M USI C
x A Bantu ethnic group found in the Usambara Mountains of Tanga region in northeastern
Tanzania.
x Agriculturalists, growing maize, beans, fruits, bananas, coffee, tea, tobacco, a variety of
vegetables, and sisal.
x Music based on day-to-day activities, agriculture, nature, and relationships.
x Every event in life is accompanied by singing and often by dancing -- individually, by
gender, or many different groupings.
Instruments: Mostly drums, shakers and bells -- any other available percussion options (tins
with seeds or stones, clapping, etc).
Dancing movements: shaking of hips with the rhythm of the music.
C hildren songs: lullabies, songs with particular dances, and songs that accompany games
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M A ASA I C U L T U R E A N D T R A D I T I O N A L M USI C
x There are two distinct groups of Maa-speaking people, those living a semi nomadic,
pastoral life raising cattle and goats, and those more settled and practicing agriculture.
x Matrilineal societies living in communities of extended families.
x The Maasai society is structured around the age grade function of the male: 1). boyhood;
2). warrior hood (having two sub divisions, junior and senior warrior); and 3). elder hood.
x Transitions between stages marked by celebration, ceremonies and feasts.
Osingolio : Maasai term for song, singing, or a ceremony that incorporates singing and dancing.
x All age groups: songs carry their cultural heritage, ritual, philosophy, beliefs, and
important historical events.

C H I L D R E N SO N GS O F M A ASA I
x Newborns: listening to lullabies sung by their mothers and others.
x Small children: participating in singing and dancing; learning songs, plays and singing
games from the grownups.
x Older children: Songs, singing and dancing separated according to gender.

Specific analysis of two traditional M aasai children singing games:


x Serve different functions in different situations.
x The music is different melodically and rhythmically according to the functions it plays.
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Olorrumirrumi Loo Ngera Kunyinyi (T he H umming Voices of Small C hildren)

T ext T ranslation:
This is the humming voice of young children.
It sounds, rrum, rrum (imitating the humming sound)

Background of the song:


x Short, repetitive song, with some spoken words.
x Sung by a group of young children in the evening.
x Words are spoken in rhythm by children and mother -- no soloist.
x Single line motive, range of 4 tones, 4/4 meter.
x The form of this song is ABC: A ( Olorrumirrumi ) B (loo Ngera kunyinyi ) C (Nejo rrum).

Singing G ame Instruction:


x Children want to get milk or a promise for later.
x Children move from house to house, humming and stomping their feet to announce their
arrival.
x They repeatedly sing and speak the same words until they are satisfied.
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Nairo aya, Nairo Miya 0\IHOORZ/DG\,WDNH0\IHOORZ/DG\<RXZRQ¶W

T ext T ranslation:
My fellow lady ± I take, my fellow lady ± \RXZRQ¶W [
/R7KLV ODG\ RQHLVSUHWW\P\IHOORZODG\\RXZRQ¶W
Lo! This (lady) one is prett\\HV%XW\RXZRQ¶WWDNH
/R7KLVRWKHU ODG\ RQHLVSUHWW\\HV%XW\RXZRQ¶WJHW
My fellow lady ± I take, my fellow lady - \RXZRQ¶W

Background the Song:


x Sung by older Maasai children, commonly girls, although boys are always welcomed
while playing this game.
x Call and response, with a leader singing first and other children responding.
x Soloist repeats the same melody, with variations in melody and text.
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x C atcher sings the solo part, asking her opponent, "the protector", to allow her to take one
of her members - Nairo aya?- (my fellow lady I take one).
x Protector and her group respond - Nairo miya - P\IHOORZODG\\RXZRQ¶W 
x This exchange is followed by the other parts as shown in the music.
x Meter is compound time of 6/8, 5 tones.
x Melodic phrases are ABCB, then AB: A ( Nairo aya), B (Nairo Miya), C ( Oi Sidai Ena),
B (Sidai Nemitum).

Singing G ame Instruction:


x Usually played inside the boma, during the late evening hours or under moonlight.
x Roles: Catcher, Protector, and rest of the children.
x Protector is the "head" of the line of children.
x Children hold each other's clothes in a chain-like form.
x Catcher tries to catch the children to form her/his own group; jumping here and there to
steal one of the children.
x Protector jumps in the same direction to stay between the Catcher and her children.
x Catcher will be able to catch a child who goes in a wrong direction from the Protector.
x This goes on until the protector is left alone.
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F O U R T R A D I T I O N A L SH A M B A A C H I L D R E N SI N G I N G G A M ES

T ext:
Sheka gondo tietee zua uko Maghamba jaaka. Swee kavumo swee
Baba mtoa nange na kaghana

L iteral T ranslation:
Sheka gondo (a lizard) bring us the sun. It is shining in Maghamba.
Swee sounding swee. The father is taking out the gourd and smoking tobacco.

Background of the Song


x Lizards, and children, are tired of the cold and sunless days of winter.
x When the sun appears, lizards and other creatures come out of hiding and lay on the rocks
to enjoy the sunshine and warmth.
x Children are also happy to see sunshine again, so they sing, telling the Lizard to bring to
them the sun that is shining in other places.
x The children imitate the Lizard's sound, swee, when singing.
x Father pulling tobacco from the gourd and smoking represents people enjoying life and
feeling good about the sunshine.
x Children also sing this song and dance at night when there is a bright moon.
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G ame Instruction:
x Children gather in a circle or semi-circle.
x No soloist -- one begins and all join in.
x To begin, children swing their hands back and forth while moving their bodies side-to-
side, sometimes holding hands with each other.
x During the second part of the song, they dance, shaking their hips, sometimes with one
hand on a hip and the other hand touching the head.
x They turn right, left, or completely around, dancing while facing different directions.
x Turning to face each other, they compete to see who can shake their hips best.
x Then the children will repeat the whole song from the beginning, with variations
according to their enjoyment and excitement.

Instruments:
x Whatever is accessible to support the rhythm of the dance and the pulse of the song.
x Drums, or empty plastic baskets, pieces of metal, pieces of woods, shakers or tins filled
with small stones, and clapping are common instruments.
For the children, this singing game is about having fun, enjoying the dance movements and the
fellowship.
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Watoto Wangu E e- My Children (Music notations are in a separate page)


T ext T ranslation:
Each time other members respond - ee - as the sign of paying attention and agreeing to what the
leader is telling them. The leader sings - Mama yenu - (your mother) if is a girl and - Baba yenu
- (your father) if is a boy.
L iteral T ranslation:
Watoto wangu ee- My children ee,
Mimi Mama yenu- Me your mother,
Sina nguvu tena- I do not have strength anymore
Ya kuua Simba- for killing the lion
Simba ni mkali - the lion is fierce
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Ameua baba- It killed my father


Ameua mama- it killed my mother
Wote kimbieni- all of you run to me

Background of the Song:


x Popular singing game for children among different ethnic groups in Tanzania.
x Variations of text from one geographical area to another.
x Soloist and responding group.
x Children may sing at any range/key suitable for them -- F major is a suggestion.
x Tempo may change according to the game's excitement.

Singing G ame Instruction:


x Two children facing each other, each playing a "single parent".
x The Catcher/ "the Lion", is between the parents, and the rest of the children form a group.
x The ground boundaries are set.
x One parent stands alone and sings the solo parts- Watoto wangu ee -
x Other children join with the other "parent", responding -ee- and clap to accompany the
soloist.
x Soloist asks them to cross the middle- Wote kimbieni -.
x Catcher's/Lion's job is to catch one child crossing, who is then out of the game, but can
continue to sing and clap with the others.
x Game ends when only one child is left and the game ends.
x If numbers are few, the soloist plays a double role, being the soloist and the catcher at the
same time.
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T ext T ranslation:
Yaya tamilwa- nurse/Babysitter be happy
+XNRQ\XPDNDWL]DOLQJ¶RQ\ROLO\D- far back something is trace passing
Kachonga chonga linyenye-(this text has no exact meaning, just to follow the dancing pattern).

Background of the Song:


x Happy singing game of Shambaa children.
x Can be sung at any range/key suitable for the children and at any tempo.
x Suggest key F major.
x Singing should be spontaneous, relating to the mood of the children and their leader.

Singing G ame Instruction:


x Children sit close to each other in a line, facing one direction, with arms around each
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x When leader starts singing, the children move side-to-side following the rhythm of the
song.
x Their movements change to follow the tempo of the song, shaking their shoulders up and
down.
x The singing game continues until the leader decides to end it.
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T ext T ranslation:
Ulinge bayoyo- Ulinge bayoyo
Dada Rose piga magoti tuonyeshe maringo yako bingiri bingiri mpaka chini
Sister Rose kneel down showing us your skills, shake it (bingiri,bingiri- picture language) shake
it get down.
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A lternative text- variations:


Tunamuomba kaka Shekifu atuonyeshe maringo yake, bingiri bingiri mpaka chini
We are asking brother Shekifu to show us his skills, shake it, shake it, get down.
Tunawaomba watu wote mtuonyeshe maringo yenu, bingiri, bingiri, mpaka chini
We are asking everybody to show their skills, shake it, shake it to the ground.
The word dada-sister is used to identify a girl, and kaka- brother whose name follows, called forward to
show her/his skills on shaking the body especially the hips while kneeling to the ground.

Background of the Song:


x A leader sings the solo part and other children respond.
x The soloist calls another child to step forward.
x The leader starts the song again from the beginning, and the singing game follows the
same pattern.
x While kneeling or seated, those in the middle sing and clap to support the rest of the
group.

Singing G ame Instruction:


x Children hold others hands in a circle or semi-circle, swinging arms back and forth as
they start the singing game.
x The soloist calls one of the children to step forward and show his/her skills in shaking the
hips. Other members stop all movements and clap their hands in rhythm to support the
dancer.
x Children who showed their skills stay kneeling or seated in the middle until the whole
group has been featured.
x When the leader feels that the group is tired or the game must come to an end, she/he
calls every one standing to show their skills all together.

A ccompaniment:
Clapping, drumming, playing the shakers or hitting anything available that produces sound.
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C O N C L USI O N
The researcher is aware that the songs of these people are not written down; they were passed on
through oral tradition. Through interviews and from his memory, the researcher collected a
number of songs. Some songs are not listed, for example small children songs (lullabies and
other regional songs), as they vary from one age group to the other and some are not permanent.
The presentation is limited to children song games and dances, but the researcher is also aware of
other children games that do not involve singing. They also carry the cultural heritage of
communities to which children belong and can be useful to teaching and developing children
skills in different aspects of life.
These few children game songs that are introduced in this paper can be used in any culture, and
in elementary classrooms apart from the culture to which they belong. If introduced well,
children will enjoy the movements, rhythms and other musical elements found in the song
games. Learning others cultures and music will help children to know their culture better
including music and open their minds more to the global culture.
I am delighted to be able to share the traditional children music and the culture of the two ethnic
groups found in Tanzania, Wasambaa and Wamasai. With the awareness that there are many
other traditional children song games that are yet to be collected and documented; the researcher
has opened the door for further research on Tanzanian children songs that can be used in a
multicultural context.

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