Hosanna, the Bakalanga rainmaking dance

MAKOBO: Hosanna is an Ikalanga dance that has existed for so long it has become synonymous with the tribe, and is still practiced today in requests for rain.

Just 30 kilometers west of Francistown lies the small village of Makobo where a group of Ikalanga elders are quietly acknowledged as the veterans of the tribe's culture.

It was at a joint PSLE victory party and prize-giving day at Makobo Primary School last week that Mmegi learnt that the Hosanna, as a dance, also refers to the dancer who is old and wise.

During the celebrations at Makobo guests were treated to the Hosanna dance by elders in black skirts, strings of beads in a multitude of colours, a myriad across their upper bodies and around their heads and waists.

The leader of the dance group, Tshepang Thapelo explained that while the dance is part of the Ikalanga culture it is not everyone amoung the Bakalanga that qualifies to be a Hosanna.

Hosanna, said Thapelo, is a family heritage that is inherited from the forefathers by those living.

"Hosannas do not choose to be such; it comes not as a choice or preference, but rather a spiritual heritage. When the process begins, one is possessed by a sickness which cannot be cured in hospital," She said.

The intensity of the sickness, she explained varies depending on the person and the power of their ancestors.The person is then taken to ka Mwale, which is a hill setting for the gods.

"If the person is found to be in possession of the Hosanna spirits, they will then be healed either at ka Mwale or taken to a prominent traditional doctor who knows the spirits of the hosanna and will heal and groom that person into a true Hosanna," Thapelo explained.

She said that after that person is healed and made a complete Hosanna, they will never again experience the sickness that had befallen them. She emphasised that the hosanna would then become part of the group of hosannas, whose role it is to dance for rain.

According to Thapelo if there is a drought in a village, the village Kgosi approaches the elder of the hosannas in the village requesting them to rescue them from the dry season. "The elder would then gather his/her fellow hosannas and the old women amongst us would then be released to go and sweep the dance floor (sebata)," She said.

The old women, said Thapelo, must be those who no longer share the bedroom with a man, saying that if they still do so it would be a taboo, causing drought. She said the hosannas would then dance into the night in their request for rain from the ancestors.

Thapelo however said that hosannas have their own rules which they observe. She said that after harvesting (letlhafula), hosannas are not allowed to eat the harvest like ordinary people.

"There is a proper way to do that, we do what we call "go lomisiwa", which is having a bite as a way of granting the feast open to the harvest."

Another Hosanna, Sihle James told Mmegi that hosannas are respectable members of the society who conduct themselves in a certain manner. Their multi-coloured beads also identify them.

"Hosannas are very respectable and polite persons who always bow and clap their hands when greeting or coming across anyone that they know," James said.

According to James, it is also against their norms for a Hosanna to be seen at bars getting drunk and indulging in disputes, for they are viewed as very respectable and disciplined people.

"We address each other and are addressed as "Thobela", meaning a very humble person. At times we are called "Bakadzi ba Thobela", an Ikalanga phrase meaning the women of the very humble," James said.

James said that all Hosanna people are viewed to be very old women, such that men are also viewed as old women. She said that when they are together they even gather and sleep at the same place since they regard each other as old women.

When a Hosanna dies certain things happen, they are not buried like ordinary people, but rather they are reported to Mwale and burial instructions are then issued for that specific person.

Selinah Makobo, an elder amongst the community and also a Hosanna confirmed that they indeed communicate with their Mwale.

"When we are at Mwale's hill, we kneel down and face the sunset and then a voice from an invisible person is heard telling us "you brought my child so and so with such and such a problem". The voice would then issue instructions on what has to be done," she explained.

According to Makobo this is the process of communication with their Mwale in every matter that needs to be referred to him.

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