Mbende Jerusarema dance
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)
The Mbende Jerusarema Dance is a popular dance style practiced by the Zezuru Shona people living in eastern Zimbabwe, especially in the Murewa and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe districts.
The dance is characterized by acrobatic and sensual movements by women and men, driven by a polyrhythmic drummer accompanied by men playing woodblock clappers and by women handclapping, yodelling and blowing whistles. Unlike other drum-based East African dance styles, the Mbende Jerusarema does not rely on intricate foot stamping or a large number of drummers. Instead, the music is performed by one master drummer, and no songs or lyrics are involved.
In the course of the dance, men often crouch while jerking both arms and vigorously kicking the ground with the right leg in imitation of a burrowing mole. The dance’s curious name reveals much about its vicissitudes over the centuries. Before colonial rule, this ancient fertility dance was called Mbende, the Shona word for “mole”, which was regarded as a symbol of fertility, sexuality and family. Under the influence of Christian missionaries, who strongly disapproved of this sexually explicit dance, the dance’s name was changed to Jerusarema, deriving from the Shona adaptation of the name of the city of Jerusalem, to endow it with a religious connotation. Both names are commonly used today. In spite of its condemnation by the missionaries, the dance remained popular and became a source of pride and identity in the struggle against colonial rule.
The dance is changing its character and meaning as its enactment as an exotic animation for tourist audiences becomes more widespread. It is also increasingly used at political party rallies, where it is removed from all its original intentions. The mitumba drum, rattles and whistles, which used to accompany the dance, have successively been replaced by instruments of poor quality, contributing to the loss of the uniqueness of the Mbende music.
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