ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Mongu
SIPELU dance is a form of entertainment that forms part of the tourism potential of Western Province, though this type of dancing that leaves one yearning for more is not known by many people.
Enthusiasts are promoting the dance in Sesheke, Mwandi and Mulobezi in a bid to make it a national dance because apart from its exquisite display, the lyrics and hops exude a myriad of lessons about Lozi culture.
The term Sipelu comes from a Lozi word ‘Kupeluka’, which means to dance swiftly.
The dance is performed through vocals and a rhythm of clapping in a harmonious setting, done in a unison kind of clapping, thereby producing a nice sound that is accompanied with signing. The clapping of hands is done in a pattern of semi–quavers and the only known musical instrument used when singing is a whistle, blown by a soloist, thereby adding to the music set-up.
The harmony of singing becomes even ‘inviting’ when one hears the nice soprano and baritone vocals hit the atmosphere.
The dance is performed in three different countries; Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.
In Zambia, the dance is performed in Western Province and, in particular, the southern districts of the province such as Mwandi, Mulobezi and Sesheke.
The dance is performed by an ethnic grouping among the Lozi-speaking people called the Masubiya or Subiyas. The Masubiyas are also found in the Zambezi West region of Namibia in a place formally called the Caprivi Strip.
Songs during this performance are sung in different tunes and those who have the traditional know-how can differentiate the region of origin for Sipelu dances, depending on the style of singing and dancing.
For instance, the Sipelu dance of Namibia is similar to that performed in Maondo, Katongo and Simungoma areas of Sesheke and Mwandi districts.
The singing in these areas is accompanied by humming while in other areas where it is performed, the groups utter words.
According to a Lozi historian Inengu Muyunda Ananyatele, the Sipelu dance had been performed firstly by the Subiya tribes alone.
Mr Ananyatele, who is a tour guide in Western Province, says in the olden days, the Sipelu was performed in winter or cold season, particularly in the night when men and women would compete on the traditional catwalk.
He says the females, donning the siLozi attire called ‘musisi, showcased their modelling skills in dance, while the men would do so in the traditional siziba attire.
The men also wore traditional headgear made of animal skin, with the common fabric being cat skin also called ‘tsipa’ in Lozi.
“The Subiyas were known for their light skins and sharp noses. History has it that the term ‘Subiya’ originated from an old Luyi term ‘u subila’ which means someone beautiful,’’ he says.
Mr Ananyatele further says the Sipelu dance was referred to as a ‘dance of pride’ as women would show off their beauty and dancing skills, while men used it to choose their life partners.
Today, the dance is performed at different occasions with some of the components like choosing a dancing partner of the opposite sex lingering on.
Apart from that, today’s songs for the Sipelu carry different cultural awareness raising messages of praise, counsel, education, encouragement and some of it is purely informative.
Mr Ananyetele says Sipelu is a beautiful dance to watch as it carries with it special messages, depending on the occasion.
And an elderly lozi woman Lily Wasilele Lyamba says the Sipelu dance sends a message that men of the olden days were able to pick a bride whom they loved without any interference from anyone.
“Also in the Sipelu dance, there is a part where a lady draws back after being picked (by a man). This teaches that you cannot force a woman to marry someone she does not adore,’’ she says.
Ms Lyamba says the younger generation need to embrace traditional dances like Sipelu because they do not just amuse people but also teach many things about the Zambian way of life through ballads.
She commends the people of Sesheke, Mwandi and Mulobezi for keeping the Sipelu dance alive and says the Ministry of Tourism and Arts needs to take interest in the folk song because of its great potential for cultural tourism.
“Like the famous dance for the Tswanas, Sipelu is one traditional dance that is rich and we should never allow it to die,’’ she says.
ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Mongu