Mwaka Kogwa: a guide to Zanzibar's banana plant fighting festival

Zanzibar. Tanzania. Beach. Sea.

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'Island and Diving' by moron noodleCreative Commons Attribution

Location: Kae Kuu, Makunduchi, Zanzibar

Dates: 15-21 July 2013.

Level of participation: 2 - watch the banana bashing and join the evening banquet

Walloping your neighbour with the stalk of a banana plant doesn’t sound like a healthy pursuit, but in southern Zanzibar it’s seen as a purification ritual. Taking place at Shirazi (Persian) New Year, the Shirazi ritual arrived with Middle Eastern immigrants and was absorbed by the Swahili people. The theory is that by taking out aggression and settling scores, participants will start the coming year in harmony.

In practice, it’s a gleeful scuff. Two brothers from northern Makunduchi take on two southern siblings and their friends soon pile in around them. The leafy cudgels split easily and are altogether more fun than the sticks and clubs that were once used.

On the perimeter of the battlefield, balancing out the testosterone, the women show off their best outfits and sing in the local Kikae dialect. Traditionally, the songs are about family and village life, but the choir might use the opportunity to advise their other halves that they would love a gift of Khanga cloth; in fact, the men’s sex lives depend upon it.

The ceremony officially ends when the mganga (healer) torches a coconut-thatch hut; a ritual designed to ensure that any house fires that occur in the new year do not cause fatalities.

Local attractions: the Zanzibar archipelago is a paradise for divers and beach bums.

More info: Tanzania Tourist Board, Dar es Salaam (+255 51 27672)

See other top festivals in July here.