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Sega Dancing in Mauritius

October 25 2017

Mauritius transcends the label of ‘tropical paradise’; offering so much more than its stunningly gorgeous shores, warm crystal waters and its stretches of vivid green sugarcane fields. It’s deeply rooted in a fascinating history and is made up of a beautiful diverse people: the descendants of Indian workers, African slaves, Chinese merchants and European settlers, of mainly French origin. It’s a country of colour and spirit, of passion and creativity; a country, perfectly embodied by traditional Sega. Sega in Mauritius is quite simply an art form, something that seen once is sure to live vividly in your memory for years to come. Behind the brilliantly coloured costumes and lively music lies a rich history, significant meaning and an interesting evolution. Here are the reasons why Sega in Mauritius is so wonderfully unique:
 

It originated as the songs and dances of slaves
The spirited sounds of African music are unmistakable in any exhilarating performance of Sega in Mauritius, with its origins believed to be rooted firmly in the ritual music from Madagascar and the rest of Africa. And while there are different variations of Sega in the neighbouring countries of Seychelles, Reunion, Agalega and Rodrigues, this particular version has an undeniably authentic Mauritian flair; the dancers and musicians expertly expressing the exuberance the island’s incredible people have become famous for. While there is some debate around the exact details of its origin, Sega is said to have emanated from men and women who toiled on sugarcane plantations as slaves in Mauritius, and who perhaps created Sega as a means of expression, identity, release and entertainment. It’s said to have been first created in the Rivière Noire (Black River) area of Mauritius where some slaves had run away and gone into hiding.


One thing that is unquestionable, however, is how over time it’s become an integral part of Mauritian life and culture, born out of suffering and transformed into a dance of celebration, today making an appearance at every special occasion. What’s more is that it’s been deemed an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by UNESCO.
 

It’s best when traditional instruments are used
Typically, the rhythmic essence of Sega in Mauritius is created through wonderfully inventive instruments that have an unbelievable impact. The ravanne, maravanne, traditional guitar and triangle are used to create the wonderfully upbeat sounds of Sega. For those who are unfamiliar with these handmade instruments, the ravanne is a large, drum-like object, made with a wooden hoop which is then covered with stretched goatskin. The maravanne is a type of rattle made up of a wooden box which is then filled with sand or seeds. The triangle, as the name suggests, is a metal instrument made in the shape of a triangle and it makes a tinkling sound when struck with a small metal rod.  
Accompanying the sounds of the wonderful and unusual traditional instruments, the songs are usually sung in Creole, which evolved from the French language in the 18th century (and is widely spoken throughout the island) and centre on tales of the heart or the depiction of daily Mauritian life.


It’s wildly colourful
When you see a performance of Sega in Mauritius, two things will occur to you; one that it’s unbelievably difficult to resist the urge to join in, and two, that the spectacle is so exquisitely vibrant and colourful. Typically, women would wear long skirts boarded by petticoats, while men would wear comfortable trousers, straw hats and shirts. Today, the women’s ensembles are gorgeously vivid and come in a variety of patterns and colours, and the men’s shirts are equally vibrant, adding an extra element of festivity to the extravaganza already so thrilling.
 

It’s said to be a ‘sultry’ dance
Many believe Sega dancing to be sultry or seductive. Dancers tend to keep their feet on the ground during the performance, while the focus of their movement is in their body with undulating hips and feminine arm movements to the ever-intensifying rhythm of the instruments. With the dance starting as a group dance and then breaking off into pairs, dancers are often seen circling each other and the dance often resembles a type of playful courtship. Traditionally, however, Sega in Mauritius is meant for the entire family, with parents and grandparents teaching the younger generations the moves. The traditional versions are largely improvised in both lyrics and dance movements.
It’s campfire folklore at its best


Typically, in the smaller villages, Sega in Mauritius is inspired by the local rum and takes place around a large campfire where fishermen and families gather to watch and enjoy the display, and of course, join in. Sometimes the full host of typical instruments is replaced purely with the ravanne, the clapping of hands or any other ordinary object that can easily be transformed into an instrument if the usual instruments are not at hand.


It’s slowly starting to change
As tends to be the case with most things, the traditional Sega—Sega tipik—is evolving with the times and has been doing so for a while. For example, a new type of Sega came about after the liberation of Mauritius in 1968 (around the same time it become more publicly shared and enjoyed), that is said to be a type of ‘political’ Sega also called Santé engagé during which the lyrics would centre on political issues of the day. Today, the stunningly simple instruments are slowly being replaced by modern versions and the sounds of traditional Sega are often amalgamated with other popular genres such as reggae (deemed ‘seggae’ and made famous by a group called Racine Tatane) and jazz, with popular local artists taking the modern versions to new heights (a movement spurred on by the famous Ti Frère who recorded and released the first Mauritian vinyl in 1948, but really became famous in the 1960s when sega was recognised as a form of art. This led to him being hailed as the ‘King of Sega’).


It’s an incredibly significant performance art
Sega might be an exceptional spectacle to those who experience it on a memorable night in paradise, but to the Mauritians, it’s infinitely more than that. It’s the embodiment of the eclectic Mauritian culture, a part of their heritage and the expression of pure joy in the form of song and dance. It breaks down barriers and unifies a multicultural people of all ages and backgrounds, with a universal storytelling quality that transcends the need for languages. It gives a glimpse of life as a local, of intimate town gatherings and special occasions. It’s a deeply imbedded piece of rich Mauritian history and a form of entertainment that is an absolute pleasure to witness.


Experience the wonders of Sega in Mauritius around a bonfire on a warm Mauritian evening on one of the island’s best beaches at Sugar Beach or at La Pirogue. Be mesmerised by the performance as you feast on delectable Mauritian dishes and sip exotic cocktails made from the local rum, creating a unique Mauritian experience never to be forgotten.

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