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Negotiating Rites$
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Ute Husken and Frank Neubert

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199812295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812295.001.0001

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“The Clitoris Is Indeed Your Sweet”

“The Clitoris Is Indeed Your Sweet”

Negotiating Gender Roles in The Ritual Setting of The Swahili New Year’s Festival

(p.59) 3 “The Clitoris Is Indeed Your Sweet”
Negotiating Rites

Magnus Echtler

Oxford University Press

As the New Year’s rituals in Makunduchi, Zanzibar, establish reciprocal relations between the citizens of the town and local spirits, they reproduce local space and identities. When the colonial state prohibited traditional transgressions in the form of stick-fighting of the young men, local women and men started to sing obscene songs. Both local religious experts and advocates of reformist Islam criticize these songs, but the singers continue to enjoy the creative freedom provided by the liminal context of the festival. The songs play an ambiguous role in the renegotiation of Zanzibari identities with the tensions between urban and rural, modern and traditional worldviews and lifestyles. The obscenities are effective transgressions because they react to increasing strictures in gender segregation and women’s roles, introduced into Swahili society since the late 19th century by reformist movements of Islam. When the women of Makunduchi sing “Ask your fathers, the clitoris is indeed your sweet” and the men answer “The women make me feel sorry, better to fuck a monkey”, they certainly challenge the gender roles propagated by the modern religious movements, as well as the traditional authority of the (male) elders, who lead the New Year’s rituals and control legitimate access to women.

Keywords:   New Year’s rituals, traditional transgressions, obscenities

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