27 November 2012

Tanzania: Why Traditional Ceremonies Complicate Fight Against Schoolgirl Pregnancies

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
Young women perform in traditional dress in Arusha, Tanzania.

DEEP inside the district of Muheza in Tanga Region, local residents have a ngoma tradition during which they celebrate events like weddings, initiation ceremonies and of late, graduation.

It's a common practice in some other areas of the country too. The ngoma is usually accompanied by feasting and dancing and may last up to three days for a wedding, depending on the money available. Lately, however, the youths have adapted the ngoma tradition but with a different purpose, name and style.

While on a trip to Muheza District early this year, courtesy of the Tanzania Media Women Association ( TAMWA) who have been on the forefront to campaign for a better learning environment for girls, I learnt several things about local customs, which included the vigodoro dance, a modern version of the ngoma tradition.

The overnight vigodoro dance, according to Salum Fikiri, a motorcycle rider (bodaboda), at Mkanyageni area, is an all night revelers' experience, comprising a discotheque with full blast music sound that invites everyone within the village and beyond.

Literally translated, vigodoro could mean small mattresses of no important value, although there could also be a hidden meaning in the local jargon. The dance, however, has nothing to do with mattresses, because it is organised with one purpose; to ease stress and boredom, according to Fikiri.

"We dance throughout the night. No drinking, no eating. Sometimes 200/- is abruptly collected from the revelers to help sort out an emergency. Lonely hearts and broken ones meet their right counterparts and it's all fun, said Fikiri. This kind of evening dance is organized in an open area, near a house that has power for organizers to fix their music system.

The homestead accommodates as many people as possible without discrimination of age or gender. With as little as 20,000/- you can hire a music system and the villagers, old and young come to warm themselves up. Otherwise how else do you enjoy life after a weeklong of hard work?" said Mashaka Salehe, a primary school leaver, who now sells second hand clothes. Whether this could be a place where school girls may be lured into bad sexual relationships, the teenagers said vigodoro tells it all.

'People dance throughout the night and many girls are usually in attendance. It's not an all men dance. The girls may decide to disappear into the dark with their male partners. Any thing can happen," said Salehe. Elders, however, have mixed opinions on this youth entertainment business, saying it may have been adapted with good intentions but has been disastrous to schoolgirls.

Since entry to the arena has no restrictions, girls have taken advantage of this loophole and sneaked out of their homes in the night to join bad companies of the dancers. "These ngomas are not good for our girls. Why must they be an all night business? You don't even know whether your own children are not going there. I have seen several cases of unwanted pregnancies around here and girls have cut short their studies, it is very sad," said Mama Fatuma Bwembe, whose daughters go to Pande Darajani Secondary School in Muheza.

She said in an interview at Azimio Primary School that while there was nothing wrong with marking of events and partying , cultures and traditions were being taken for granted. She refused to buy the opinion that vigodoro was all about rejuvenating an exhausted mind. "My husband and I would never allow our daughters to go out at night. Yet, I cannot be one hundred per cent sure my daughters are not sneaking out," she said.

"It is until it has sadly happened and your daughter is pregnant, you regret and wonder why you did not prevent it," said Mama Fatuma. She was one of the parents, who were so upset that while there are concerted efforts by the government, through the local leaders to encourage parents to make contributions towards construction of more school facilities like classes, dining hall, a library and laboratory, there are no concerted efforts to build dormitories for school girls.

Parents in Muheza do talk about vigodoro with disapproval although some are known to be active players, as they have nothing to lose. Vigodoro dances are behind truancy, lack of concentration in class and above all, have resulted in school dropouts soon after girls discovered that they were pregnant. A teacher at Ngomeni Secondary School in the neighbourhood blamed local residents for initiating their daughters into early motherhood.

"In Moshi where I was born, it is rare to see overnight partying which involve girls. The fact is that parents around this areas, encourage their daughters to get sexually involved while still at school," said Ms Grace Mbowe. Ms Mbowe said she had handled a case in the school in which she discovered that a certain girl was so miserable because her step-mother scorned her on a daily basis for staying indoors instead of finding herself a man at the night dances.

She tasked parents and civic leaders in the Ngomeni neighbourhood to deliberate on the cause of unwanted pregnancies among schoolgirls. Some parents, added still believed that their girls were a source of income and willingly wanted them to cut short their studies and get married.

"School pregnancies is a problem in this area but we have no serious front runners to educate the people," said Ms Mbowe. The teacher, however, hoped that with time, many parents will realize that education for girls means a lot to the family and the entire nation. Apart from TAMWA, however, who else is there for the schoolgirls?

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