28 October 2017

Seychelles: Matriarch of Traditional Dance in Seychelles Plans to Dance 'Till Legs Give Out

interview

As the Seychelles celebrates the islands way of life through the Creole festival, SNA met with one of the pioneers in the promotion of the island nation's traditional dances.

Marietta Matombe who comes from the western Mahe district of Anse Boileau is known asMadanm Kanmtole -- the traditional dance lady. The 59-year-old, is a mother and grandmother who manages the national traditional dance group of Seychelles.

Matombe keeps the Seychellois traditional dance alive by giving lessons to members of the public and trains local instructors.

SNA met with Matombe to learn more the 'kanmtole expert.'

SNA: Tell us a bit about yourself?

MM: The minute people hear of me, they automatically think of the kanmtole - traditional dance. We are six in the family and I can say that I was born in a family deeply rooted in culture. My parents, as well as uncles and aunties, are musicians and dancers, and most of them are still active, even my mum who is past 80 years old still dances.

SNA: What have you done career-wise?

MM: Right after school I joined the world of work, in the tourism sector. I started as a waitress at the Equator hotel and after 12 years I moved to the newly opened Barbarons hotel. It was there that I met a German couple who would later become my employers.

The couple had been coming to the Seychelles every year and during breakfast, I would hold their baby. They were surprised at how well the baby took to me and offered me a job as their baby's nanny in Stuttgart. I declined as I had my own daughter to care for but the following year, they came back to the same hotel and made the same offer which I accepted.

SNA: How was life in a foreign country?

MM: At first it was difficult as for me; it was a culture shock as I had never been to Europe. My boss was well off and I had to adjust to the lavish lifestyle -- a three-level house, outdoor and indoor pools and a garage with cars like Lamborghini, Jaguar and Porsche.

They also travelled a lot and I had to look after the baby. But I also travelled with them and I have been to Bahamas, Australia and the United States. Although I was happy with my work, I missed home -- the food, the music and my family.

When I met my aunt and cousin in Paris I decided to stay in France where I worked for a while. The German family wanted me back and I worked for them for two more years. After that, I felt that my children needed me so I returned to my islands in the late 1990s.

SNA: Are you still in contact with your German family?

MM: I met someone special in Germany and we have been together for 22 years. Every time I visit him I also spend a couple of days with the German family who now lives in Munich. The kids whom I cared for are parents today. They are my family and helped shaped the woman I am today.

SNA: Tell us about your return to Seychelles?

MM: I went back to traditional dances and not long after I was given the responsibility of managing the national traditional dance group. The group does not do competitions but rather promotes and preserve our dances. We do it locally and internationally. We also assist districts to set up their own cultural groups.

SNA: How do you see the future of our traditional dances?

MM: Under threat because the younger generation is not taking up the traditional dances. They are more into modern dances and music influenced by reggae and other beats. But I am positive as we have been training instructors and giving lessons. I am happy to say that in the 12 years that we have been giving lessons, more people join the classes each year. I would like to see more men joining in.

We also organise balls with only traditional dances. Together with the instructors, I am hopeful that our dances will not disappear but will remain for the next generation. Traditions disappear, but culture evolves, and I hope that our dances will always be part of our culture.

SNA: How will you keep up with all the challenges that culture face?

MM: As long as these legs will allow me I will continue to persevere and promote and preserve our culture especially the dances. How can I give up when I am child who was born, raised and breathed traditional dances.

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