“The Clitoris Is Indeed Your Sweet”

Magnus Echtler

in Negotiating Rites

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199812295
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919390 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ritual Studies Series

“The Clitoris Is Indeed Your Sweet”

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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

Chapter.  10856 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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