Le Morne & The Sega
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Mauritius, Anno Domini 1811
“In this earthly paradise that you greeted us welcome to, we really would like to show you what we’ve accomplished. You see, there is a party tonight , we shall dance the
Sega, that is our dance and you are invited as our guest of honour.
I know you have the manners to accept. I promise you a memory to last you a life time.” Sans Souci stared into the slave driver’s mustard-coloured eyes. He seized him by the neck.
“Now that I’ve seen you, I wouldn’t fear meeting the Devil himself.”
“What is your name?” The slave driver shook his head. “Come again,” said Sans Souci and twisted the man’s arm backwards.
“Nelson,” the slave driver cried out. “Give me death,” he shouted to the heavens. “Oh no, I’m a man who keeps my word.” Sans Souci poured two buckets of water over the slave driver. The man shook as in fever and frothed at the mouth.
“I baptize you, Little Man.”
Two hours later they arrived at the Temple. Some hundred man and woman were waiting
there. The temple was lit by a big circle of torches. In the middle, stood the pole.
Rumour had spread about the captive. No one wanted to miss the performance of the
Sans Souci led Little Man to the pole. He tied a two meters long rope around the man’s neck and around the pole, tying his hands behind his back.
“The rope is long so that you don’t get too close to the pole, it is far too precious to us.”
Now Sans Souci turned to the assembled. “May I introduce Little Man –tonight’s guest of honour, well known to several of us here tonight. So, no further
introduction is necessary.” Sans Souci turned to Little Man, holding up a fat rat.
“Just a little appetizer,I’ll put it on your shoulder. Now you must run around the pole, you’re welcome to wriggle your hips to the music if you feel like it, that’s for you to decide, the stage is yours.” Sans Souci opened his arms wide and the congregation started to clap hands. Sans Souci left Little Man and joined the others.
The sound of some ravannes was heard. The music grew louder. The inhabitants held each
other hand as they swayed their hips to the music. The slaver lumbered around the pole. Noel found the pace too slow, he took a whip and gave him ten lashes on his back, the man fell to the ground.
This was an excerpt from REBECCA – A SLAVE STORY
They lived on the slopes of the mountain Le Morne Brabant. It was the home of the
runaways. Each of them had a face and a name, his own story to tell, each one with his own past and future. But they were reduced to the simple epithet of SLAVE – and they danced the sega, a dance born in the African soul and danced to the
accompaniment of the ravane, and nothing else.
There is no good party without a sega Sega is music of exiles. Slaves would get together at night after a long days work and tell stories. The Sega of the Indian Ocean islands, is a musical style and a dance that emanates from the pain and sufferings and the savage colours and inhumanity of the days of slavery. It however, also bears a message of hope and faith in an eventual emancipation from that condition. The Sega came with the slaves captured on the east coast of Mozambique (Angola, today). It was hen known under different appellations: Chega, Tsega, Chaga. Sega, in Swahili refers to the act of tucking up one’s skirt…typical gesture of sega dancers. The dance is close to the Fandango. During the period of slavery that lasted over half a century, the Sega was performed in the quarters of the Mozambicans, Yanbanes, Zanbez and Madagascar slaves. This traditional music of Mauritius, now espoused by all ethnic groups, has grown up into the major musical platform of Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles, Agalega, St Brandon,Chagos, Rodrigues, as well as other islands in the Indian Ocean. With some adaptations of course, like the Sega/Maloya of Reunion which favours a gentle swaying of the hips whilst the Sega Tambour (Drum Sega) of Rodrigues is faster in tempo and typically African. Still in Rodrigues, the Sega Kordion is accompanied by a diatonic accordion with an accordion band touch. In the Seychelles, the Sega is slower, more languorous.
Traditional sega instruments The Ravanne The Bobre The Maravanne The Triangle
The three main instruments of the traditional sega are the Ravanne, the Maravanne and the Triangle.
The RAVANNE At the start, the RAVANNE was the main instrument used. It is still made to this day of a goat’s skin stretched over a circular wooden frame and nailed at the circumference. To obtain the best out of the instrument, it must be warmed close to an open wood fire to relax the skin and produce that particular resonance which is obtained by hitting it with the fingers and palm of the hands around its middle. For sharper sounds, the edge of the circle needs to be addressed. Alternating both hands, produce the rhythm that punctuates the dancers’ movements. The original Sega, or Sega Tipik as it is known, focalises upon a sharp swaying of the hips at varying speeds that sends the short skirts in a spin around the lady’s posterior and her shapely calves, at the end of which the feet drag and shuffle on the ground. The female lift their skirts in seductive moves bending over the male who has knelt down and bent back his chest, posterior resting on the calves but swaying all the time. The movements grow more provocative with the rising tempo but the real art is to be able to simulate lovemaking whilst moving as close as possible…without touching. The rhythm sometimes gets so frenzied that the protagonists end up in a trance, totally exhausted and washed out in perspiration.
The BOBRE of Mauritius Artist: Guillaume Sulpice Chevalier, called Paul Gavarni Date: 1844
Then came the BOBRE. This rudimentary musical arc – whose sound box is a dried calabash – is made out of a hard but supple piece of wood stretched by a piece of string or wire and hit by a bamboo rod. The hand holding the rod also grabs a purse half full with dried seeds used as a rattle. The Bobre is well known in Brazil where it is called the Bérimbau. The Berimbau has survived thanks to its association with the Caporeira, this martial art form that has its roots in the fighting methods and the dance forms of African people in the times of slavery. In order to practice without fear of intervention by the masters, this training was given under the form of a primitive dance. It originates in Mozambique (Angola, today).
The MARAVANNE The MARAVANNE which consists simply of a wooden box filled with dried seeds, which is shaken horizontally to produce a rattling sound.
The TRIANGLE Along the way, other instruments came to the fore. The TRIANGLE, is made of an iron rod shaped like an equilateral triangle but with one end still opened. The instrument is held at its apex by a piece of rope in one hand whilst the other uses a short iron rod to hit it, producing a high-pitched sound.
Paul & Virgine by Bernadin de Saint – Pierre.
The Sega dance The rules of sega dancing are quite specific. The dancers take short lateral steps with a suggestive swaying of the hips. They dance in couples, the man facing the woman. Sometimes, he turns around her or moves off seeming to have lost her, only to come close together again, brushing against one another without ever touching. Sometimes another man moves in between the dancer and his partner: this is called “cutting”. The woman goes on to dance with him until it is her turn to be cut. The couple periodically crouch down before each other with a constant “shimmy of the pelvis”: their bust meet and they lean over onto each other, taking it in turn to dip over backwards, until they touch the ground only to come back up to lean over their partner. This step, called “en bas en bas” ( down low), symbolises the sexual act. An act sublimated and transcended since the bodies never actually touch. Musicians and dancers communicate all the time, intense excitement being highlighted by the rhythm, onomatopoeia and short, snappy interjections ( alaila, mo vini, bouze to le reins, en bas et toi, bouze….. move it, get down there, go for it, your turn….)
The TAM-TAM of Mauritius 1844 Artist: Guillaume Sulpice Chevalier, called Paul Gavarni, French, 1804 – 1866
Bernadin de Saint Pierre confused the Bobre and the Tam Tam, he wrote in 1768. ”They passionately love music and dance. Their instruments is the drum, which is a kind of arc which is adapted a gourd, they derive a kind of sweet harmony and they accompany the songs they composed. Love is always about…”The writer spoke about the Bobre.
A few hints for dancing the sega The man usually stands in the dancing area with hands on the hips waiting for the girl to shuffle towards him, wiggling, hip-balancing and waving a colourful handkerchief invitingly. Then the partners face each other with a waist-and-shoulder grasp and … the improvisation starts. (i) Just let yourself go — as long as you do not step on your partner’s feet! (ii) When you hear “En Bas! En Bas!” (Down, Down) bend your knees and lower your body gently downwards while swaying your hips to the rhythm. (iii) We do not advise the women to wear mini-skirts. A colourful full- length patterned skirt and blouse is preferable. (iv) Men are free in their choice of costumes. Open-neck or bushshirt will do, but formal wear can be a handicap.
Naturel de la côte du Mozambique. Nicolas-Martin PETIT Muséum d’histoire naturelle. Le Havre. Who needs to write a book? My face tells the story… Loss of identity From the territory of Yao, the man had been accomplished a particularly harrowing journey of a thousand miles on foot before transporting by sea to the Ile-de-France, during which many captives died exhausted. Ultimately this designation of ”Masambique” amounts to a step of creolization: the man has in the pulpit of his face and his body the marks of the past Yao, he is identified for this date in consolidation wave ”Mazambique” and if he survives, his future will be that of Mauritian Creole.
Nevers faience, 1785, polychrome bowl large fire scalloped edge. The décor says « à la terrasse » consists of four scenes of the work related to the production of sugar cane plantation in the West Indies. Top left: slaves in the cane fields
By Marcel Lindsay Noë The last slaves died at Le Morne - a mountain situated by the seaside in the south of the island – by throwing themselves off the top of the mountain, preferring death to a life of misery. The sad thing is that the policemen they saw coming were not there to arrest them but to tell them that…slavery had been abolished …and they were free!
Le Morne is now part of the UNESCO Slave Trail and also a World Heritage site. Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund is the organisation that manages the site and archaeological digs are on-going. A live Slave Village, re-enacting life in those horrible times, is being built. It will have staff in period costumes cooking, sewing, embroidering, planting…a live museo-graphic project that will be a tourist attraction and provide much needed work in that impoverished area. Visit Le Morne Trust Fund´s website and get more information: lemorneheritage.org. ********* Walk in the footsteps of Sans Souci with Yan de Maroussem as companion , and feel how the history strikes you.
Yanature guides two diffrent and exclusive treeking trips on Le Morne Brabant:
The Circular Mountain Trail
The Maroon Treeking Trail
The Circular Mountain Trail shows a perfect view of the entire mountain from one side to the other. This hike is suited for any person capable of walking for two hours. The Maroon Treeking Trail goes up to 500 meters, next to the gap where the maroons crossed over to reach the safer and more unreachable mountain side. This trip is 3 hours and requires a good physical condition. For reservation contact Yan; email; firstname.lastname@example.org web; www.yanature.com Mobile; +230 5785 6177
Photo; Bernard Li Kwong Ken The closer I get to Le Morne the harder my heart beats, the mountain – its history – the slaves at last being recognized as human beings. Yes, it´s something magnificent that strikes me, touching the very core of me, nothing that I have the power to alter, its just there, a confortable feeling that has come to rest and is here to stay. Bernard Li Kwong Ken´s photos from Maconde are beyond compare. This is only the beginning of the splendid nature that awaits us, in but a few kilometres we will reach Le Morne, the several kilometres long sandy beach by the azure-blue ocean and the silhouette – the mountain Le Morne Brabant.
This is my Mauritius as its very best. Hopefully we´ll met at the mountain and can share the experience. With love from Annika