by Alexandria Faure
Created 200 years ago, forbidden by the church, and bursting with African influences; the drums of Moutya awakens a vibrant energy!
The Seychelles is a paradise unlike any other – with the world’s most beautiful beaches and unique coralline and granitic islands, there are more to these tropical islands than meets the eye. There are very few material objects or written documentations that can testify for the life of the slaves during the colonial era of Seychelles. The existing testimonies are kept alive through the Oral traditions; Songs, Stories, Riddles and Dances.
It is thought that as early as the Phoenicians that the islands of the Seychelles were transformed culturally by many different nations. These nations met together in a historical encounter that has created a melting pot nation of who, today’s people pride themselves in being called ‘Seychellois’.
The Moutya was created by the slaves around 200 years ago, and these very slaves were of African descent. The rhythm of the Moutya is of African origin but the lyrics are specifically of the Seychellois Kreol language. Most of the African influences dances in Seychellois culture are performed in the open air and this is probably due to the working conditions that the slaves and lower working class were exposed to during the plantation/colonial era.
“Whilst the white European masters danced in their great halls, the slaves created their own dance to declare their suffering” – Norbert Salomon, Seychellois Historian
Moutya back then was not just a dance, after a hard days of work labouring in the plantations or fishing out at sea the Moutya was the perfect playing field to let go of the pressures of a harsh life, entertain oneself, sing, lament and socialize. Moutya was a creative tool for survival; for voicing the stories that the masters tried hard to silence. A tool of emancipation from slavery; even if it was just for a Sunday night or a Saturday afternoon.
Moutya dance on the beach. Photo courtesy Gerard Larose. All rights reserved.
Art forms are thought to be storytelling mechanisms where society can face itself, question and determine their identities. Moutya is an example of this not only in the way it is performed but the importance it had in the lives of the people during that era.
The preparation for the Moutya started well in the day when the women would gather palm leaves for the bonfire. The bonfire was to heat the Tanbour instruments and a tool for lighting. Many of the songs that were chanted during the Moutya were used as an anit system manifestation – as a way for the Masters not to understand what was being said. Some groups insulted their masters, some sang of lost loves and some of suffering and hardships. It became a news forum – sunken ships, accidents and gossips also became a aprt of the performance. During those times the Moutya circle was the place to be in the Community.
Moutya dance. Photo courtesy Gerard Larose. All rights reserved.
Today it is rare that new songs are created and some songs of the past are still being sung today. Performances of the Moutya come alive at Beau Vallon during the Bazaar Labrin – a rare public sighting of such a historical and emotionally charged dance.
Although today Moutya is a popular dance form and a very important feature of the Seychellois cultures, during the colonial and plantation labour ear the dance was an integral part of the communities’ forum for freedom of speech and tool for survival in an environment where they were oppressed.
A special thanks to the Seychelles National Archives, Norbert Salomon, Maria Leon, Joe Laurence and Aselma Woodcock.