The Nyau

In this post I would like to tell the readers about a very impressive dance performance I was witness to a couple of weeks ago. In eastern Zambia, along with southern Malawi and western Mozambique, there exists a secret society called the Nyau. The society is for initiated members only and thus secret to the outside world, but the members are just normal people from the villages. 

On a Sunday afternoon we headed up to Joel village where the Nyau was set to perform. Many of the local villagers were there waiting excitedly, as the Nyau always draws a crowd. 

The drumming started and the crowd gathered in a circle, then a few young Nyau dancers appeared in the middle. After a while, more and more of the Nyau dancers appeared, waiting outside the circle for their signal to perform. Their performance was quite impressive! The Nyau dancers (all male) respond to the drumming and singing, determining the dance. The dance includes a lot of intricate footwork and kicking of dust into the air. 

As you can see in the picture, the dancers wear masks to conceal their identity and are understood to be spirits of the dead or animals. Most masks are made of wood, but some consist only of straw, usually worn by the newly initiated members.

Both the drumming and dancing performances were impressive, but personally I thought the best part was the Nyau on stilts. It was incredible to see their balance! They were walking like it was no effort and didn’t fall once.

It was such an experience to witness their performance. I can only imagine how many hours they must practice. They can dance for several hours and the Regional Director told me that what we saw was not even half of what they can do! 

- Camilla