Diturupa, a celebration of life

2013-01-06 10:00

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Lucas Ledwaba is seduced by the beautiful artistry of villagers celebrating life through song and dance.

People line up along the village road, drawn by the boisterous singing and drumming from a dance troupe.

They cheer, whistle, clap and ululate as a marching group of women – dressed in white shirts and shoes, red skirts and berets – approaches.

Behind them, a band of men wearing dresses beat small, handmade cowhide drums called tempedi to accompany the melodic singing of the women.

Batsadi ba rona ga re ba tlotle\Ge ba sa phela re a ba kgopisa\Ge ba sule re ba tlhabela dikgomo\Ga ba na sepe le tsona?.?.?.

The women’s lyrics, in Setswana, warn against disrepecting elders and trying to make up for this by offering sacrifices of cattle after they pass on.

Cars slow down as they pass the troupe, with drivers hooting excitedly to urge them on.

Children, eyes wide with joy, capture the spectacle on video, using cellphones.

The elderly – probably reminded of their days as youngsters, when they also formed part of the festivities – dance graciously with tears in their eyes.

“Eish!” a man exclaims as his eyes scan the sky. In the distance, thick, grey clouds point to the inevitability of rain. “I hope the rain doesn’t spoil this day,” he says.

As the afternoon passes and the assault from the sun intensifies, more troupes march towards a muddy soccer field alongside the main road.

The crowd swells and the atmosphere gets ever more intoxicating.

The sky above Makapanstad is pregnant with rain, but the village bulges with excitement, for it’s no ordinary day this.

It’s the day after Christmas, and in this village north of Pretoria, it’s time for celebration, song and dance.

It’s the day of the Diturupa Carnival. Diturupa is a Setswana word borrowed from the European word “troupes”.

Villagers dress up in colourful costumes – the women (and some men) in white or khaki shirts, Scottish kilts and white shoes, the men in military uniforms.

The men complete the military look by carrying toy pistols and rifles.

They march like soldiers, dance like pantsulas and sing like angels.

Behind them, a band accompanies their singing with the rhythmic beating of drums and percussion and brass instruments.

Villagers acknowledge their beautiful marching and singing by inviting them into their yards, where a wonderful performance can earn cash, a case of beer or, in the case of a stingy host, just ululation.

The troupes come from different sections of the village and each year descend on the Bakgatla ba Mosetlha tribal office in the village centre.

There, they strut their carefully choreographed dance moves before the royals and the gathered crowd.

Preparations start in earnest long before the festive season, with practice sessions on dusty fields, in back yards or on village back streets, often lasting well into the night.

Second hand shops are scoured for military uniforms.

Parents are harassed for money to buy white shirts and shoes.

Toy shops are raided for guns. Sculptors are approached to fashion guns from wood.

Young professionals, university students, primary and high school students, the elderly, the streetwise and the village bums – all join in.

Owing to a bereavement in the royal household, this time the troupes gather on the muddy football pitch.

Revellers gather in their thousands to watch.

An enterprising group of locals have organised a trophy and vouchers from a wholesaler to reward the troupes for their efforts.

The trophy goes to Frans Monaledi, a legend of diturupa who is known in the village as Rocker.

With thousands of people forming a human rectangle across the field, the troupes make gallant entrances into the man-made arena, marching elegantly, carrying handmade flags bearing their names and emblems.

For a while, they are the centre of attention, lost in a world of fulfilment.

Young and old break a leg in an effort to impress. The crowd, moved by the wizardry of the troupe, acknowledge their efforts by whistling and clapping.

At dusk, the clouds that have grown darker can’t hold back any longer. A light drizzle sends the crowds scurrying for cover.

But the men and women of diturupa stay on the field for the winner to be announced.

And they dance in the rain.

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