Whether you are shy or social, exhausted or fresh, love to dance or not, you could not stop your feet from moving on the beat while watching the Mauritian Sega dance.
Sega is the musical way of expressing the joy and liveliness of Mauritians today, but it was initially discovered to express pain by enslaved Africans in Mauritius. The Discovery of Sega is another ancient story that involves Britishers enslaving people for their benefit.
History of Sega
Let me take you back to a few hundred years ago when Mauritius was an empty island without any habitat for humans.
In the 16th century, the Dutch attempted to build a colony there many times but finally gave up after failing again. However, they named the island Mauritius. French was already settled on the neighbouring island of Reunion. In 1715, the French discovered Mauritius and renamed it Isle De France. That was the time when Mauritius got its people.
The French brought the enslaved Africans from Reunion to Mauritius. By the early 19th century, the population of Mauritius grew to 75,000, out of which 80% were enslaved Africans. The enslaved Africans were the real founder of Sega.
Africans were living a sad and painful life as enslaved people. On a few occasions, they would come together and dance. Some used to dance while others used to give music through hand-made instruments, and together they used to express the pain they were going through. The combination of both dance and music came to be known as Sega.
The Sega dance is mainly the movement of hips on the beat rhythmically. Sega usually starts slowly and gradually rises to keep pace with the music and rhythm. The best part about Sega is that it is dynamic and allows dancers to bring their creativity.
Unlike other dance forms, while doing Sega, dancers never leave the ground; their feet constantly touch the ground no matter their movements. Africans danced by dragging their feet along the ground as they would have done in their slave work. This was the symbol of pain in their lives, which they were expressing through Sega.
Although Sega was an expression of pain, it was also a way of joy and freedom. The dance was an escape for the enslaved people from the colonizers and an opportunity to find some pleasure. Sega was a relief for Africans to express pain and gain joy.
Talking about Sega music, it was operated through different traditional instruments. One was the Ravanne, a sizeable round instrument made of goat skin. Ravanne forms the heart of rhythm and is usually heated up before playing. Moutia was a simple hand drum, and Marvanne was a type of rattle used to make hard noise.
Sega’s music was not entirely instrumental. Lyrics usually reflect the singer’s feelings and emotions, sung in the Mauritian Creole language.
Popularity of Sega
Sega has not always been popular. As enslaved Africans discovered it, white people looked down upon it. Since the dance involved a sexual element, it was also criticized by the Catholic Church.
Sega was unnoticed until a guy named Jean Alphonse Ravaton sang his first song, “Tamassa”, the first recorded in Mauritius. Tamassa, along with subsequent songs, resulted in the popularity of Sega. Attempts were made to add English in Sega, but the result failed as it could not give rise to the purity of the Creole language.
Evolution of Sega
Sega has become the national dance of Mauritius today. However, today’s Sega is not the same as 19th-century Sega. It has evolved concerning instruments and dance moves. It is combined with the elements of Jazz, Zouk, and Reggae (these are a style of music). Sega, with the addition of the genre Reggae, is known as Seggae.
Reunion has also adapted Sega with its own variations. It is now widespread in Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte, Rodrigues, and Madagascar islands.
Mauritian Sega is also a tourist spot. Many islands and hotels on the islands entertain tourists through Sega. Sugar Beach, La Pirogue, and Shanti Maurice are a few hotels in Mauritius where you will see Sega dance and be convinced to dance.
Local dancers are hired to entertain the guests while enjoying themselves on the beach or eating in the restaurant. You cannot afford to miss the Sega Dance whenever you visit Mauritius.
What does Sega mean to the Mauritian people?
“Sega is proof that no matter what you do to someone, you cannot take their humanity.”Benjamin Hobson
To the people of Mauritius, Sega is not just a dance; it is a significant part of their culture as it recalls the beginning of the Mauritius community. Art is the result of the life an artist lives. It is impossible to compare this art with any other art because the artist’s pain may not be the same.
Sega was danced by the men and women whose bodies were sold to Britishers but whose souls remained with them. This is why Sega is also called Soul Dance.
Sega is an expression of pain and joy at the same time.