Mwaka Kogwa is the traditional Shirazi or Persian New Year celebrations that take place in Zanzibar and although the festival has its origins in the Zoastrian religion, the Zanzibaris have certainly taken it to heart. Despite the festival being celebrated around the island, the village of Makunduchi, on southern Unguja, is the key focus of the ritual events and each year a large crowd gathers to attend the celebration.
Together with the usual singing, dancing, feasting and drumming that goes with all East African festivals, Mwaka Kogwa includes specific rituals destined to bring good luck in the New Year. To initiate the celebration, a play fight takes place and all the men of the village beat each other to vent their aggression from the past year. Real weapons were used in the past but now banana sticks are preferred because they are less violent. As they do this, the women of the village dress up in their best clothes and proceed throughout the village and the fields, singing traditional songs about family, love and joy. Then, the mganga, or traditional healer, lights a ritual hut on fire and reads which way the smoke is burning to determine the village’s prosperity in the coming year. Finally there is a large feast in which all guests are welcomed and considered as a sign of happiness and prosperity.
Traditional Swahili food is accompanied by taarab music, and on the beaches the drums and dancing continue long into the night.
Mwaka Kogwa takes place every year around the 23rd or 24th of July, but if you’re planning to time your visit to attend the celebrations, check with your travel agent to verify the date and for any further details.