Muchongolo dance contests: Deep play in the South African lowveld

Isak Niehaus, Jonathan Stadler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that Geertz's concern with cultural performances as "stories people tell themselves about themselves" continues to be a valid focus of anthropological inquiry. Like Balinese cockfights, muchongolo dancing contests in the Bushbuckridge municipality of South Africa offer meta commentary on everyday life and struggles in the form of a competition. Through the juxtaposition of movements and costumes with the actions of spectators outside the dance arena, and through the lyrics of songs, the dancers enact a confrontation between xintu (the past, tradition) and xilungu (the present, ways of whites). This war of images and words stimulates a critical consciousness about political economic processes that cannot be captured by simplistic labels such as acquiescence and resistance. (Dance, tradition, modernity, Shangaan, South Africa).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-380
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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