National Geographic : 1956 Jan
to the two grandsons of Mohammed the Prophet, sons of Ali, who tried unsuccessfully to dethrone a corrupt caliph in the struggles for succession almost 1,300 years ago. Husain was finally killed in pitched battle in the year 680 at Karbala in what is now Iraq. His death became a symbol of martyr dom to the Shiites of Persia (Iran) and India, who believe in the family of Ali as the only rightful successors to the Prophet. Ghoon festivals on the tenth day of Muhar ram, first month of the Moslem year, survive as rites of mourning; the knife dancers and human pincushions do penance for the slaying of Husain, and the ghoons themselves repre sent the tombs of the two brothers. Segas Have Roots in Africa Far older are wild dances originally brought to Mauritius by African and Malagasy slaves. These bacchanalian celebrations, called segas, persist among the rural Creoles even though frowned upon by church and polite society. On Mauritius, incidentally, the term "Creole" generally applies to persons of predominantly African extraction. I hinted that I would like to see a sega. One day an invitation came to visit one of the loneliest sections of Mauritius, near the headland mountain known as Le Morne Bra bant in the southwestern corner of the island. We drove along a winding coral road in bright moonlight to a crossroads store run by the inevitable Chinese merchant. There my host's son vanished for several minutes. "I think we're in luck," he said when he reappeared. Seemingly from nowhere Creoles material ized, laughing and jesting in the soft night air. A bonfire flared among the filao trees. The first tentative finger slapped on the taut deerskin head of a tom-tom. Other drummers picked up the beat. Someone be gan a rambling tune. Ragged Women Dance In the fire's flickering light raggedly dressed women began to dance. Their stamping feet raised puffs of dust. Men broke from the waiting circle to join them. Skirts flew as the girls whirled, first one way, then the other, feet and hips weaving in sharply defined patterns. The men moved with gyrations wilder and freer, facing their partners, yet never touching them. The tempo gradually became faster. Cou ples would spin until exhausted, then drop out. Other dancers came into the firelight. 86 A Paper Minaret Rolls Through Port Louis Shiite Moslems from India took the ghoon festival to Mauritius more than a century ago.