MOUTYA – A WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE?
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MOUTYA – A WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE?

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Seychelles, in the past, had tried and failed twice in applying to UNESCO for the Moutya Dance to be considered as a World Cultural Heritage.

It was in 2018 that a third application was submitted successfully. The dossier made the final list for recommendations and in 2019 it was sent to the Committee level to be analysed and evaluated.

The Sega Ancien, which gave birth to the Moutya (Moutya Ancien) originated from the slave population in Réunion Island, then found its way to Mauritius and then spread to Seychelles after the first settlement.

The rhythm for the dance is from a drum made with dried goatskin, which needs to be heated through an open fire before the drumming starts. The songs which accompany the dance are those that recount the hardship of everyday life.

The first slaves to have been brought to Seychelles displayed ingenuity in the way they adapted their musical heritage to the local context. To accompany their chants, usually performed at night in their camps, they had the ingenuity to transform objects used in their everyday lives and elements from their surrounding environment into musical instruments. These instruments were however often confiscated and destroyed. Fortunately, they were relatively simple: goatskin drums, coconut shells or rattles made out of wooden boxes with dried seeds inside, metal triangles, cooking pots and utensils; and were easily replicated.

After a hard day's work in harsh conditions in the coconut and spice plantations, or fishing under the hot sun, the slaves would get together and share zedmo or riddles. They also shared their pain, associated with their uprooting, by dancing and singing songs about their suffering that would resound until dawn. It was the perfect playing field to let go of the pressures of a harsh life, entertain oneself, sing, lament and socialise. Both men and women performed the dance. It would begin as a group dance, then the dancers would separate into partners. It is a dance full of sexual tension, but the dancers rarely touched each other.

The Moutya was, up to 1813, performed secretly. The Code Noir would have made it difficult for them to dance it openly. Article 12 of the Code decreed that "slaves were not allowed to gather in groups".

The Moutya surfaced from the beginning of the nineteenth century when the colonies heard about Mauritian Governor Farquhar's publication of the Slavery Abolition Act, which was passed in the British Parliament in 1813.

In more recent times, the Principal Secretary for Culture, Cecile Kalebi has expressed that World Heritage status is important for Moutya and for Seychelles. Currently, Seychelles is proudly home to two World Heritage environmental sites, the Valee de Mai nature reserve and the Aldabra Atoll.

The Department of Culture states, "If Moutya is considered, it will be an exceptional honour. It will be the first time one of our traditional music and dance is protected. For now, we are protecting it nationally, but now it will be protected internationally, […]. Another thing is that Seychelles will get recognition everywhere."

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