Five Swahili songs from the Beni Dance which is popular throughout East Africa. Beni first became popular in Swahili-speaking communities at the end of the nineteenth century. Its origins have been traced to coastal dance societies (see also Mwananazi), but Beni is also very much influenced by the rituals of German and British colonial forces and especially by their military bands and displays of marching.

Beni societies spread rapidly throughout East Africa during the first world war, and were divided into two groups: the Marini (the marine, or navy) and the Arinoti (the army). These groups competed in dancing displays, praising themselves and trading insults, as in these five examples.

I

We Marini are the people of Paradise;
We long to go to our home on the coast.
These Arinoti are people of Hell.

II

We Arinoti of Tanga have come to Dar es Salaam.
These Marini are selling women’s clothing.
Let us bind the Marini with rope!
You Marini, our country is Nyiramba.

III

Great lions are second to us Marini;
If one is trapped, ten more will guard him.
As you see, we excel as soldiers!

IV

We Marini are favoured by God:
To be able to Heaven are opened for us.
Let us tighten the fetters on these Arinoti

V

Lend me a guitar
Let the Arinoti dance,
Let me set the troop dancing.

When the guitar is sounding
May it beguile me;
Let not the solitude last.

We think of a maiden so black and so slim;
Her mother bore her and God adorned her.
Let us please her and so see her silvery teeth;
If she fails to laugh she shows us no silver.

from Swahili 33 (1962)
trans. by H.E. Lambert
University of Dar es Salaam