Carolien Hulshof


Carolien Hulshof, doctoral student in Musicology

In this study I will focus on unyago, a particular initiation ritual with music and dance performed in East Africa which marks the transformation of a girl into a woman. It involves the performance of dances and songs, and a set of instructions, treating an entire range of women’s issues such as sexuality, desire and orgasm, fertility, pregnancy and childcare.

I will study unyago among the Waswahili of the Zanzibar archipelago, a hybrid Islamic society containing many different elements from various origins that have intermingled for centuries. An important characteristic of Swahili society that follows from the Islamic religion is gender segregation, with restricted movement of women in the public sphere.

I will show how unyago plays a part in the contestation of set social rules and how women negotiate their position through this ritual. This study will examine the music and dance part, or ngoma, of unyago, to understand how and why music offers a window to understand change in society, and how musical changes reflect and shape changes in gendered power relations, taking vulnerability as a productive position, a site of creativity and social change