|A few months
ago, I was putting better quality photos
from Kirby Crawford on the First Americans page,
and I read again of an audio recording he
had made of a Sega Party while he was on DG
in 68 - 69. So I wrote and ask if I
could get a copy.
Sega? What's Sega?
Well, its a sort of interchangeable
word. For one, it refers to a Dance,
basically at night around a campfire, and is
in that sense a tribal-type event.
Sega Dances are known by various and similar
names on the Southeast Coast of Africa, and
in the various island groups in the Western
Indian Ocean. Sega also refers to the
strong white-lightening liquor made of
fermented coconut juice, which the workers
secretly brewed. Of course this would have
been against the law, and certainly would
have been the subject of investigation by
the BIOT Police, had there been any BIOT
Police in those days! Since their
reincarnation in the 1970's, the BIOT Police
have dutifully gone after moonshiners (they
certainly were when I was there in
1988). Probably still are - don't want
to cut into the profits at the Club!
What's a Sega Party?
It appears to have been the equivalent of
the toga party in Animal House, with the
partiers providing the entertainment, the
Sega liquor, and dancing the Sega Dance late
into the night. Here's how Captain
Thompson described a Sega Party he secretly
witnessed from the surrounding jungle in
1942, after bribing his way to the area with
some bottles of whiskey:
automatons awakened, the scene
gradually stirred into life, the
toys moved stiffly in the shadows. .
. The drums grew louder, quicker,
the beat deepening to a wild urgency
. . . slowly the rhythm and movement
increased; the dancers bodies
glistened and shone in the heat . .
.couples paired and danced together
. . . They danced, drumming now a
drug, the blood of the living
moment, burrowing into muscle and
brain, throbbing in the body like an
iron pulse, alive, dynamic."
clearly African and tribal roots of the Sega
Party were often judged too intense,
especially sexually, by the European
overlords, and these parties were supposedly
outlawed by the Plantation Managers and
governors from time to time. Today,
they would say they were "prejudical to good
order and discipline"! The party
basically consided of drum beating, singing,
drinking lots of Sega, and "The Dance",
which was held around a fire on a beach or
in a clearing. An observer in the
1930s reported the drinking and singing went
on for hours and became "increasingly
frenzied and reportedly often ended in
fornication" [quoted by Richard Edis, Peak
of Limuria, page 60].
The Ilois were very attached to
the dance. Small wonder. There
were no concert halls, singles bars, or even
penny arcades in the Chagos in those
days! Besides being a cultural affair,
it certainly was the most fun to be had,
especially if there was fornication
involved... kind of the way keggers are for
stateside college students. According
to Edis, "an attempt by a manager in the
Salomons to ban Sega in 1937 led to an
insurrection"! Lead by future-Senator
Blutarski no doubt.
During Kirby's year (68 - 69) on
the island, he says "they popped up here and
there on Saturday nights." One Saturday
night Kirby and the boys were invited to
one, along with Reginald Payete, the
plantation manager, and by all reports, it
was wild. The music consisted of
fantastic singing by a woman with an
intoxicating voice, and the band consisted
of men beating on four 55-gallon drums with
rocks. The songs themselves were
stories in the "Creole" French of the
Seychelles and Mauritius, and were about
daily life, folk lore and many other
things. And Kirby managed to record
about 45 minutes of the singing!
In 2006, Pat
Mayot, a linguistics expert in the
Seychelles, listened to the tape and said,
"It was a very exciting moment inserting it
into my cassette player and pressing the
'play' button! Talk of a 'blast from the
past'. . . At least one of the women who
speaks has got an accent which sounds more
Mauritian than Seychellois, whereas another
sounds more Seychellois. . . Reginald Payet
(who I've been told by one person passed
away two years ago - but I'll check again to
be sure) sounds either 'tipsy' or tense. .
. I say that because in his 'speech'
he refers (very obliquely) to male junior
staff who had been behaving in a manner that
he judged insubordinate. His own Creole
contains a lot of French - I'm not sure
whether he spoke like that all the time or
whether he felt he had to 'sound right'
because he was being recorded. . . In one of
the songs the female singer praises Reginald
Payet as a good man and implies that it is
wrong that some people misbehave towards
him. All this gives some idea of the
'dynamics' of the place!"
importantly, Mr. Mayot states:
don't know if any other similar
recording from the Chagos exists -
your material is probably unique!"
Here's Kirby's short
narrative regarding this unique historic
and cultural recording:
Saturday evening, May 31 in 1969, we learned
that there was to be a 'Sega' party over at
the plantation at East Point. We had been
told that at one time these party’s had been
prohibited on the island because they tended
to get out of hand with excessive drinking
and other activities.
thought was that this would be something
interesting to see and perhaps an
interesting activity to record. So Gus Jones
and I carried my Akai reel-to-reel tape
recorder over to the plantation and set up
two stereo microphones in front of one of
the huts just north of the jetty near the
edge of the lagoon.
number of the plantation workers had
assembled and they were in a festive mood.
In the early evening the music and the
drinking of local home-brew spirits
started out slowly but as the sun was
setting, the music got louder and the
drinking got heavier.
only musical instruments were 55 gallon
drums beaten with rocks. At one point the
plantation manager, Reginald Payette stepped
before one the microphones and made a short
speech in the French/Creole language.
party went on throughout the night and in
the early hours of the next morning some
interesting romantic activities were
reported to have been seen." hmmmmm...
maybe Edis was right...
PPDRDG Ministry of Propaganda asked Kirby,
"Did you ever think when you were there how
simply taking pictures and recordings of
things that interested you at the time would
turn out to be priceless historically?"
answered, "When I was taking pictures on
Diego, I really didn't have a sense of any
future historic value as far as recording
the local culture etc. Most of my
photos were taken to be sent back to our
office in Washington so the bosses could
have show & tell material concerning our
satellite tracking operations. In
retrospect, I wish I would have taken a lot
more photos of the people and activities on
the island. However, when I decided to
record a sega party, I did have a sense that
this was an opportunity to record something
very unique that would some day disappear.
Little was I to know that it would
dissappear so soon."
On October 15, 1971, the MV
NORDVAER got underway from Diego
Garcia, carrying the last of the
plantation workers and their families
to exile (or evacuation, depending on
how you look at it), ending 178 years