News: 12 Sep 2010, Popobawa







Things are not going well.

We seem to be doing the entire film backwards, and Then I discovered who, or perhaps what, Popobawa is.

We went to Mtoni ruins next to our nice hotel to film the concert. Taraab music is a classical form of Swahili music, sung by women, but usually the instruments are played by men. What makes Tausi Women's Taarab unique is it is an entirely female orchestra playing a selection of string instruments including zithers, lutes and violins and lightly backed by drums. The star attraction on this day was Bikidude who is an extremely gnarly old lady of at least 95 though some people think she's older. She sits on a chair looking half dead, occasionally smoking a cigarette, until it's time to sing. The transformation is absolutely amazing, she has a presence which justifiably makes her Zanzibar's most famous singer, perhaps of all Tanzania too.

The agreement with was we would have a couple of hours to film them practising before the actual concert. Thomas, our director, has a very specific script and we are at the end of our journey. The story is that I am flying from Dar to Zanzibar but when I arrive at Zanzibar the front undercarriage won't go down so I tell them I must divert to Chumbe Island, a marine park with a nice hotel and a lighthouse not far away. (this is not shot yet, and I don't really mind doing this sort of thing because with the flaky undercarriage system on the FIB it is something which really could happen, though more likely it won't come up).

Matthias is on a dhow also going to Chumbe Island, for some reason with a couple of ladies from the orchestra, and the young daughter of one of them, (who also plays the violin in the orchestra). This they shot while I was still in Dar waiting for the wing to arrive.

As I fly over, the little girl points into the sky at me and says "Popobawa". This is also already shot (although she was pointing at a Cessna Caravan or something since I was in reality still in Dar and the wing was Somewhere between Capetown, Amsterdam and Dar). Apparently this whole Popobawa thing is going to be an important theme in other parts of the film.

So, back at Mtoni Ruins, I have to enter with Matthias who introduces me to the Ladies of the orchestra, and is told to introduce me as "Richard - you know - Popobawa".

Of course for some reason or another we had to do all these things half a dozen times so by the end all spontinaity was completely lost, but perhaps that is the lot of an actor. Althought she didn't seem to be flagging, by the time Bikidude had been made to sing the same song for the fourth of fifth time because the camera wasn't right or something, both Eve and I were beginning to wonder if she would have any energy left to sing in the actual concert later.

The film crew eventually seemed satisfied and went away. Eve and I (and Marcel) stayed for the actual concert and all I can say is it their loss, because it was MUCH better than when the filming was going on.

The name 'Popobawa' was mentioned by Thomas in a phone call I had with him some weeks ago; some kind of spirit being looking like a bat and associated primarily with Pemba Island where we're going in a few days time. It all seemed a very clever idea to associate the FIB with local legend and I never looked into it any further. Back at the hotel after the concert I did, and to say I was horrified is an understatement - I was FURIOUS.

You can look it up for yourself on Wikipedia but here's an exerpt:


Popobawa is a shapeshifter and described as taking different forms, not just that of a bat as its name implies. It can take either human or animal form, and metamorphose from one into the other. Popobawa typically visits homesteads at night, but can also be seen in the daytime. ... Popobawa attacks men, women and children, and may attack all of the members of a household, before passing on to another house in the neighbourhood. Its nocturnal attacks can comprise simple physical assault and/or poltergeist-like phenomena; but most feared is sexual assault and the sodomising of adult men and women. Victims are often urged to tell others that they have been assaulted, and are threatened with repeat visits by Popobawa if they do not.


Basically then, with these two 'Popobawa scenes' Thomas is casting me as a sodomist and a rapist.

This is not just insulting to me, the people here live a simple life and really do believe this stuff so it is dangerous. And given the time we are at it is imbecilic idea since outbreaks of Popobawa hysteria have been associated with election periods, there's one coming up in a few weeks time and Pemba has a history of violence in elections. If the FIB became associated with Popobawa, and rumours travel fast in these parts, all hell could break loose.

I said to him in the most forceful way I could that he's playing with fire here, I have no wish to be hunted down and beaten to death by the mob, which really does happen in Africa, I've seen it, there is no mercy and it is not pretty. If there is any mention again of Popobawa which could concievably be associated with me or the FIB then I'm on the next plane home.

"Would you really do that?" he asked. For a moment I couldn't believe he hadn't got the message the first time round, "Bloody right I will be" I replied. And I will.

After this fuss, Matthias, who's travelled a lot in Africa and does understand how things work here, said very sorry, he would never have said what he did to the little girl at Mtoni ruins had he known a bit more about it.

Tomorrow morning we are supposed to be filming the sticky undercarriage thing.

Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition