DARLINGTON MWENDABAI,DOREEN NAWA
CIDYERANO was a little known concept to many, until recently when Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi banned it and other similar sexual practices.
It is a secret practice among the Chewa that is why it has taken a long time for the public to know this retrogressive sexual practice.
Another banned initiation is ‘Fisi (hyena) concept’ which is a sexual practice where parents employ a mystery man (hyena) to test the sexual skills of a young girl who has reached puberty.
Two weeks ago, Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi of the Chewa people banned Cidyerano, a spouse exchange, Fisi and other negative cultural practices.
The traditional leader said all bad practices in the Chewa chiefdom would no longer be allowed.
Paramount Chief Gawa Undi identified seven cultural practices which have been banned to align Chewa customs with modern times.
The message was to all Chewa people in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique where the practice is being done.
Wife swapping among the Chewa people has been practised for generations, according to Lusaka-based marriage counsellor Edwin Zulu.
Defining Cidyerano, Mr Zulu likens the practice to a trend where food is shared with the consent of all participants.
“Cidyerano means to share one’s food or property, including spouses with another. This is done especially over the weekend and with permission,” Mr Zulu says.
Mr Zulu says cidyerano is an evil practice that encourages promiscuity adding that the ban by Paramount Chief Gawa Undi was long overdue.
Mr Zulu says those who practise it see cidyerano as a culture that gives them unity and friendship.
“It is done between mates. The practice is more of a gentlemen’s agreement where friends can have sex with each other’s wives with no strings attached,” Mr Zulu says.
Mr Zulu says tribes that practise cidyerano contend that their age-old custom strengthens friendships and prevents promiscuity.
“Even when a wife is pregnant, she gives permission to a woman she is comfortable with to sleep with her husband during that pregnancy stage up to the time she delivers and the baby gets to three months old,” Mr Zulu says.
He adds that these rituals are often transactional and where there are high levels of poverty, women and girls become a “resource” to be transacted for money, food or other material goods.
A Chewa) traditional counsellor, (alangizi) has a different version of cidyerano.
Ruth Mbewe, 54, of Chipata said Cidyerano is still in practice although in communities like Chipata’s Mchenga shanty township and villages in Chadiza, it is known as ‘kulobelana’ and the practice is conducted under the cover of darkness.
Ms Mbewe, a widow, said the practice is also seen among close relatives such as uncle sleeping with his niece.
“Where I came from in Chadiza, this practice even today is still being practiced especially among us the Chewas in the villages,” she said.
In some cases, some married couples who do not have children allow hired men to sleep with their spouse, hence the concept kulobelana, to enable a couple have children.
Ms Mbewe said others engage in the practice to conceal adultery where a man who was caught in an act surrenders his wife to another man as a way to settle a marital dispute.
She said people engage in these practices in many deferent ways and normally the parties involved agree to exchange spouses.
Both kulobelana and cidyerano are recipes for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as sex is done among close relatives who live in the same villages or communities.
Another counsellor, Daniel Njobvu, 54, who is both Chewa and Ngoni said cidyerano still exists and he commends Paramount Chief Gawa Undi for banning it.
Mr Njobvu said the practice takes turns and twists where a childless couple can hire a married man to help it sire children.
To Chadiza and Muchenga in Chipata, where the practice is done, Mr Njobvu adds Katete as another place where kulobelana (cidyreno) is common.
He said Fisi does not just involve parents hiring a mysterious sexual man to sleep with a virgin but a married couple can secretly hire a man to sire children on their behalf.
“I know a couple who did not have children who hired someone to have children on their behalf. This is another Fisi concept,” he said.
Mr Njobvu said among the married people, Cidyreno and Fisi normally take place at the same time making the two practices one, ‘Cidyerano Fisi.’
He said there are many sexual practices that married couple engage in under the cover of darkness that are contributing to the spread of STIs in the community.
He said the practices may not be done among the Chewas only in view of intermarriages.
Such cultural practices have persisted in the face of a lot of effort and interventions to highlight their negative impacts on individuals and communities.
For example, three decades of HIV/AIDS and broader public health research from World Health Organisation (WHO) have shown the link between unsafe ritual practices and human health and development.
“We are happy that at last, we have a direction from Paramount Chief Gawa, as a women’s association, we have been advocating for the abolishment of such practices in our various societies because not only do they harm women’s rights but also risk women’s health. The HIV pandemic is one such risk,” says Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) national president Lucy Lungu.
While many traditions promote social cohesion and unity, others wear down the physical and psychological health and integrity of individuals, especially women and girls.
Mrs Lungu says such harmful cultural practices have received global attention due to their severe and negative impact on the health and well-being of women and girls.
“It is a relief on our part to see the Paramount Chief leading in condemning and banning this retrogressive act,” Mrs Lungu says.
The reality is that despite high levels of knowledge and information, communities still adhere to cultural practices which endanger women and girls.
Mrs Lungu is saddened that despite Zambia being party to several international and regional conventions and covenants relating to the rights of girls and women, women and girls in Zambia still continue to be victims.
She suggests that public education campaigns should be encouraged as they make open discussion of these practices more acceptable.
DARLINGTON MWENDABAI,DOREEN NAWA