Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
WHEN musician Pontiano Kaiche touched the breast of a bare-chested woman at the Nc’wala ceremony a few years ago, he was roundly censured for disrespecting women and the Ngoni culture.
A picture of an amused Pontiano went viral after he was captured caressing the breast of an elderly woman who did not seem to object to his touch.
Perhaps in his unreasonable judgement, if the breasts of the women who were performing the Mgubo dance at the Nc’wala were free for all to see, as a tourist at the ceremony of the Ngoni, he could as well touch them.
From the angry sentiments I saw, no one for a moment thought that Pontiano could have been tempted to commit the abominable act, by the overwhelming presence of half-naked women and girls stomping the ground of Mtenguleni during the traditional ceremony.
If you ask me, the free display of breasts by Ngoni women at the Nc’wala is a bad tradition which should have no place in this modern era because it objectifies women and demeans their worth in society.
Call it a tradition which adds colour to the Nc’wala and attracts tourists to the traditional ceremony, so what?
Nowhere in this world is tradition cast in concrete, the reason why ethnic groupings all over the world have been reforming bad traditions and cultural values.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Paramount Chief Mpezeni of the Ngoni had banned women from flaunting their breasts at the Nc’wala.
Chief Mpezeni wants the women and girls to tuck in their breasts in bras at the Nc’wala traditional ceremony.
So the forthcoming Nc’wala on Saturday, February 23, 2019, will be the first of its kind when the manina (elderly women) will be doing the Mgubo dance with their breasts covered.
I know that Chief Mpezeni’s decree has not been received well by people who see the baring of breasts by women as a crowd-puller and centre of attraction at the traditional ceremony.
Comments have been made by disappointed show-goers, mostly men, that this year’s Nc’wala would be boring because it’s the half-naked women that add colour to the occasion and exert a pull on crowds, including foreign tourists.
Apparently, it’s for similar reasons that the annual reed dance in Swaziland attracts thousands of tourists beyond the borders of the kingdom of Swaziland.
The portrayal of women as sex objects or beautiful bodies to sell products or rather to attract clients in enterprises is a deep-rooted problem all over the world.
At traditional ceremonies and puberty rites, women oblige to exposing their sacred body parts for fun, or in the name of tradition, without knowing that those ceremonies are skewed to demean them as sex objects.
Angry reactions from men on radio and social media when Chief Mpezeni decreed that women should wear bras at the forthcoming Nc’wala, attest to this fact.
Why do you think people travel thousands of miles to go and watch half-naked maidens at the annual reed dance in Swaziland?
It’s for the same reason that some people find the Nc’wala attractive. Apart from old grandmothers who display topless chests, there are also young girls who do the Chinamwali dance with bare breasts, as well as middle-aged women (spectators) who storm Mtenguleni ground topless.
One man actually remarked that if the women start dressing up at Nc’wala, the number of foreign tourists flocking to the event would drastically reduce.
He said both the half-naked women and men called impis (warriors) who perform the Ngoma (warfare) dance with spears and shields, are the centre of attraction at Nc’wala.
Another man in a debate I participated in was worried that the decision by the Mpezeni to order women to dress properly at the Nc’wala may compel them to start covering their bodies altogether and spoil the fun of the traditional ceremony.
“This decree is not good because corporate bodies may start dressing up the women in T-shirts,” he said.
In shock I was like; men, what do you want?
When women wear mini-skirts, tight-fitting outfits and revealing clothes, you complain that they are disturbing your ‘peace’ because you were fashioned to react to provocative ‘overtures’ by mere sight.
And when Chief Mpezeni says women and girls should not flaunt their breasts at Nc’wala, you again complain that the traditional ceremony would be boring.
Anyway, I wish to heartily congratulate the Mpezeni IV, David Nyengembaso Jere, for being the first Ngoni chief to order women and girls to stop exposing their breasts at Nc’wala.
I was glad to learn that at a Nc’wala preparation meeting last Saturday, he told the women that the culture of exposing their breasts was over and that they should adopt a new dress culture of wearing bras.
Obviously, it was not an easy decision to make for the paramount chief, who has been on the throne for about 37 years.
Certainly, there are so many Ngoni loyalists and Nc’wala show-goers who will oppose his decision, but the paramount chief should stick to his decision which, I believe, he has made in the interest of morality and public health.
If you may ask, why does the exposing of breasts at Nc’wala hinge on public health?
The reason is simple. Traditional ceremonies, or rather any big gathering of men and women, away from home, do create a conducive ground for sexual flings among attendees.
Reproductive health activists are well aware of this, which is the reason why they embark on a vigorous distribution of condoms at traditional ceremonies.
And if claims by our men that they get ‘provoked’ by the mere sight of ‘things’ is anything to go by, then the Nc’wala, a three-day event, should present serious temptations to them.
Men should actually thank Paramount Chief Mpezeni for ordering a new dress culture at the traditional ceremony.
One can only hope that the women and girls will take heed of his decree for them to cover their breasts at the ceremony.
I know that Ngoni women have always defended their bare breast parade at Nc’wala, but they certainly could express their message without undressing.
One Enala Jere, 60, said the display of breasts at Nc’wala, reminds the Ngonis of where they came from and how they lived before the era of civilisation.
In an interview with our staffer, Darlington Mwendabai, Esnart Mbao, 68, one of the Mgubo dancers at the tradition ceremony, also justified the act of dancing topless.
Ms Mbao explained that Mgubo is a dance of lamentation about the tribulations that the Ngonis contended with during their migration from South Africa to Zambia.
She said it is also a cultural display of how people lived in the Stone Age era when there were no clothes and both men and women only covered their bottoms with twigs
“When you see us bare-chested, we are reminding the young generation of how hard life was in the olden days,” she said.
Well, most Zambians should by now be able to appreciate the historical significance of Mgubo and the hardships our Ngoni ancestors endured during the great migration.
So it’s about time our mothers and daughters started covering their breasts at the traditional ceremony. The paramount chief has decreed. I hope we will see the women complying at the forthcoming Nc’wala.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA