Editor's Comment

Undi’s ban of bad cultural practices progressive

PARAMOUNT Chief Gawa Undi.

THE bold step taken by Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi of the Chewa people to ban bad cultural practices in his chiefdom is indeed progressive and must be emulated by other chiefs.
According to a statement issued by Chewa Heritage Foundation – Zambia Chapter culture and traditional affairs secretary Dismus Banda, the Paramount Chief has banned seven traditional practices deemed to be in bad taste and to align Chewa customs with modern times.
The Chewa chief has decreed that the following traditional practices will no longer be allowed in his chiefdoms:
• ‘Cidyerano’, a sexual practice where men forcibly exchange their spouses for sexual variety against their wish.
• ‘Chokolo’ (spouse inheritance), where widows and widowers are forced to marry family members of their dead spouses.
• ‘Fisi’, also known as ‘hyena concept’, where parents employ a mystery man (hyena) to test sexual skills of a young girl who has reached puberty.
• Sexual cleansing
• Early marriages below the age of 16.
• Gule Wamkulu – Initiation into the secret society will no longer be obligatory but only willing boys above the age of 16 should be initiated with consent.
Chief Gawa Undi certainly deserves commendation for demonstrating progressive and selfless leadership.
In this age and era, we could not have imagined that some sections of society still engage in outdated and dehumanising traditional practices such as spouse sexual exchange and spouse inheritance.
Such acts are a violation of human rights and a crime as they are done against the will of participants and mostly women.
A practice like spouse sexual exchange, though disguised under tradition, is barefaced rape because the act is done against the consent of the women involved. In this case, women are downgraded to sexual objects to be exchanged at will.
In an era of HIV and AIDS, the immoral acts camouflaged under tradition are a danger to human life. It is obvious that if the women have no right to reject the sexual acts, it is also certain that under the oppressive circumstances, they have no right to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS.
Given that practices such as sexual cleansing, cidyerano and chokolo have been there many decades, they have certainly contributed to HIV infections in the country.
It is also unthinkable that some parents can in this day and era subject their girl children who reach puberty to a “mystery man” or “hyena” to test their sexual skills.
These are girls aged between 12 and 13. According to Zambian laws, these are minors and anyone who has carnal knowledge of them commits defilement, which attracts a minimum jail sentence of 15 years with hard labour.
Initiation of boys into the secret society of Gule Wamkulu is also a violation of the right to education because the initiates are taken away from school for a period of time. It is however commendable that Chief Gawa Undi has ruled that the initiation is no longer obligatory and those who choose to be initiated will be allowed to attend school like other pupils.
Like Chief Undi, it is time traditional leaders of other ethnic groups – Bemba, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale and Tonga, among others, did a thorough interrogation of their various traditional practices.
While it is acknowledged that culture is an important aspect of our identity and heritage, we cannot continue holding on to retrogressive practices that undermine the well-being and dignity of humanity.
There is need to move with times and align traditional customs with modern trends. Otherwise traditional practices have potential to hinder progress.
As demonstrated by the Chewa chief, some traditional practices border on illegality and abuse of human rights.
Most of them tend to perpetuate a culture of gender stereotyping where women are viewed and treated as objects of less value compared to their male counterparts.
This is against the gender equality campaign to which Zambia subscribes as evidenced by a number of international treaties signed, as well as local initiatives which include the formulation of a gender policy.
Some traditional practices also undermine Zambia’s declaration as a Christian nation. For instance, exchange of spouses is an act of adultery which is against the biblical principle of fidelity. Ultimately such acts demean the important institution of marriage on which society is anchored.
Chief Gawa Undi has shown the way, let others follow.

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