Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
PARAMOUNT Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi of the Chewa people last week took a drastic and unusual step for a custodian of culture to denounce and ban some traditional practices deemed to be in bad taste in his chiefdom.
According to a statement issued by Chewa Heritage Foundation – Zambia Chapter culture and traditional affairs secretary Dismus Banda, the Paramount Chief has banned the following seven traditional practices:
• ‘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.
It is commendable that Chief Undi has taken the most honourble and progressive step to denounce the traditional practices which have been part of the Chewa people for many generations.
While it is acknowledged that like in other parts of the world, culture is an important aspect of identity and heritage for all Zambian tribes, there is need to ensure that it is aligned with modern times and legal frameworks.
It is evident from the traditional practices banned by Chief Undi that despite being embraced as a way of life, they border on criminality, human rights violation, health risk and immorality.
For instance, Cidyerano is just another name for adultery and rape. This act which is done against the consent of women is also a sure recipe for transmitting HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
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 cannot be anything outside defilement.
This practice is done on girls between the age of 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.
It is indisputable that many other tribes are still holding on to bad practices in the name of preserving culture.
For instance, practices such as sexual cleansing, initiations and spouse inheritance cut across different tribes.
All traditional leaders and custodians of culture need to be sincere enough and interrogate all their traditional practices to see if they are in conformity with the law and relevant in the modern day.
There is need to interrogate practices around traditional ceremonies, funerals, weddings, initiations and birth among others.
For instance, there are traditional practices which allow women to go bare-breasted in public. If weighed against morality and Christian values is such a practice still necessary today?
Let us be careful not to disguise indecency in the name of tradition.
In Zambia, pornography or indecent exposure is not only against Christian values but is illegal.
Now that we are a Christian nation, we need to align our traditional practices to biblical principles which uphold morality.
Burial of Cchiefs in Zambia like other parts of Africa come with a lot of secrecy and rituals which could also mean that burying live human beings as escorts could be happening under our nose in a Christian nation.
Chief Undi has set a good precedent that traditions are not cast in concrete. Bad ones can be discarded while maintaining the good ones.
I implore all traditional leaders and custodians of culture across all tribes to carry out a thorough interrogation of their traditional practices and weigh them against the law and Christian values.
By now, other chiefs should have started coming out in the open to make similar declarations which are in the best interest of the subjects and the nation as a whole.
For now, I take it they are still interrogating their traditional practices before making a public decree.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA