Research topic: Chinamwali – A girl initiation ritual: An interpretation of its symbols and music
Chapter 1: Introduction
1.0 Background to the study
I grew up in Shurugwi mining town where the majority of the population were people from Malawi. One day I accompanied my aunt to fetch for firewood in a bush near Manzimudhaka River and heard sweet music that was accompanied by rattling sounds of bottles. As l moved towards the direction of the sound l saw a shanty hut and young girls responding to the music by explicitly shaking their waists lying on the ground
naked. There were two elderly women who were playing bottles and chanting. On the centre there was an elderly woman giving instructions in a language I could not understand. I hid behind a bushy tree trying to figure out what was happening; suddenly I heard my aunt calling out for me which drew the attention of the people who were at the shanty hut and they started shouting running towards our direction.
When my aunt heard the shouting she ran towards home. Sensing danger I climbed up the fig tree and held my breath; I could see the girls and elderly women searching for me. They searched to no avail and went back to their hut. From a distance I could see naked girls dancing, lying on their backs and carrying elderly women, making explicit movements and sometimes changing positions responding to the rattling of bottles .As I looked closely I realised that some the girls were my friends and school mates who had been absent from school for some time.
When it was dark I climbed down the tree and went home. My father summoned me demanding an explanation why I had arrived home late. I explained to him what had transpired in the bush. He told me that “maNyasarandi ane nzira dzawo dzatisinga pindirani nadzo” (Malawians have their own way of life which is different from ours). He warned me never to associate with Malawian girls, especially those who will have gone for the chinamwali ritual since they were associated with loose morals.
My friends and school mates whom l had seen at the ritual never shared their experiences they told me that it was a taboo to share chinamwali ritual experiences. They no longer wanted to associate with girls who had not gone through the ritual. I asked one of my closest friend why she no longer be friend us and she told me that “uchiri mwana ndozotamba newe wakura” (you are still a baby l will play with you when you are grow up). This surprised me because she was a month younger that me which made me more curious from a very tender age to want to know more about the chinamwali musical arts.
My interest in the Chinamwali musical art was further cultivated when I got married to a Malawian and got an opportunity to partake in the ritual to avoid being ostracised. This made me to appreciate the chinamwali ritual and understood why it is considered sacred. It is one of the small dispora ethnic groups in Zimbabwe and very little has been written about their musical arts especially chinamwali musical arts from an emic perspective .www… indicates that “… initiation ceremonies for boys and girls in Malawi’s village communities are private matters. Outsiders are not meant to see what happens….” as such the Chewa diaspora community living in Zimbabwe maintained the ritual sacred.
The Chewa people are one of the largest groups of Malawian people who settled in Zimbabwe during the colonial period around 1890, as migrant works in mines or farms and the labour agreements were made between the Malawian and Rhodesian government. Mandivenga (1983). Generally chinamwali ritual is performed by most Chewa communities in Zimbabwe.
Fig 1. Map showing Shurugwi district in Zimbabwe where the research took place
Having been married to a Chewa man for more than nine years and attending chinamwali girl initiation rituals, the researcher understands chinamwali girl initiation process. The purpose of this research is to interpret chinamwali, a Chewa girls’ initiation ritual: an interpretation of its symbols music and dance.
1.1 Statement of the problem
The chinamwali musical art by the Chewa people in Zimbabwe is least represented in literature. The custodians of the Chewa culture make chinamwali musical arts sacred. This situation where there is very little literature about the chinamwali rituals coupled with the fact that the people who perform it are a minority ethnic group leaves a knowledge gap that remains being perpetuated if these issues are not analysed. The culture of chinamwali risks extinction if we do not analyse it in context, considering that culture is shared, learnt and transmitted from generation to generation. In view of this the research was conducted with the Chewa people of Shurugwi. The research has a bias towards the chinamwali ritual, chinamwali dance and songs in the girl initiation context.
1.2 Research Questions
• The elements of chinamwali ritual: How significant is chinamwali music in the chinamwali ritual of girl initiation? This question will be answered in chapter three.
• The girl initiates are exposed to songs that are meant to pass indigenous education on sexual symbolism. How do the Chewa people interpret sexual symbols that are embedded in initiation songs? This question will be answered by interpreting fourteen songs in chapter 4.
1.3 Significance of the study
There is very little information that is known about chinamwali musical arts from an emic perspective. The custodians of the chinamwali ritual insist on the sacredness of the ritual as such what most people purport to know about the ritual is mostly speculation. Several myths have been said about the ritual such that there are a lot of misconceptions about the musical art. Mandivenga (1983) laments that the Malawian people in Zimbabwe are a closed society as such their music is least represented. This research will contribute theoretically to current literature on chinamwali musical arts.
1.4 Purpose of the study
This research seeks to examine the chinamwali ritual in the context of the girl initiation process. The significance of chinamwali music and dance is going to be examined in the context of chinamwali ritual. The way Chewa people interpret sexual symbols that are embedded in the initiation songs shall be explored by interpreting fourteen chinamwali songs. Therefore the research seeks to address the existing knowledge gap about the traditions of the Chewa people in the Zimbabwean diaspora community.
1.5 Justification of the study
The research was driven by the misrepresentation of the chinamwali musical arts practised by Chewa diaspora community. People comment about chinamwali ritual from misinformed perceptions. Not much has been written about this musical art from an emic perspective. This study also seeks to preserve chinamwali musical art so that cultural norms and values of the chewa people embedded in the ritual, dance and songs are correctly portrayed.
The research involved eight informants who have been involved in chinamwali ritual. The researcher targeted three trainers of chinamwali, three girls who had undergone chinamwali initiation and two women who had gone through the initiation process. Both participant and non-participant observation techniques were used in the research. Nieuwenhuis (2007) as sighted in Mugandani (2016:36) indicates that “participant observation provides an insider perspective of the group’s behaviour…”
The culture owners refused to disclose the proceedings of the chinamwali ritual unless the researcher went through the chinamwali ritual process. The researcher indicated that she had through initiation process before but the cultural owners refused interviews unless the researcher followed their rules. The researcher had no option but to go through the chinamwali ritual process for her to be “re proselytised” in to the Chewa culture. The researcher’s involvement in the chinamwali ritual created a mutual understanding between her and the informants which resulted in a relaxed environment during the interviews.
Instead of getting responses in the form of questionnaires the researcher chose unstructured oral interviews while recording responses. Most of the interviews were done face to face. However, two informants who were out of reach during the time of the research were interviewed electronically
1.6.1 Research Design
The research took an ethnographic approach, Trouchim (2005) describes ethnographic research as a qualitative method where researchers observe and interact with participants in real environment. In order to interpret chinamwali dance configurations from an emic perspective participant observation was done so as to have an in-depth understanding of how the Chewa interprets sexual symbols that are embedded in initiation songs. Ethnographic research is also known as a qualitative approach where researchers are not only interested in the views of the individuals interviewed but the general characteristics of the community at large. (Vaus 2001)The research is mainly interested in ways in which culture owners interpret symbols embedded in chinamwali musical art.
1.6.2 Population and Sampling
This research was conducted with the Chewa people of Shurugwi urban, in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. The researcher targeted women and girls between the ages of fifteen and seventy years of age who had gone through the chinamwali ritual. The type of sampling that was used in this research is snowball. Johnson (2005) describes snowball sampling as a method of survey that is used to locate hidden populations. Chinamwali rituals are sacred thus they require someone who took part in the ritual to identify other people who are part of the hidden population. The researcher identified the troop leader of chinamwali who helped her in identifying other women of various age groups who had taken part in chinamwali. The identified women also identified other people who were interviewed by the researcher.
In this chapter the researcher focused on the background of the research on chinamwali musical arts. The statement of the problem, research questions, significance of the study, purpose of the study, justification of the study, methodology, research design, population and sampling were covered in this chapter. The next chapter shall focus on literature review and theoretical framework.
Chapter 2: Theoretical framework and literature review
Three theories were identified as suitable for this study; the African diaspora theory, symbolism versus cultural relativism.
2.2 Theories informing the study:
2.2.1 African diaspora theory
African diaspora is a label used to describe “people of African descent and heritage living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship…” (African Union, 2005:6). Dorrold and Sheffer (2007) refer to diaspora people as “group of persons of the same ethno-national origin who themselves or whose ancestors migrated from one place to another or more other places, settle in these other places and maintain various kinds of contact with their places of origin. African diaspora is inclusive of internal migration within Africa and relocations of people of Africa in Africa” (Nombembe, 2013:2).
The three scholars above describe African diaspora as a label given to African descents who themselves or their ancestors relocated to other continents or within Africa. Malawian people migrated to Zimbabwe during the colonial period around 1890, as migrant works in mines or farms and the labour agreements were made between the Malawian and Rhodesian government. Mandivenga (1983) The Chewa people who live in Zimbabwe are commonly referred to as Mabhurandaya which a derogatory term that was derived from the word Blantyre which was the capital city of Malawi where the majority of the Chewa community migrated from. Over a period of time the Malawians “…gradually settled in Zimbabwe as permanent residents or denizens….over time Malawi became an imaginary home land as the migrants transnational links with their original / ancestral faded. They became de facto members of the host Zimbabwean society…” (Daimon, 2015:6). Pierre (1990) refers to African diaspora as “displaced African people from a common territorial origin who share common experiences”. The Malawian people isolated themselves as a social group to prevent being absorbed by the societies they lived and worked in (Mandivenga, 1983) the Chewa people remind themselves that they are a diasporan community through songs and messages such as “kwa vena kuli lamulo” (at other people’s places there are rules). The songs prepared them to interact with the global community. They formed a closed society and performed sacred rituals such as chinamwali. Chewa culture is a sub culture in Zimbabwe.
Thorns (2008) describes a subculture as a culture within a culture where a group of people develop distinctive norms and values that are different from those of the mainstream. Moffitt (2018) refers to a subculture as a “culture within a broader culture with its own separate values and beliefs. According to the Zimbabwe constitution of 2013 Chewa is one of the minority languages in Zimbabwe.
2.2.2 Cultural relativism versus symbolism
This study engages both the concept of symbolism and cultural relativism in relation to the Chewa community and how they educate their daughters who live in diaspora preserving critical cultural elements. Carter and Fuller (2018:2) cite Blumer’s (1969) symbolic interaction theory which emphasis that “meanings are continuously created and recreated through interpreting processes during interaction with others” Thus the symbolic interaction theory suggests meanings static but are deduced through continuous socialisation.
Dong (2008:14) defines symbolic interactionism as”…the manner in which the individual is connected to the social structure and possible interplay between the individual and others .The interactionist perspective maintains that human meanings are acquired from social sources including their own experience. Carter and Fuller (2018:1) are of the view that “…central to symbolic interactionism thought is the idea that individuals use language and significant symbols in their communication with others” One can therefore refer to symbolic interactionism as the “… interplay between the individual and others” using “significant symbols in their communication”.
Dong (2008:14) alludes that “meanings are both learned from others and to some extent shaped or reshaped by those using the symbols. As humans learn to use symbols and to develop meanings objects in their social context, they develop the mind. Mind is not a structure but a process that emerges from human’s effort to adjust to their environment.” Courch (2016:1) claims that “symbols are objects which are culturally derived socially with shaped meanings which are brought up and maintained through social interaction. Through communication, thought and language symbols put forward the means for reality construction” This implies that meanings are socially derived through social interaction thus meanings are relative to culture.
“Cultural relativism is the principle of regarding the beliefs, values and practices of a culture from the viewpoint of culture itself” Chegg.com. Zimbabwe traditional Healers Association (ZINATA) president Gordon Chavhunduka commenting on the practising of chinamwali ritual in Zimbabwe pointed out that the ritual is an alien phenomenon which impacts negatively on Zimbabwean culture and should be banned. Chavhunduka fails to appreciate that “A piece of folk music must in some way be representative of the musical taste and aesthetic values of all those who know it…” (Nettle 1990: 4). As such “…an opinion morality or ethics is subject to the cultural perspective of each person” (…..2002)
Quephine (2002 ) refers to culture relativism as “… the ability to understand a culture on its terms and not to make judgements using the standards of one’s own culture .The goal is to promote understanding of cultural practice that are not typically part of one’s own culture”. This implies that cultures are unique and there is no culture that is superior to other cultures.
Drawing from African dispora theory, cultural relativism and symbolism l developed a theory with a practical orientation model: African dispora cultural relativism symbolism model. Despite the fact that the Chewa dispora community acquired citizenship in Zimbabwe, they maintained cultural identity through chinamwali musical arts .The theory is embedded in chinamwali musical arts to preserve culture. From an ethno musicological perspective the chinamwali musical arts is culturally relative to the Chewa people, it portrays their norms and values through symbols such as language. The African dispora theory, cultural relativism and symbolism model will be applied through interpreting sexual symbols which are embedded in chinamwali initiation songs.
2.3 Literature Review
Dereck and Mophews (2017) observed that the celebration of a child’s rite of passage depend as on their culture and they vary from place to place. Brown (*837) defines initiation as consisting of “… one or more prescribed ceremonial events, mandatory for all girls of a given society and celebrated between their eighth and twentieth years.”Literature related to rites of passage shall be reviewed.
2.3.1 Coping mechanisms of Africans in the diaspora community
The Varemba is a dispora muslim community in Zimbabwe. Mandivenga (1989) traces the history of Varemba from Israel, they are believed to have migrated to Africa after the Babylonian exile. The word Varemba”… is loosely translated as “people who refuse owing to the separatist aspects of their community.”From birth Varemba isolate themselves by not sharing kitchenware, avoiding inter marriages and not eating meat slaughtered by non Muslims (Herald, 2016). They also have rituals such as komba for girl initiation where girls are taught crucial cultural elements including the ‘splendour’ of sex. The ritual is done in winter and the girls are taught endurance through bathing cold water music and dance. Shoko (2009) refers to komba as being ripe and ready for marriage. The word ‘ripe’ can be thus interpreted as maturity where one is ready to deduce cultural elements embedded in music and dance symbols. The main objective of such rituals is possibly to remind the young generation that they are not Africans hence the need to uphold their unique culture.
In the 19th century a tribal war occurred among the South Africans which resulted in massive migrations among the South Africans to various African countries. The Tsonga are popularly known as Shangani in Zimbabwe migrated to Zimbabwe and occupied the Lowveld area (Matebhula, 2013). Komba is a girl initiation ritual for the Shangani people, which is done by girls between the ages of fifteen and sixteen. The girls go for camping for two and half months during winter .The ritual is considered secret and its taboo to disclose the proceedings however, Tellzim (2016 ) managed to gather that the girls are taught about sex. Marriage with enjoyable sex life is crucial among the Shangani and they preserve its institution through rituals such as Komba. The main focus of Tellzim (ibid) was to highlight how Komba rituals contribute to early marriages among the Shangani people in Chiredzi. Hersh (1998) commenting on the various cultural practices which celebrate life ‘transition’ quotes WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA “statement of 1996:human behaviour and cultural values however senseless or destructive they may appear from a personal perspective and cultural stand point of others, have meaning and fulfil the function for those who practice them.”
Ball & Simpkins (2004: 480) note that: “It’s so important to teach kids at a youth stage their traditions as well as traditions of others…”The Shangani are taught indigenous knowledge systems through Komba ritual that their culture is relative in the dispora community they find themselves in Shangani culture use their indigenous language during Komba to preserve their culture.
2.3.2 Interpretation of symbolism in girl initiation rituals in Africa
Most literature written about girl initiation ceremonies points out that in African cultures the first menstrual marks adolescence. The African Masai tribe of Kenya do female circumcision as a way of marking a girls’ transition into adulthood after the girl’s first menses. During the circumcision the external female genitalia is removed using ‘crude tools’ such as a knife and the process may cause ‘sexual sensation’ Phillips (2015) The Kenyan human rights association for the abolishment of the ritual.
Miyimba (2012) highlights that the Zambian Tonga girl initiation ceremony start after the first menses and it is held with high regard .The girl is secluded for two months and is taught various aspects of life including explicit in bedroom. Celebrations are held after the two months marking the end of the initiation.
Mushibwe (2009:123) discusses the Zambian Tumbuka girl ritual which is marked by the onset of ‘menarche’ which is a significant symbol in the life of the girl and the family at large .The girl is taught is taught to respect men, explicit in the bedroom as well as elongating the labia .The research maintains that “such early teachings on marriage though good according to tradition and society could have a negative impact on the attitudes on the female child towards her education.
Three rituals were discussed, the Massai tribe of Kenya, the Zambian Tonga and the Zambian Tumbuka. The first menstruation period of a girl is held with high regard and its used as a symbol that marks transition into adulthood in all the three rituals .Cultural heritage is taken seriously as symbolised by secluding girls for a period for the purposes of teaching them .Seclusion in this case can be juxtaposed to formal education where learners are expected to pass given tasks as well as to transform in their world’s view.
2.3.3 Malawi girl initiation rituals and cultural relativism
According to the Malawi human rights association (2017) most Malawian girl initiation rituals are known as chinamwali. Various tribes in Malawi celebrate the ritual in different ways giving them peculiar identities. The Tumbuka, Mzimba, Tonga Sena,Lomwe, Chewa and Ngoni practice chinamwali as a way of counselling girls. In an attempt to define chinamwali FICuHR (2014) says chinamwali is an initiation process practised by most cultures including Chewa, Ngoni, Venda, Tonga, Sena, Lomwe and Tumbuka. Mamamusi (2017) views chinamwali as a female initiation ceremony where girls undergo special training.
One of the informants says, “chinamwali si chokwatana basi monga amanenela anthu, koma kuti asungwana amalangidwa mwambo ndi chikhalidwe.” (Chinamwali is not all about sex like what many people say but that girls are counselled in tradition and way of life). There is more to the chinamwali ritual than expliciticy; girls are also taught good morals. A close analysis of the informant’s definition of chinamwali suggests that she has heard misinformed definitions of chinamwali that probably focused on explicit in sex only.
The Nyamukungu (chief trainer) defined chinamwali as, “chinamwali ndi mwambo woti asungwana oti afika zaka khumi ndi ziwiri azilangidwa ndi kuphunzitsiwa kusamba,kupereka moni ku alendo, kupereka ulemu ku achikulire, kukonza katundu wa mkazi, chikapa, kusambitsa chida cha mwamuna ndi zina zake za mwambo ndi chikhalidwe cha aChewa.” (chinamwali is a way of counselling girls who would have attained twelve years of age or started menstrual on personal hygiene (bathing), greeting visitors, respecting elders, genital pulling, sexual gyrating, taking care of the husband’s manhood and other things associated with the Chewa culture).
The purpose of the ritual is entirely the same in the different cultures but however, they are variations in the period of isolation and the same ritual .The ritual is marked by the first menarche. When a girl experiences her first period she informs elderly women to take the girl in isolation for training. The girls are taught to abstain from sex before marriage, household chores and hygiene. Pulling the labia and explicit sex movements are also part of the various chinamwali rituals. The Chewa tribe holds chinamwali ritual with high regard.
Park (2014) and Jacewicz (2018) cohere that the Yao and Lomwe culture rite of passage encourages girls to engage in early sex. Girls go for initiation as early as six years where they are taught explicit content .The parents of the girls pay men called hyenas to sleep with the girls as a way removing bad luck. The hyenas are chosen by the society and to break girls’ virginity soon after the girls’ initiation ritual. Engaging in sex soon after the ritual is believed to remove bad luck. The study highlights how the initiation ritual contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as child marriages. The indigenous knowledge heritage embedded in the ritual through music dance and other symbols is left out.
The Chewa dispora community from Malawi living in Zimbabwe also practise the chinamwali ritual. Chinamwali ritual in Zimbabwe is practised by the Chewa, Tumbuka, Sena and the Tonga from Malawi to initiate boys and girls into adulthood. Chimuka (2011).The ritual is viewed with mixed emotions by the Zimbabwean community. Bulla (2015) interviewed Mrs Shaibu who is a Malawian diaspora who went through the ritual and she disregarded the ritual. Her major concern was the use of herbs during the initiation process, she also highlighted that women may engage in extra marital affairs after chinamwali since they are confident about their sexual skills. According Kutyauripo (2014) Malawian elderly women are being hired for two hundred United State dollars to teach Zimbabwean ladies the art of Chinamwali. The study will unpack meanings of symbols that are embedded in chinamwali rituals by translating fourteen chinamwali songs.
3.0 The Elements of Chinamwali Ritual: Significance of Chinamwali Music
The chapter shall analyse various elements of chinamwali which include: Kukonzekela chinamwali (preparing for chinamwali), kuwotcha nsatsi (pulling the labia),chipinda (the bedroom life) and pass out celebrations.
3.1.2 Kukonzekela Chinamwali (Preparing For Chinamwali)
According to the informants there are preparations that are done before the chinamwali ritual. When a girl attains the age of twelve or has her first menstrual cycle, the mother of the girl goes to Nyamukungu (an elderly woman responsible for training girls during chinamwali). The Nyamukungu teaches the girl how to take care of her menstruation including washing of napkins. The girls are also welcomed into womanhood. Umich.edu says that “the moon is a feminine symbol representing the rhythm as it embodies the cycle. In Hinduism the moon symbolises rebirth. www.hinduismwebsite. The thus moon signifies passage of time from childhood and rebirth into womanhood through menstruation. Hence menstruation is an achievement that is worthy celebrating, according to the cultural owners.
Some girls expressed fear when they menstruate for the first time explained one of the informants; however, the music and the counselling make the young girls feel mature, responsible and ready to be part of the adult world. Songs such as chimutere chaona mwezi chururu (this girl has gone to the moon) are sung. This implies that the girl has experienced womanhood.
According to the cultural owners traditionally the chinamwali ritual was done in a bush that was secluded and it was supposed to be near kuntsinje (river) so that the girls can easily access bathing water. A hut was built in the bush to shelter the girls during the ritual.
Figure 2 A hut in bush where chinamwali rituals would take place
The hut is circular in shape to suggest that chinamwali is a ritual with diaspora Chewa community ownership. The poles that make the roof join at the centre symbolising that the girls may be of different backgrounds however the fact that they are Chewa diasporians they have the same unity of purpose. Due to urban growth secluded bushy areas are now difficult to find and as such a secluded house with privacy is chosen where the girls can spend three weeks without being seen by anyone.
Virginity tests are conducted before camping. If a girl is no longer a virgin the parents are informed and she is given corporal punishment. The cultural owners highlighted that it is a taboo for a girl to engage in sex before undergoing the chinamwali ritual. One young informant said kutanga bonde munhu asinagazivi chikapa kwakafanana nekupa vanhu zvekudya zvisina kubikwa (engaging in sex before someone knows how to handle men in bed is as good as serving raw food).
It is the responsibility of the mother to inform the Nyamukungu the actual behaviour of her daughter so that proper training is given. If the girl is stubborn the mother gives the Nyamukungu red beads (mukanda wo fiila). Mukanda wo fiila according to the culture owners symbolises a crude character. During the course of the training such girls are closely monitored and given counselling, a mkwapulo (whip) is used if they misbehave.
Figure 3 Mukanda wo fiila
Parents with well behaved girls give Nyamukungu white beads (mukanda woyera) which symbolises purity of the heart. The treatment given to the girls with mukanda woyera is slightly different from those with mukanda wofiila. However, if a girl with mukanda woyera misbehaves mukwapulo is also used to instil discipline.
Figure 3 mukanda woyera
The girl’s mother is expected to pay in cash or kind for the up keep the girl throughout the rituals. Those without money bring food staff that must last the duration of the ritual. The Nyamukungu is also paid before the ritual, usually sge is given a blanket or money.
3.3.1 Elements of Chinamwali – kuwotcha nsatsi (pulling the labia)
The chinamwali ritual was usually done in winter for three months. However, due to the dynamic nature of culture the ritual is done in August for three weeks to allow girls to attend school, according to the culture owners. A strict timetable is followed to ensure that the girls are well-groomed.
Early in the morning around four in the morning the girls go kuntsinje (river) and take a cold bath.Bathing is strictly supervised and emphasis is given on cleaning the armpits and private parts. Soon after bathing the girls are taught how to pull labia using special oil.
According to the culture owners, pfuta seeds or ntedza (groundnuts) are used to aid the pulling of the labia. Pfuta are peeled and roasted until they are black. They are then grinded and mixed with Vaseline and put in chinu(a small calabash).
Figure 4: pfuta seeds
Ntedza (peanuts) are also used to pull labia .They are roasted until they are black and then they are grinded and mixed with Vaseline. According to the informants pfuta or ntedza mixed with Vaseline aid elasticity of the labia and Vaseline was said to reduce tsvakasi (cracking of the skin). f
Figure 5 peanuts
The girls were given lessons first on why they should pull labia. The Nyamukungu’s took turns to explain why every Chewa woman must have elongated labia. The Nyamukungu’s indicated to the girls that traditionally a woman without pulled labia was referred to as mphika wopanda choundikila (a pot without a lid) and in some cases they were divorced. They were also told that most homes break because the woman has no pulled labia therefore they were told that pulled labia is essential in marriage.
The researcher observed that during the pulling of the labia the girls would sit in a position called kukhala mutansi (sitting with legs half bend but wide open with their hands reaching the labia from the sides of the legs) that is if the girls are pulling themselves labia. However, if Nyamukungu was pulling the girls were expected to lie on their backs as if giving birth.
Pulling of the labia was done early in the morning and at sunset until the labia reached the size of a match stick. The researcher observed that stretching of the labia varied among individuals .Asked why they do not pull labia during the day the culture owners indicated that pulling labia during the day caused tsvakasi. Observing the girls’ facial expressions during labia pulling revealed that the process was a bit painful, especially for the beginners. Songs such as Kwa aPhiri ziliko (the Phiris do have it) made the girls endure the pain by attaching value to the practice. One of the young girls highlighted that regardless of the pain that she felt the song encouraged her a lot. She felt obliged to have her labia reach the matches stick size in order to be a complete woman who in the future would make her husband happy. She viewed pulling of the labia as an essential stage of human development.
Harsh (1998) and the chinamwali cultural owners agree that pulled labia give a man maximum pleasure during intercourse. They also have the effect of reducing air penetration and holding the man’s member during intercourse. The informants also believed that the Chewa men are content with women with pulled labia because they get something to play with during fore play.
3.4 Chipinda -The Bedroom life
“chinamwali ndi chimodzi ndi sikulu, wina amapasa, wina ndikulephera.Ife timati ali yense ayenela kulimbikila kuti adzichita bwinomusikulu ya umoyo”. (Going for chinamwali is like going to school, some pass and some fail but we say everyone must work hard to pass the school of life). The culture owners gave more emphasis on the need for the girls to be able to dance properly during intercourse. The researcher observed that when the girls were taught how to handle men in bed, a bed is prepared with needles on a pin cushion under a blanket. The girls then instructed to undress. Traditionally the Nyamukungu would wear mwele (a smallcloth covering the essentials around the waist) because they wore no pants.
Nudity was emphasised in the bedroom. The girls were taught not to wear anything in bed except mukanda (beads) on the waist. The Nyamukungu highlighted that nowadays women no longer want to wear mukanda on the waist; as such they are just encouraged to be naked in bed. Mukanda was believed to aid enjoyment to the men during foreplay. Two Nyamukungus demonstrated what foreplay is, caressing each other explicitly giving emphasis on the man’s member while the other one played with the breasts mukanda and labia.
Figure 6 mukanda
All the Nyamukungus interviewed indicated that it was the woman’s duty to initiate foreplay. According to the cultural owners foreplay is crucial before intercourse. Both the man and the woman must be wet and ready before the encounter. The culture owners also indicated good sex should not last very long if foreplay is done properly.
According to the culture owners a woman’s waist must not be stiff; it must dance flexibly so that she aids the man by receiving him during encounter. The researcher observed one of the Nyamukungus demonstrating making explicit movements laying a bed with needles with the pelvis up without reaching the ground. The girls were asked to follow the demonstrations lying on their backs. Music and dance play a pivotal role at this stage. The tempo of the song determined the tempo of the body movements. Girls are instructed to take positions prescribed by Nyamukungu. If a girl drops her pelvis she is pierced by the needles.
Two Nyamukungus played three bottles following the tempo of the song. The tempo of the song symbolises the tempo of the men. Cultural owners indicated that the men determine tempo during encounter. “sitidziwa kuti asungwana awa adzakwatidwa ndi amuna otani, ndiye ayenera kutha kunyamula mwamuna ali yense” ( we do not know the kind of men who will marry these girls, as such they are supposed to be able to carry men with different weight). To achieve this girls practise by carrying women with different weight doing different tempo movements. If a girl drops her pelvis she is pierced by the needles.
Figure 7 bottles used as musical instruments during chinamwali
Songs with fluctuating tempo are used to ensure that the girls can adapt to tempo changes, songs such as msungwana paja munali kukana apa mukunyekulira (girl you used to refuse but now you are dancing sweetly). The song is ironically referring to a woman who had negative thoughts about sex before the chinamwali ritual and yet after the ritual they show personal enjoyment during encounter.
Cleanliness of the bedroom is encouraged. A cloth which is about half a meter is put on the pelvis area kulandira madzi onse otuluka pomasewera kuti madziwo asamapitilire ku zofunda (to absorb all the fluids released during intercourse so that they do not get onto the blankets). The informants highlighted that a woman must have at least six pieces of soft cloth preferably the yellow duster to wipe the man’s member after intercourse. Asked the reason why they required six pieces of cloth, the cultural owners indicated that the man’s desire to be intimate is unpredictable and as such more cloths ensure that there are enough cloths to wipe the man for the night.
Figure 8 cloths to wipe men
A small sacred bucket with warm water if it is cold or vice versa was said to be a bedroom essential by the informants. The researcher observed that water was used to soften the cloth before wiping the man’s member. After wiping the man’s member Vaseline was applied on the man’s member .Asked why they apply Vaseline one the man’s member culture owners indicated that it reduced cracks. The girls were taught that used cloth must be washed early in the morning and they are dried in private places.
According to the cultural owners it is a taboo to be intimate during menstrual period. Mukanda wofiila (red beads) are put on the pillow if the woman is experiencing her menstrual period. Mukanda wofiila symbolises inpurity and Chewa men according to the informants understand that because they would have been taught about it at chinamwali cha anyamata (chinamwali for boys). Traditionally the woman was supposed to sleep on the floor using her own blanket that she would have carried from her home.
Shaving of armpits and essentials is also part of training during chinamwali. The girls are taught shaving practising on chickens then on each other’s heads. The cultural owners indicated that long hair in armpits and essential places harbour sweat and they contribute to bad odour, as such it is the responsibility of the woman to shave herself and her husband.
3.5 Pass out Celebration
After three weeks of vigorous training the girls graduate into womanhood. They are sworn into secrecy never to disclose the proceedings of chinamwali to anyone. They are also discouraged from befriending girls who would not have undergone the chinamwali ritual. Asked the reason why the girls are sworn into secrecy the cultural owners said that munthu wa mkazi ayenela kumasunga chintsintsi cha mubanja lakhe, nde akamadziwa kusunga m’mthima chintsintsi cha chinamwali amathanso kusunga cha banja. (a woman must be able to keep her family secrets in her heart, therefore if she cannot keep the chinamwali secret how will she be able to keep family secrets). The reason for discouraging them from associating with girls who have not gone through the initiation ritual was that the girls were still immature in the world’s view.
The girls change their names, they are given new names. The change of name symbolises change of behaviour and status. It also symbolises that the girls are now adults ready to marry. On the pass out day the girls wear new clothes, white or colourful garments and they cover their faces like brides. New clothes, white or colourful garments symbolise purity. At night they parade in the community singing and dancing songs such as amuna akakumana pa mkazi amaphana (men kill each other if they clash over these women). The songs inform the community that the girls have been well trained such that no men will be ready to share them and are now ready for marriage life.
The researcher observed that the dancers left the bush in a single file which was led by the chief Nyamukungu and at the back of the line was another Nyamukungu. On both sides of the line were elderly women shielding the girls. A single file signified that the girls are now elderly women and are upright. Their way of life was now straight and transparent.
Figure 8 pass out celebrations
During pass out the girls moved throughout the community singing and they received gifts from fellow women. Men were prohibited near the girls and if a men snicks he was to be severely beaten and made to pay a fine, traditionally according to the culture owners they would pay a cow.
As the singing and dancing progressed they formed a circle and started ululating and making explicit movements. Asked why they formed a circle the cultural owners highlighted that the Chewa culture is as closed as a circle such that when an oath is made it becomes a cultural secret. Not much literature about chinamwali musical arts has been written by the cultural owners because those who will have gone through the rituals do not disclose the proceedings. They also highlighted that the girls were being prepared for kitchen life where most utensils used are circle in shape
The chapter analysed various elements of chinamwali which included: Kukonzekela chinamwali (preparing for chinamwali), kuwotcha nsatsi (pulling the labia),chipinda (the bedroom life) and pass out celebrations. Chapter 4 shall focus on analysis and interpretation of fourteen chinamwali songs.