By Chris Zumani Zimba
- Introduction: Respect for Cultural Diversity with Caution
What is certain is that we are all against all forms of harmful traditional practices in the name of physical sexual cleaning, spouse physical assault, forced spouse inheritance, child marriages, rape, defilement, teen prostitution and other forms of GBV as they border on human rights violations. Society is also campaigning against social vices which endanger human lives such as HIV, public tobacco smoking, alcohol abuse, malnutrition, cancers, cholera, etc and we must all work together to secure increased awareness raising and advocacy. Hence, it is important for leaders especially kings and chiefs to clearly know how to separate issues when it comes to fighting these deadly social vices and harmful traditional practices so that they don’t end up eroding every cultural identity and practice that defines and makes them stand distinct as a unique people on earth. And this is my simple message to my good King, Mpezeni and his close advisors bring to his royal attention that “cultural diversity” i.e. ‘respect for different cultural or religious norms, beliefs and practices’ is very important and must be preserved and not killed by people like him since he is the original definition and supreme determinant of Ngoni culture and tradition in Zambia.
- Leipzig in Germany where I found young and old, males and females swim naked freely and happily together
When I landed at the river dam in Leipzig, Germany in 2011 with Katrine where both old men, women, youth and children were bathing and swimming half and full naked freely and happily, I was shocked and disturbed. “Hey my friend, is this Sodom and Gomorrah I am seeing?” I asked Katrine. She laughed with a foul smile, “Feel free to join them if you can swim. It’s normal here because people mind their business”, she responded. She also jumped into the water in a short, and joined them. I told myself not to do what the Romans do in Rome but to simply watch and enjoy the beautiful naked show, like in the Garden of Eden especially that I was afraid that my ‘traditional African bazooka’ may misbehave in the Limpopo and Zambezi river of my visiting country and continent.
In less than an hour, I completely lost interest in seeing the “Adam and Eve suits” and merely understood that it is ‘normal in Leipzig’. A day later, I attended and enjoyed the Michael Jackson Memorial Concert I went for and happily left for my Cologne where I lived. To date, what I still clearly remember about being in Leipzig in 2011 is finding adults and youths, parents and their children, males and females bathing and swimming half and full naked together with colorful smiles, at easy, in true happiness and human liberty. Although I respect what I saw in Leipzig in the name of “cultural diversity”, I must confirm that what I saw in Germany in terms of ‘sweet naked communal bathing or swimming’ cannot happen in most or all parts of Zambia, never!
- My good King, Mpezeni banned bare breasts women and ‘naked impis’ at the 2019 Ncwala Traditional Ceremony going forward
In the first week of February, 2019, my good King in “Nkhosi yama Nkhoma” (King of kings), our Gwenyama, Mpezeni of the Ngoni people of Eastern province made news headlines countrywide when he decreed that he had decided to ban bare breasts women and ‘naked impis’ during the Ncwala traditional ceremony going forward as the practice was out of touch with modernity where everyone can afford to buy and wear good clothes. Addressing his subjects at one Ncwala preparatory meeting in Kampala village a week later, the King of the Ngoni stressed that he expected the police anyone who will attend the Ncwala ceremony in typical ancient and primitive style or attire showing breasts for women or respected body parts for men and directed his chiefs to inform and warn their subjects. Generally, the directives were received with few praises and generally silence as many Ngoni chiefs and senior subjects could not openly disagree with their King.
And many women led and gender NGOs in Zambia were radio and TV praising and commending the Ngoni in the name of respect for women dignity, human rights and prevention of HIV and GBV. But trust me, King Mswati of Swaziland is laughing at this development and enjoying the drama of serious cultural erosion among the Ngoni people of Zambia because his women and men are either best or worst practitioners of what King Mpezeni banned here. There is a serious temptation as well as puzzling challenge in defending cultural identity and ancient traditional practices especially when one is trying so hard to live by the globalization norms of what is preached by Western funded NGOs as well as the dictates of modernity and modernization. This is the new place of our good King.
- What my good King banned here is wide cultural practice in many parts of the world
In Brazil and most parts of Latin America, there is an annual traditional ceremony the ‘Carnival Festival’ where beautiful and ugly women, young and old wear and dance in half naked attire and show bare breasts in traditional styles. Across Europe, the Latino Carnival Festival is equally celebrated in high spirits and my Zambian friend in England just called it ‘London Naked Day’ when he attended it in 2015. The Carnival Festival Ceremony is loved, attended and celebrated by millions across the world as an ancient traditional ceremony of the Latinos. There is any possibility of dressing up all the attendants of the Carnival Festival ceremony to suit modern clothes, prevent HIV infections or respect the dignity of women and men in naked attire or nude fashion? Trust me, the organizers, believers and celebrants of the World Carnival Festival are also dangerously laughing at my good King for banning bare breasts and ‘naked impis’ at the Ncwala ceremony.
When Switzerland was launching the opening of the longest tunnel rail line in Europe if not the world, the organizers presented innovative dances of men and women in just half naked attire with a ‘flying’ lady in bare breasts connected to controlled ropes. Orchestrated by German director, Volker Hesse, a half-naked dance troupe performed during the ceremony in just their underwear and was loved by most ceremony attendees as well as adored by many observers and media commentators. From a distance, I personally think that someone didn’t inform my good King that what he banned in Eastern province among the good Ngoni people at the Ncwala ceremony is hot and stylish outfit for many music performers and artists in both in Europe and America.
What my good King did was to depart from cultural original roots and practices of the Ngoni people in reference to South Africa or Swaziland. “Umhlanga” or “Reed Dance ceremony” is an annual Swazi and Zulu event that is cerebrated in similar fashion to what the Ngoni women and men presented at Ncwala in bare breasts and ‘naked impis’ In Eswatini (former Swaziland), tens of thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi girls and women travel from the various chiefdoms to the Ludzidzini Royal Village to participate in the eight-day event. The young, unmarried girls were placed in female age-regiments; girls who had fallen pregnant outside wedlock had their families fined a cow. “Umhlanga” was created in the 1940s in Eswatini under the rule of Sobhuza II, and is an adaptation of the much older “Umcwasho” ceremony. The reed dance continues to be practiced today in Eswatini.
In South Africa, the reed dance was re-introduced in 1991 by Goodwill Zwelithini, the current King of the Zulus. The dance in South Africa takes place in Nongoma, a royal kraal of the Zulu king. Ironically, King Mpezeni banned the bare breasts and ‘naked impis’ this year when the guest of honour at the Ncwala ceremony was the South African heir to the Zulu throne, Prince Buthelezi. From a distance, I suspect that the Zulu Prince also laughed at my good King because the Ncwala could have appeared so ‘holy’, Western and modern to him.
As we speak, King Mpezeni is now well known known in Paris, London, New York, Ottawa or Berlin through local NGO reports to their donors. He was infleunced to do what was initiated in Europe and America in the name of respect for women dignity and gender equality. Hope the Bembas will not told by local human rights NGOs to stop carrying King Chitimukulu saying “the cultural practice of carrying their King on their shoulders during the Ukusemfya pan’yena traditional ceremony promotes modern slavery and abuse of citizens” Generally, banning an ancient cultural practice for adults who do it freely, happily and voluntarily is wrong especially if the people involved are not consulted and the advocacy to ban is born and sponsored by ‘hired’ local NGOs with Western cultural hegemony.
African identity and culture is speedily being washed away and eroded on the wheels of Western funded local NGOs, modernity and globalization. Soon or later, my King must know that they are coming to axe our young boys who pride in taking lead to dance Ngoma or Ncwala by saying that ‘allowing children to dance Ncwala or Ngoma is child exploitation, slavery and oppressive labour’. I hope King Kalonga Gawa Undi of the Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique will also not be misled to ban some components or attire of Nyau Dance to say ‘the practice of wearing masks in Gule Wamkulu is too primitive and against human rights, fundamental freedoms and individual dignity’.
If the ban is directly connected to some empirical study to show the direct link between bare breasts women and ‘naked impis’ at the Ncwala ceremony with increase in HIV, GBV and Human Rights Violations prevalence, then we must praise our good King for the job well done. In public health, protection and preservation of human life and lives is supreme and above everything. But if the decree was done in the name of being modern today and look like everyone during the Ncwala, then we lost it in the Luangwa River and have gone culturally astray. We now hope King Mswati of Swaziland and King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu people in South Africa will also not be influenced to denounce the cultural identity of the people of his Kingdom especially women who voluntarily pride in showing off their breasts during specific traditional events and cultural ceremonies especially if these cultural practices are not directly linked to enhancing the named social vices. I am still wondering if the Latinos across South America and the world can agree to ban their bare breasts and ‘entire-out’ attire for the Carnival Festival. For sure, they are also laughing at my good King.
If my grandmother, Dora Yeseliya Zulu was alive, she could have given me a detailed talk on the positive and negative implications of what our good King did; most likely she could have disagreed with him because she very conservative and wanted to always present the original Ngoni identity. I am 100% Ngoni and grew up in Chipata rural with full direct connections to the Kapatamoyo Royal Family through my both grandmothers from mum and dad. As a child of the Chiefdom, I started attending the Ncwala traditional Ceremony at a tender age as far back as 1994 and have been religious about it-my late parents were and my siblings are so soaked into this annual event. But this year, I missed it without any special reason.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant, Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocate. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles on African politics and public health. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his usual commitments. Chriszumanizimba.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; +260 973 153 815