May 22, 2013

Insaka: Changes in Traditional Marriage Process

Our next Insaka will be the first in a 2-part series. We will be discussing “Changes in Traditional Marriage Process." To participate on Twitter please use the hashtag #Insaka

Part I – Lobola. Sunday, May 26 at 6 p.m. CAT, 12 p.m EST, 9 a.m. PST.

Part II – Marriage Celebrations i.e. Kitchen Parties, Icilanga Mulilo, weddings. Sunday, June 2 6 p.m. CAT, 12 p.m EST, 9 a.m. PST.

Part I - Lobola
The tradition of lobola has existed for many centuries and has traditionally been a means of bringing two families together. However, like many traditional customs lobola is open to abuse and distortion.

Some men have expressed hesitation at entering matrimony for fear of being gouged by potential in-laws. And some see lobola as an antiquated custom that turns women into commodities to be “bought and sold.” 

It is also becoming increasingly common to see exorbitant money being charged for lobola. Does this harm the practice?

As the practice of lobola has become quite contentious does this lead to resentment in families and among couples entering marriage?

How do we take back lobola to intended purpose – appreciation, respect, unity between families.

How do different tribal groups tackle the issue of lobola? 

Part II - Marriage Celebrations 

Icilanga Mulilo and Amatebeto are traditionally practiced by the Bemba speaking people of Zambia. Icilanga Mulilo (literal meaning is "showing of the fire") is the ceremony that takes place before a couple weds. The bride-to-be's family prepares foods and beverage and delivers it to the groom. This is to introduce him to the foods he is likely to eat in his new home, and serves as an open invitation to dine with the bride's family during the courtship. Traditionally a groom is forbidden from eating in the bride's parents or guardian's home before this symbolic gesture. 

The foods, both exotic and familiar, are presented one by one. And it is explained that these are foods the bride will later prepare in their home. This occasion, other than being a "showcase" of the bride's menu, also symbolizes that the groom is responsible for the welfare of his bride from then on. He can now assume the responsibilities of taking care of his bride’s financial needs. The bride at this stage is also allowed to start cooking and doing laundry for the groom. 

Amatebeto is a ceremony for couples who are already married. Amatebeto symbolizes the appreciation of the groom by the bride’s parents for keeping a trouble free marriage. It is an acknowledgement by the bridge’s family that the groom is capable of looking after his wife well and that they have re-affirmed their blessing of the marriage

These two ceremonies are often confused by people, and many have come to refer to the Icilanga Mulilo as Amatebeto as it has become more mainstream and increasingly practiced by non-Bembas. Businesses have cropped up providing catering services, along with professional drummers and singers available for hire. 

Kitchen Party

This is similar to what is referred to in the west as a bridal shower. Guests bring gifts for the bride to start her home; these are often kitchen appliances, utensils, and home decorations. This has elements of both modern and traditional incorporated. The modern elements – gifts of big ticket household items like refrigerators and dining sets, traditional – gifts of pestle and mortar, a sieve, and cooking sticks. This is typically a woman-only domain.

Nowadays the kitchen party is often an opportunity to show off how generous the families are, and how not to be outdone. You must bring a gift, and not just flimsy, plastic wares! In recent times a trend has emerged with the groom making an appearance at the kitchen party, often with a bouquet of flowers and expensive gifts in tow. I’m not entirely sure why and how this started but this can be quite controversial, with no-show grooms facing the real prospect of wedding cancellations by irate brides. 


This one is self explanatory. Though we can touch on the necessity of these ceremonies when couples celebrate traditional ceremonies and rites. 

Insaka: Social Commentary in Music

This past Sunday our Insaka discussion focused on the role of social commentary in music. Some of the questions framed were as follows:
  • When we say social commentary in music what do we mean?
  • Does social commentary still have a role in music?
  • What does social commentary tell us about ourselves and our communities?
  • Is there money for artists who produce this type of music?

May 20, 2013

Making informed decisions

The government of Zambia recently made the decision to remove fuel, fertiliser and maize subsidies because they’re costly, and divert a lot of money that could otherwise be spent on social programs. In the words of the Finance minister, “whether it’s fuel, whether it’s electricity, whether it’s anything; no subsidies…it’s not good for the Zambian people. Government is not here to preside over fiscal irresponsibility. We have so many huge tasks before us but the resources are very limited.”  

The immediate effect of the fuel subsidy removal was a price increase at the fuel pump, which led to an outcry from consumers and the executive sent out of team of cabinet ministers to various media houses, in particular radio stations, to quiet the storm. They reiterated the burden of subsidies on the treasury, which is true, but then followed it up by bizarre claims that increased fuel costs only affect a small percentage of Zambians who actually own cars.

While those talking points were being parroted ad nauseam bus and taxi fares were being hiked across the country, thus affecting a large percentage of people who use public transport. Oh, and no one touched on the issue of rising commodity prices due to the increase in transportation costs – I guess this will only be borne by a small percentage of Zambians as well?

Anyway, last week students at the two major universities in Lusaka and Kitwe protested these moves, claiming these actions would cause them needless hardship. Unfortunately the protests in Lusaka turned violent. Police and student were engaged in running battles, and at the end of the day thirty-one students were reported to be behind bars, hundreds of others choked by tear gas, and a dorm room scorched.

The student bodies have been roundly criticized for their protests and the president explicitly said the students have been bought off by opposition parties trying to discredit the government, and it was he who ordered the arrest of the students along with the directive for expulsions.

These criticisms have been echoed in the state-run media: 
There is no justification whatsoever for the kind of behaviour the students have exhibited in the last 48 hours. Even an average Grade 12 pupil can easily understand that the government cannot continue pouring resources into the subsidies, which have not served their initial purpose.
University students occupy a special place in our society. What makes them different from the rest of the citizens is the fact that they are future leaders and experts who are expected to provide evidence-based answers to the numerous challenges the country is facing.
But we are deeply disappointed that the [UNZA] students and their Copperbelt University (CBU) counterparts have not taken time to look at the abundantly available information on which the government has based its laudable decisions. President Sata and Minister of Agriculture Robert Sichinga have explained in plain language that the new measures will enable the government to channel critical resources to poor citizens of our society, and that for real economic and well-distributed growth to occur these changes are necessary.

Now what I find curious about this stance is the fact that these media houses who are all on board with the subsidies removal have done little to augment government’s laudable decision (as they put it). Most of what we’ve seen are regurgitations of press statements without any analysis of the facts or even better, asking questions about which specific programs will be funded by the subsidy savings.

Why do we have a media that only reacts to news? Do they not have a responsibility to ask tough questions and seek the truth? Why were they not championing the removal of expensive subsidies months, if not years beforehand? In what ways did they help present information of these programs to better inform the public on their wasteful nature?

On the issue of the university students, yes, we do expect them to exercise more deliberate and critical thinking on such issues but I have to ask, how can this be a realistic expectation in institutions whose quality is constantly found wanting. We place no priority in providing quality education or an environment that acts as a hive of intellectual growth. Their actions are a result of our own neglect and ignorance that’s endemic in various institutions.

This also extends to the greater populace. We cannot continually keep a population ignorant then expect them to behave as learned economists at the snap of a finger. We have a serious messaging problem here, and we cannot afford to ignore real hardships that people will endure in the short run in pursuit of long-term fiscal health. And it’s incredibly insulting to dismiss these claims as cries from people bought off by an embittered opposition.

May 13, 2013

Insaka: a place to gather

Yesterday, I moderated the first of what we’re billing as Insaka discussions on Twitter. Insaka is a Bemba word which means “a place to gather.” And in this case Twitter is that place. A few weeks ago Muchemwa Sichone (@WriteRevolt) and I were lamenting the fact that as Zambians on Twitter much of our focus is on politics and the madness that goes in hand. He suggested we do Sunday topics that are of the non-political variety, and that’s how this initiative was born.

Our inaugural topic was “The Preservation of Cultural Heritage.” We posed various questions to people about how we as Zambians (and Africans for that matter) can retain our languages, cultural norms and customs in a constantly changing world.

Many spoke passionately about language, and the need to pass this on to our children. We also touched on traditional ceremonies and practices, African time and the need for interaction beyond our homogenous tribal groupings.

Someone raised an interesting point which unfortunately was not fully fleshed out about harmful cultural practices such as witchcraft and witch hunting. What do we do with such practices when they clearly go against our mainstream sensibilities? This may be a future discussion in and of itself.

For now, here’s a Storify sampling of some of the Tweets that came our way.