Thursday, May 10, 2007
I have a new challenge for myself. Today, a co-worker had picked up a book on Zambia to learn more about me (that's how lovable I am!)…and I don’t want to call the authors liars, even though I think they are! So I am going to do at least one thing related to Zambia per month or per week. It might be a recipe, or word definition, or even an explanation of culture from my limited knowledge. Of course my concentration will be on the Bemba for various reasons.
Oh my! Where to start….
Well, I guess I can talk about the traditional family system first and develop from there. The Family is made up of the immediate family members (mother, father, sister, bother) and the extended family (uncle’s, aunts, cousins, grand-parents, nieces, nephews). Most traditional families are matrilineal. This means that most family decisions are made by a ‘mother’ figure and her family. My family is one such family, and for this purpose I am closer to my mother’s family than my father’s family.
Having a child is an important milestone in the Zambian culture. You don’t want to be childless after a year of marriage otherwise your in-laws start to fuss… and offers of a new wife for your husband will begin to surface! (of course the woman is to blame when the couple can’t have kids!!!).
The new parents from that day on known as Bana (mother of) or Bashi (father of) ‘John’ or whatever the childs name is. For example if the childs name is ‘John’, mum is called –bana John and dad is called bashi John. The grand-parents also become Banakulu (grandmother of) and bashikulu (grandfather of) i.e banakulu John. Only the first child or grandchild’s name is used for identification. The new name is worn like a badge of honor.
The families are so close knit that cousins are considered part of the family and called sisters and brothers as opposed to mere cousins. Aunts and uncles can often be referred to as nyina mwaiche/ mai nini (small mum), or nyina mukulu/ mai guru (big mum). The children of your siblings are your children. In case of a death in the family, any relative that can care for the child does so. This was more true in the past than it is now especially with the poverty level and the mortality rate—strain on the family system has caused a collapse of sorts as we have seen with the increase of street children.
The sense of family is so strong that when one dies the funeral can takes days and there’s a whole ceremony among the Bemba called ‘Ukupyanika’ whereby the name and ‘spirit’ of the dead is passed on to a selected member of the extended family. Ancestors (imipashi) are often said to be present especially at important functions. It is said that when a child cries a lot during its infancy then imipashi do not agree with the name given to the child.
The older the family member the more authority they have. So imagine what life is like having several elders waging their fingers at you when you are wrong! What a fun life.