Monday, September 10, 2012

A little bit of the Zam Culture.

This last week, while we were at our second site visit, we had an assignment to speak to some of the village community members and get to know some of the culture and cultural beliefs.

To start: Traditional Beliefs/Superstitions among the Nyanja/Chewa people:
  • If a fly enters your mouth, it will mean something bad is coming
  • If a snake with stripes dies, and if it breaks into pieces along its stripes (as the apparently do so here?) it means that either where you are going or where you are coming from, there will be a funeral
  • If you see a black and white snake and it doesn't hide it's face, you will die where you are going.
  • If you are moving and a big bird passes in front of you, it means there is a death in the family.
  • During lightning and thunder storms, it is advised to only stay inside, and not to wear red, as it attracts lightning to strike you.
  • It is a bad omen to eat a corn husk with three parts; it means you will have triplets.
  • If a grasshopper stops and digs in the sand infront of you, and then re-covers it, and you witness it, there are problems in the family and trouble will come by nightfall.
  • When a person is struck by lightning, it is believed that he/she was bewitched, or is being punished for a wrong doing.
... After all of this, we told them we wanted some positive ones. People die all the time here, so they dont fear death as we do back home, but they seem to have many excuses for death or other negative occurances. I assert this to their lack of knowledge. I told them of our superstitions on the US, such as walking under a ladder will give you bad luck, or seeing a black cat.. or Friday the 13th, and I realized that our superstitions are linked with negative things as well. But, they were able to tell me two, sort of positive, beliefs:
  • If you see a black ant carrying food in its mouth, you will find luck and abundance where you are going
  • If your hand itches on the palm, you will receive something good; if your top eyelid twitches, it means you will see something good.
  • When rains aren't coming as they are supposed to, you can pray under a Masolo tree and offer sacrifices, and it will rain.
"These are to passed from generation to generation so that each new generation is kept aware of good and bad things. They are meant to teach respect, and to teach young ones to focus and plan for the future." ...I'm not sure how, exactly, but thats a direct quote when we asked the significance of these customs and beliefs to the Zambian culture.

Funeral Practices: In a village, whether you knew the person, were invited, or not, it is important to attend the funeral and pay your respects. This next bit will be my notes from the village community members when we asked them about funeral preparations, they will most likely be unorganized, since I'm about a 6 beers and a glass of wine in at this point, and the power keeps going out and I continue to lose everything I've typed up... I'm just trying to do this as quickly as possible. This will also be in broken English, as I recorded it how they told it.
    When someone is about to [knowingly] die, members of the village will close
 their eyes and mouth as if they are sleeping. They will wash them, and apply lotion, then dress them nicely, after they have passed. They will place a blindfold on their eyes (to keep bugs out) and place them in a coffin. A hole is dug 6 ft into the ground, the coffin is placed, then logs are placed ontop, then a reed mat, and then the dirt. They will place tombstones, with the persons life history. This is a new thing being practiced, graves used to be unmarked, or only had the names. A woman will not cook if her husband has died, until the second visit from his parents.At the first visit, they will shave some of his hair, and at the second they will shave the front part of his hair, as well as give the wife medicine to wash him in, and then she is allowed to begin cooking again. If they want her to remarry, they will throw a chicken or maize at her to let her know that she's free to do so. When someone dies, word spreads quickly. You will bring a chicken to the chief to tell him one of his people has died. People will bring food to the funeral. When someone dies, they are to be buried the next day. Children will be buried within the same day, ASAP.Everyone in the village is expected to show up to funerals. For stillbirths, there is no funeral. A young childs funeral lasts a day, while an older personals funeral lasts from 2 days up until a month, where people will still come to the house to mourn and pay respects. Church services will be conducted, people will give speeches to tell the stories of the deceased persons life. If a man dies, only men will wash him. If a woman dies, women will clean her. Men are the only ones to lower the coffin, while women provide the food. When there is a funeral, no one will work- no planting, no meetings, nothing- all work in the village is suspended, except for the womans house chores, which she will do as quickly as possible early in the morning. The tradition during a time of death is only mourn, cook, eat.

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