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ANTH 222 (14)

"Chinsungu- A Girl's Initiation Ceremony Among the Bemba of Zambia" (Audrey I. Richards)

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McGill University
ANTH 222
Ronald Niezen

presentday differences of income add prestige aspect to the ceremonyabsence of men and smaller household groups result in smaller accumulation of food making successful chisungu harderno large sums of money given so chiefs and men of authority gain little so it has disappeared pretty fast among the Bembaelsewhere however secondary motive for holding ceremonies has become stronger than the primaryentirely organized by women in a male dominated society Deduced Attitudesdeduce their attitude to the parts of ceremony thoughemphasis they give them in narratives tension displayed by performers on different occasions time and energy spentdescriptions most informants were womenhard to remember everything without written accountsequence of events not as regular as European religious sequencescan changenative accounts mention jumping over the hood of branchesshooting ceremonycatching water insects in the mouthteaching of the girlend with public congratulationno accounts mention the gardening mimes or the teasing of the girlsmaybe the difference because they dont want to shock Europeans who are critical of aggressive behaviourEuropean accounts emphasize the obscenity of the rite or its educational function girl secluded for four weekshe is taught about sex girl and bridegroom washed in river boy give a bow by the fatherinlaw to protect wife from adulterers fuller account reveals the bow is brought to the woods and placed at the foot of a tree where beer is poured on it emphasis on the dramatic and pubic acts ie the final ritual jumps over the hood bow and arrow ceremonystress the exchange of food and bear and the feastsomit secret aspects lighting the girls fire her purification and whitening pottery figures actually witnessing itcritical moments were magic omens or ordeals like the two jumps over the faggots and the hood and firelighting ritual older women scream and shout at the girls as they bounce up and down on the chicken head to kill itanxiety of the companya rite of passage and a magic ordeallast night giving of the pottery mbusa and coming of bridegroomritual handling and presentation of sacred emblems took most time presentation of the different women in order of rank was second longest with lots of singing of doggerel rhymeswoods part not as sacred or private teasing of the girls seen as a dutysignificance of it to Bemba for its survival in times of changechisungu forbidden 3050 years before 1931cannot be performed in secret in a hutdoes not have the backing of the chiefs who have supported initiation ceremonies in parts of Africashortage of food absence of men work against the persistence of the riterites shortened in 1931 and 1933many just kept the puberty ritual bring girl to the fire after her 1st periodmagic rites of protection that they consider the most essential partThe Chisungu in Relation to Tribal Dogma and Valuesrelation to the marriage institutionchisungu expresses marriage moralityfemale submission to her husbandhis duty to provide for herdomestic agricultural sexual obligations of bothmost important of these ritual series1 ceremonial surrounding chieftainshiplong and arduous rites of royal burialceremony for installing a great chiefbuilding chiefs new village and sacred relic huts2 series of economic ritesat the clearing of the bushat the firing of the piled branchesat the sowing of the seedsat the harvesting and first fruits3 the chisungu ceremonies themselves the occasion on which the girl is given her fire and her marriage pot and made responsible for their care and use how she handles the hearth decides her husbands power of access to his ancestral spirits or the blessings available for everyday life if married to chiefsupernatural power of the Citimukulu and brother chiefs pivoted on the chisungu and its magicdidactic actsfeminine rite essential to the welfare of the whole tribeall based on homogenous body of beliefs the dogma linking authority with supernatural power through access to ancestral spirits to have prosperity those in power must have ceremonial intercourse with their head wives and light new fireimportant to the maintenance of tribal traditions because it emphasizes handing things downespecially the mbusaeconomic rites pray and supplicate ancestors for help defined elements are the time and method of approach to the ancestorsstatus of the officiant in chisungu the women do not voice new desires only those that have existed in the past intricate succession of acts that repeat exactly mbusa must be made the same waythe pottery models cannot be altered proclaim the established not the newchisungu maintains tribal traditions because no supplication or prayerimportance based on importance to fertility and supply of foodspecial appeal to ancestors for childrenfertility and care of children is most important in Bemba culturesocial structure largely based on descent and groups are enlarged by birthslack of any permanent possessions means rights trump labourcorrelation between fertility rites and matrilineal descentchild is formed from the physical contribution of the mother onlywoman can be held solely responsible if couple cannot conceive men can be impotent but not sterile grounds for abandonmentdivorce in patrilineal societiesin matrilineal Bemba woman has legal rights of the children authority and hierarchy reflected in the ceremonies chiefs created and maintained in their supernatural powershierarchy based on age symbolized by offering food in order of ageobeisance to seniorsall rites of role assumption naturally give importance to age only seniors can hand it on to juniorsBemba girls removed from their family placed under authority of older women very little ritual expression of clan or lineage unity in the chisunguin Lumemba there is no ritual expression of social grouping family not lineage which is emphasizedBemba boy provides his own small token payments at marriage and does service for fatherinlawclan and lineage have no political functions as corporate groups later unless royal dynastymaintenance of a stable family group is difficultdesire of girl to stay with her peopleboy wishes to return to his peopleno economic links to bring them to one village or anotherstress the link between man and wifesupernatural sanctions against adulterystressed link bw the twoconstant admonishment for girl to submit to husband honouring himreligiou
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