Role of Sex in Marriage: the Zambian Cultural Heritage – Mwizenge S. Tembo

women's initiation in zambia
women's initiation in zambia

By Mwizenge S. Tembo*

I was talking to a man in his sixties in the village in Lundazi in the Eastern Province of Zambia. He told me that some muzungu first came to the district about thirty years ago and asked the villagers to dig up these green stones. The white man told them the green stones were so worthless he would pay them about Ten Kwacha for a big 10 kg. bag. The man says he now knows the deep green large emerald gems were so precious that the first whites who knew the full value of the gems made a great profit. He regretted that for a long time that the Zambian people in the villages did not realize the real value of the emeralds.

I was reminded of this when I recently read this controversial story in the Post: “A two minute video depicting a half-naked woman explicitly demonstrating an assortment of love-making postures to a bride-to-be during a traditional all-female counselling session and posted on social networking sites has annoyed traditional counsellors. Zambia National Traditional Counsellors Association founder Iress Phiri yesterday described those who leaked the video as “stupid fools”. (The Post, Jan 31, 2014)

I did not need to see the video as the descriptions in the story were enough for me to understand what it contained. But I did not want to be accused of criticizing the video when I did not see it or similar to committing the act of criticizing a book when I have not read it. When I went to check the video on line, it had been already taken down. I don’t know whether the people who posted it felt some shame or were afraid of being sued. I also know that YouTube and other respectable on line cites are not interested in posting vulgar images or pornography or images that may be offensive to communities.

What every Zambian reader young and old should know is that teaching “love-making postures to a bride-to-be” is a very precious custom that all proud Zambians should cherish and protect. The report about the posted video says that some people could be heard giggling in the background in the video  and making fun of the training demonstrations amidst some drumming.

Sex in marriage is such a special, important, private, and sacred act that both brides and grooms should be properly trained before they get married. This is why the traditional Zambian customs had elaborate customs and training rituals before a young man and woman got married.  When entering marriage, the bride knew and had been shown and taught by older experienced married women what would make her husband happy and the groom had been shown by older experienced married men what would make his wife happy. This knowledge should be private and only those who are to be married should have the access, privilege of participating and gaining the knowledge.

There are those who will argue the loudest for transparency, openness, democratic rights, and that the video images and the inside information should be made public so that everyone should know and learn. The answer is No. This same point is emphasized in the book Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture: “Many traditional cultural practices were very special, sacred, and only secretly exposed to special groups or age sets or cohorts who were going through the rite of passage……These are sacred ceremonies which are very meaningful to adults and their young people who are anticipating and can’t wait to participate in them. Parents, families of young people, and the entire close knit community are anxious and interested in passing on very important life values to the young people…..We hope most of these practices will be kept confidential.” (Tembo, 2012; p. 38)

Because many Zambians, especially those who are educated, may regard these rituals as archaic and primitive because of the Western colonial Eurocentric influence, they may regard these rituals with a certain disdain, embarrassment, unease,  and unwillingness to embrace the customs. Prof. Kenneth Mwenda makes this point when he asks: “But why are African people, generally, so afraid of recording their culture and traditions? It baffles me. In the end and notwithstanding that culture is dynamic and that it changes, we will end up with a lot of misrepresentations and distorted interpretations of these same normative processes because they have not been systematically recorded and archived.”

Besides this failure to embrace our cultural traditions, there are very few Zambians who are aware that many of these traditions might go back to the traditions of not only the Lozi, Bemba, Tonga, Chewa, Ngoni, Lunda, Kaonde, and Luvale and many other peoples of Zambia, but these customs go back to over three thousand years ago when we Zambians and Africans created these customs as origins of the entire humanity. These customs may have been happening before the Greek Civilization, the Roman Empire, the time of  Christ, and the Prophet Mohammed. But of course, like that man in the village in Lundazi who did not know the value of the emeralds, we Zambians do not know the full value of, meaning, and functions of these precious customs and rituals and especially their history. Most of us just think some tribal backward, uneducated or fontini people in the villages just made them up for no good reason or for  lack of better entertainment. Then we might wonder why many non-Zambians especially in the Western society, many Whites and other non-Zambians admire them and there is a growing demand to want to participate in rituals and customs that prepare both young brides and grooms for marriage.

Ms. Claire Miti in UK makes the same point: “ 26,000 years of non-stop recorded African history! How about that? We are the only ones who don’t know that fact. …And of course Egypt itself. The biggest problem with us Africans, I find, is that we keep “disconnecting” ourselves from this history, from this knowledge…. Because we believe what we have been taught in our educational institutions that “Africans never made any contributions to civilization.”


If you want to know the complete descriptions of some of these Zambian customs and rituals you can read the book: “Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Hunger for Culture (2012) by Tembo. Another book is Traditional Marriages in Zambia by Chondoka (1988). When you fully understand the significance or important history of these customs, you will be reluctant to record the private sexual marriage rituals and thinking it would be really funny, titillating, and exciting to post the video on the internet, on YouTube,  or on Face book. I commend and encourage Zambia National Traditional Counsellors Association founder Iress Phiri and the members to continue their good work.

*Mwizenge S. Tembo, author of “Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture”, is Professor of Sociology at Bridgewater College.

SOURCE : Zambia News Features