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International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS) | Volume V, Issue III, March 2021 | ISSN 2454–6186

Reasons why female adults are choosing to undergo Chinamwali– the initiation ceremony for girls in Petauke, Zambia

Jordan Tembo1, Patricia Mambwe2
1Kalindawalo General Hospital, P.O.Box 560008, Petauke, Zambia
2Department of Nursing, School of Health Sciences, Rusangu University, Monze, Zambia

IJRISS Call for paper

Abstract:- Societies preserve their norms, values, behaviours, customs and beliefs through various cultural ceremonies. Chinamwali the initiation ceremony for girls among the Nsenga cultural grouping in Zambia has been in existence for centuries. Pubertal girls are initiated during chinamwali to prepare them for adulthood and expected social roles they will play. In recent years, chinamwali is rapidly becoming popular among adult females- a stray from the ordained norm. Mothers with children, eagerly enrol to be trained. The objective of this study was to find out reasons prompting adult females to enrol in the cultural school yet their ages are far beyond the adolescent age- band. The study used a cross-sectional study design with a qualitative approach. Using the single-interview per participant, 12 respondents participated in the study. The study found that female adults enrolled for chinamwali training to end stigma and discrimination associated with not being initiated. Some did so out of frustration and anger following scandalization by their ex-sexual partners that they lacked cultural knowledge and skills to impress a man in bed. Others enrolled in the traditional school as part of marriage preparation. Still some chose to receive instructions and skills necessary to assist them save their crumbling marriages. Chinamwali is receiving remarkable appreciation from the women folk in Petauke- Zambia. Conservative information on gender roles and the wide-ranging in-depth sexuality lessons and demonstrations among others are catching the ear of adult females. Motivated to experience social change in their lives, these new mature cultural students willingly, at a huge sacrifice, pause by laying aside all parental responsibilities temporarily, by going back to their roots to be coached traditional principles.

Keywords: society, initiation, ceremony, puberty, culture


The goal of each society is to reproduce itself for continuity. Culture acts as an eternal social glue holding together in a stable and orderly disposition, stratified groups and individual units. Culture, ‘the language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviours, and even material objects that are passed from one generation to the next’ (Henslin 1995: 35) forms the social package that society transmits to all its new comers. ‘Acquisition of the various competences and pieces of information that society acquits’ (Morin 2018:1) its members occurs incrementally or spontaneously ‘from interactions with others in the social context’ (Nabavi 2012: 3).
At first, cultural transmission is paced and flows naturally. In some cultures in Africa, the process gets amplified, emphatic and intensified at puberty. In these societies, puberty is the defining phase of life. It is the ‘rite of transition’ (Munthali 2007: 2) to adulthood but also the transition into the sexual world (Van Gennep, 1960). It is a valued rite of passage for it is key to passing down teachings and traditions on adulthood, gender, relationships and sexuality to young people (United Nations Population Fund, 2017:5). It is common in many African cultures to conduct ceremonies marking the transition to adulthood during adolescence. World Health Organization (WHO, 2006) defines adolescents as individuals in the 10-19 year age group. These ceremonies are mandatory. Scholars observe that initiation ceremonies for girls in various cultures are celebrated between 8-20 years (Brown 1963).

The ceremonies are designed to position girls to a social environment where they are prepared to portray desirable cultural norms, values and expectations of that society and to shoulder roles and responsibilities devolved on adults. In various cultural communities in Zambia, initiation ceremonies for girls are conducted during adolescence. The Bemba and Chewa cultural groups conduct their rites of passages for girls at puberty (Mutale, 2017). So do the Nsenga cultural group of Sinda and Petauke districts in Eastern Province of Zambia. In recent years however, it is becoming radically different among the Nsenga cultural group. In this cultural group, mothers with children beyond adolescence age-band are undergoing initiation ceremony together with young girls. They leave their children behind with family members and choose to suspend their daily life activities for two to four weeks of total exclusion. They choose to be treated as novices yet already adults with a wealth of experience.