Reclaiming the value of indigenous female initiation rites as a strategy for HIV prevention : a gendered analysis of Chisungu initiation rites among the Bemba people of Zambia.
Almost all African societies have female initiation rites to mark the process of growing up. Initiation rites signal the transition from one stage in life to another. Between the two levels is “the camp,” the liminal phase, in which the initiate is secluded in order to be initiated into the mysteries of life. Through female initiation rites, positions of power and social relations within the society are demonstrated. The Bemba people of Zambia perform the Chisungu female initiation rites in which young women are initiated into adulthood through the ritual process. Chisungu female initiation rites remain an important source of traditional education on sex and the social and religious leadership roles of women in Zambia although they are now being modified and performed in a shortened form. This study builds on the scholarly work undertaken by African women theologians particularly in the last decade, to engage theologically with the subject of HIV and AIDS on the African continent. Their theoretical insights and analysis provide the critical lenses for this thesis. The objective of the thesis is to offer a gendered analysis of Chisungu initiation rites among the Bemba people, in order to retrieve the values of indigenous female initiation rites which can critique patriarchy in the context of HIV and AIDS. This objective is achieved in the following steps. Firstly the function, the form and the practices of indigenous female Chisungu initiation rites are explained. Secondly, the gendered cultural values of indigenous female Chisungu initiation rites are demonstrated while simultaneously providing details of the symbolic meaning of the rites and the interpretation of the initiation songs and the sacred emblems (imbusa). Thirdly, how gendered cultural values of indigenous Chisungu initiation rites can be retrieved for HIV prevention is illustrated. Finally the importance of inculturating the values of indigenous female Chisungu initiation rites in the UCZ with regards to empowering women in the context of HIV and AIDS is explored.