26 March 2019
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Protecting girls from immoral initiation songs, teachings

Written by  Yamikani Yapuwa
The songs are invective -Steria Nyale, Pic by Yamikani Yapuwa The songs are invective -Steria Nyale, Pic by Yamikani Yapuwa

Blantyre, December 18: Steria Nyale was only 11 when she underwent the traditional rite of initiation at Mponde Village in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Mabuka in Mulanje District.

Initiation ceremony is a rite of passage for girls and boys among some Malawian cultures marking entry into adolescence.

The ceremony is characterised by songs and lessons that are invective or sexually suggestive in nature.

Although Nyale is 24 years old now, she says the songs sung at the initiation camp still reverberate in her mind –13 years down the line.

Nyale, however, says not all the songs taught are completely morally bad because some instilled in the girls a spirit of discipline and respect for the elderly.

“Some songs talked about how pleasant it is to sleep with older men compared to boys who do not bring pleasure.

“Some colleagues left initiation camps excited and eager to practise what they had learnt and experience the pleasure mentioned in the songs. As a result, most of them ended up being pregnant,” Nyale says.

Loveness Chimwala is an Akholodzolo (phungu) during such ceremonies in the area of TA Njema.

Chimwala confesses that presently, girls are still taught the explicit songs and how to tackle men, whether young or old during sexual intercourse by way of demonstration on the tricks.

“We still have the songs and there is nothing we can do as Akholodzolo to change. We just teach them as it is,” Chimwala says.

“Through the songs and lessons learnt, I have seen a lot of adolescent girls challenging older men to sex because they feel that they know all the skills,” she adds.

Group Village Head (GVH) Nankhonyo under TA Mkanda agrees that even the dancing antics are not proper for girls as young as 10.

“The dancing antics do not help matters either; they are provoking to men who end up admiring the girls’ skills at twisting the waist.

“The men eventually coax the girls into sex,” laments GVH Nankhonyo.

Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) Executive Director, McBain Mkandawire says the problem is that the songs and information is given to girls regardless of age.

Mkandawire says this against the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that every child has a right to access information commensurate to their age.

“Initiation ceremony is an important social activity in Malawi as evidenced from the excitement and hullabaloo that characterise such occasions.

“However, when we get closer to the camps, we realise that children are being given information that is not appropriate for their age,” he says.

He adds that counsellors should understand that they are not supposed to give the same information to a young adolescent girl and a lady who is ready for marriage.

“What is proper for one age group is improper for the other age group,” Mkandawire says.

He adds that when young girls are taught songs or counsel that is above their age, they use it wrongly resulting into early pregnancies and, at worst, HIV infection.

Executive Director for Coalition for Empowerment of Women and Girls, Beatrice Mateyo explains that the aspect of HIV/AIDS comes in the picture because adolescent girls cannot initiate or negotiate for safe sex.

 

“Generally, their socio-economic status also subjects them to vulnerability of gender based violence,” Mateyo says.

 

On the other hand, some language scholars also feel that the lessons in songs sung and lessons taught at initiation ceremonies do not only benefit the girls but also men in the society.

 

Chancellor College’s Literature and Popular Culture Lecturer Dr Emmanuel Ngwira says the lessons in such explicit songs and their intended purpose promote grooming of the female body for the satisfaction of men.

 

“For me, it is not just about explicit songs, but the lessons such songs carry. One thing is clear; these songs train girls to become good women who will satisfy their future partners.

 

“The training is ultimately for the benefit of men. It is rarely about women and their sexual needs,” Ngwira says.

 

Head of English Department at Chancellor College, Dr Ken Lipenga Jnr. adds that most cultural initiation songs also present models of how to be a woman to the young girls.

 

“That is why girls who are not initiated are looked down upon in most of the areas where the practice is common. They are regarded as uncultured or unskilled.

 

“In fact, they may feel undesirable to men who have grown up in the same culture. But this impact has noticeably reduced now compared to decades ago, thanks to education,” Lipenga Jnr says.

 

To change the landscape, Mkandawire says YONECO through the Comprehensive Action for Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW), is orienting Anankugwi and Akholodzolo (counsellors) in Mulanje to give young girls relevant and correct information.

“These initiation counsellors also give information about growing up to the girls and we want them to give it correctly and balanced based on the age of the initiates,” Mkandawire says.

“If they are able to teach them about their physical development, sexual and reproductive health, we should be able to deal with the problem of HIV/AIDS and early pregnancies,” he says.

One of the trained Nankungwi, Leonard Kamwala, says traditional leaders, all male and female Nankungwis from his area have now established a committee where issues of age, songs and lessons are tackled.

“We are sensitising one another on why we need to change the explicit songs as well as obscene counsel,” says Kamwala who has been in the trade for over 15 years.

“For instance, Masosoto always uses very explicit songs and we want it to change. We would like each one of us to be on the same page to avoid exposing the young ones to danger.”    

Meanwhile, Kamwala adds that initiation camps have now been divided into Chiputu and Ndakula or Masosoto with the former being for girls aged 2 to 12 while the later for those above 12.

The younger ones in the Chiputu camp are only taught good behaviour while focus in Ndakula initiation camp is on menstrual hygiene and good behaviour.

GVH Duswa under TA Mabuka confirms that things are now changing such that local leaders in the area are now working together with Anankungwi to ensure that girls are not taught explicit songs and lessons.

“Before any initiation ceremony, chiefs visit the camp and talk to the Anankungwis not to incorporate explicit songs and teachings that may encourage children to experiment sex.

“Those who break the new rules are made to pay two chickens or K5, 000 as a punishment. We want to protect our children from improper messages that might affect their future,” explains GVH Duswa.