WOMEN'S RITUALS AND NATALITY
AMONG THE LUVALE OF ZAMBIA
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
of Cornell University for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Anita Spring was born in Philadelphia in 1942. The family moved
to southern California where she attended Birmingham High School in
Van Nuys. For college training she attended the University of California
at Berkeley where she received her bachelor's degree in Chemistry with
a minor in Mathematics with the aim of teaching high school. Fortunately,
an interesting course in anthropology changed her direction. She obtained
a master's degree in Anthropology at San Francisco State College where
she worked as a museum curator in Adan E. Treganza Museum of Anthropology.
She attended Cornell University for the doctorate where she met and
married Art Hansen. They and their child, Akim Ben Hansen, went to
Zambia (1970-1972) to conduct this research.
She has carried out field work among urban, Black welfare families
in San Francisco, among the Washo Indians of Nevada, and among rural
New Yorkers. Her mathematical training was facilitated by participating
in the Summer Seminar on Quantitative Anthropology. She has taught as
a Lecturer at San Francisco State College and Cornell University. Currently
she is Assistant Professor of Behavioral Studies and Anthropology at the
University of Florida.
This dissertation is the result of field research among the Luvale
of Zambia under a grant from the Training Program in Anthropology of
the National Institute of Health (NIH MS-1256) and the Department of
Anthropology, Cornell University. I became fascinated with Central
Africa by reading Professor Victor Turner's books, and he suggested
the field site for this research. Mr. Charles White and Mr. James
Chinjavata, who know the Luvale so well, were helpful in allowing me
access to their materials.
I would like to express my gratitude to many Luvale friends.
Senior Chief Ndungu guided me to my research site. With the help of
Mr. Mose Sangombo, I learned Luvale history. Headman Mutonga and
Samwele Mukendenge allowed my family and me to live in their village.
Mr. Amon Nguvulu, Mr. Saputa, Ms. Nyadoris Salumayi, Mr. Thomas Palapala,
and Ms. Malina Chilila aided my collection of the data. My stay with
the Luvale was made more pleasant by the hospitality of my adopted
mothers, Mrs. Nyamusole of Mize and Mrs. Nyambete Kafwale of Chiyeke.
Many people in Zambia did much to aid my stay. The staff and
facilities of the Institute for Social Research, with which I was
affiliated during my stay in Zambia, greatly facilitated my research.
I am very grateful to Mr. D. B. Fanshawe of the Division of Field
Research, Kitwe, who identified the botanical specimens. To the staff
at the Chavuma Mission I am deeply appreciative. Ms. Joyce Finch and
Mrs. Esther Howell allowed me to interview at the Chavuma Mission
Hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Young, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Logan, Mr.
and Mrs. Mike Howell, and Ms. Grace Logan all gave me assistance and
My deepest appreciation goes to my husband, Art Hansen, who was
my field companion and who sacrificed so greatly during the 'writing-up'.
He provided a great source of inspiration at all times. My son, Akim
was given the name Chinyama after the famous Luvale chief. At two and
a half years he told everyone, in ChiLuvale, that he was Luvale and
his parents were 'Europeans'.
Finally, I am thankful to the members of my committee, and especially
to Dr. Bernd Lambert who helped me during my years at Cornell and with
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1
The Anthropological Study of Ritual 1
Ritual and the Community of Women 11
CHAPTER 2 THE PROBLEM: NATALITY AND RITUAL RELATIONSHIPS 21
Ethnographic Introduction to the Luvale 22
African Natality Parameters 29
Previous Studies of Luvale Natality 32
Postulated Causes of Low Natality 40
Research Focus and Hypothesis 44
Development of the Problem 48
CHAPTER 3 THE RITUAL AND MEDICINAL CONTEXT OF CURING 54
Life Crisis and Affliction Rituals 55
Spirit Possession Rituals 60
Types of Mahamba Cults 65
Illness and Medicinal Applications 73
Rituals and Medicinal Curing Experts 85
Rituals and Matrilineal Continuity 87
The Interconnection of Ritual and Natality 91
CHAPTER 4 LUVALE NATALITY DURING THE RESEARCH PERIOD, 1970-1972 94
The Research Population 94
The Fertility/Ritual Survey Population 102
Natality in the Survey Population 109
CHAPTER 5 MATURATION RITUALS AND ILLNESS TREATMENTS AS THEY
AFFECT NATALITY 120
Factors Affecting Natality 120
Age at Menarche 121
Rituals at Menarche 123
Natality and Marriage 130
Menstruation and its Medicinal/Ritual Treatments 135
Contraception and Abortion 137
Venereal Diseases 139
CHAPTER 6 MIDWIFERY TREATMENTS, CHILDBEARING AND CHILD REARING
RITUALS AS THEY AFFECT NATALITY 145
Rituals for Reproduction and General Illness 146
Midwifery and Childbirth 153
Child Rearing Rituals 163
CHAPTER 7 MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE: SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS 177
The Marriage Ceremony and Prestations 177
Marriage Preferences 182
Divorce Procedures 184
Property Settlement 188
Women's Social Placement 189
CHAPTER 8 REFUGEE WOMEN IN ZAMBIAN BORDER VILLAGES 199
Natality of Refugee Women 201
Marriage, Divorce, and Refugee Status 202
Refugees and Rituals 206
CHAPTER 9 CONCLUSION 213
Medicinal and Ritual Therapies Considered 213
The Positive Effects of Rituals: Matrilineal
Continuity and the Community of Women 216
Results of the Fertility/Ritual Survey as
Applied to Two Populations 218
Dysfunctional Effects of Ritual and Medicinal
APPENDIX A MAPS 228
APPENDIX B THE FERTILITY/RITUAL SURVEY 232
LIST OF TABLES
2.1 Age Standardized Child/Woman Fertility Ratios 35
2.2 Births per Year per Adult Woman 36
2.3 Births per Woman by Age Groups 38
2.4 Child/Woman Ratios 39
3.1 Luvale Mahamba Cults 69
3.2 Luvale Diseases and Treatments 76
4.1 Average Annual Growth of Zambezi District and Chavuma
Settlements, 1914-1969 96
4.2 Chavuma Research Population by Sex and Age 98
4.3 Sex Ratios (Males per 100 Females) 99
4.4 Child/Woman Fertility Ratios 101
4.5 The Fertility/Ritual Survey Population 107
4.6 Age Specific Rage of Live Births per Woman 109
4.7 Age Specific Fecundity of Village and Hospital Women 112
4.8 Childless Women in the Village Population 113
4.9 Reproductive Wastage of Village and Hospital Populations 115
4.10 Frequencies of Fetal Wastage, Infant and Child Mortality 116
5.1 Participation in Female Puberty Rituals 128
5.2 School Attendance and Ritual Participation 129
5.3 Marriage and Puberty 130
5.4 Natality in Marriages 132
5.5 Time from Maturity to First Conception 132
5.6 Rituals for Women with Dysmenorrhea 137
5.7 Women Obtaining Traditional Medicines to Cure Barrenness
5.8 Women Self-Reporting Venereal Diseases 142
5.9 Women Reporting Gonorrhea by Number of Live Births 143
5.10 Women Reporting Gonorrhea and Syphilis Combined by Numbers
of Live Births 144
6.1 Rituals and Treatments for Childbearing and General Illness 148
6.2 Women's Participation in Traditional Mahamba for Child-
6.3 Women's Participation in Ritual Performances 150
6.4 Women Obtaining Pregnancy Medicines 152
6.5 Reasons for Hospital Parturition 162
6.6 Child Rearing Rituals and Treatments 171
6.7 Women's Participation in Child Rearing Rituals 175
7.1 Marriage Payments in 1972 181
7.2 Marriage and Divorce Percentages in the Research Population 187
7.3 Divorce Ratios (Total Marriage Experience of Village Par-
turient Women) 188
8.1 Rate of Live Births of Refugee, Settler, and Town Women 201
8.2 Rate of Reproductive Wastage of Refugee, Settler, and
Town Women 202
LIST OF MAPS
1. Zambia and North Western Province 229
2. Zambezi District of North Western Province 230
3. Chavuma Area 231
WOMEN'S RITUALS AND NATALITY
AMONG THE LUVALE OF ZAMBIA
Anita Spring, Ph.D.
Cornell University 1976
Among the Luvale, a matrilineal people in Zambia, ritual participa-
tion operates symbolically to dispell dreaded reproductive disorders
and loss of children. Undergoing a series of spirit possession rituals
links living women to their deceased matrilineal ancestors, who wish
cult membership in these activities transferred to their descendants.
These and life crisis rituals unite related and non-related women. In
this way women form a community of sisters confederated by ritual
participation. Women desire ritual and medicinal participation
because through their endeavors they learn adult female esoteria,
create sisterly "communitas", and gain status.
The Luvale are a low natality population. The argument here is
that there is a relationship between this low natality and ritual and
medicinal participation. The components of low natality are maternal
sterility, high reproductive wastage, few live births, and high infant
mortality. The hypothesis is that traditional medicinal/ritual partic-
ipation depresses natality and increases infant mortality. Public
rituals do not contribute directly to low natality, but the utilization
of herbal treatments in the interlaced private phases have dysfunctional
consequences. The rituals serve as mnemonics which remind participants
to employ the herbal treatments and, in fact, enforce their usage. The
therapeutic style of application of these herbals contributes to
sterility. Further, socially supportive midwifery techniques negatively
influence natality by increasing stillbirths, neo-natal deaths, and
The hypothesis was tested by means of the Fertility/Ritual Survey
which was administered to two populations: Village Parturients and
Hospital Parturients. The Survey shows that the Village Parturients
have an extremely low birth rate, while Hospital Parturients manifest
a rate two and a half times greater. Two factors, fecundibility and
fetal wastage, are part of this differential natality. Most Village
Women complete reproduction in their early thirties while Hospital
Women continue reproduction until menopause. The rate of fetal wast-
age is twice as high for Village as Hospital Women. Village Women
have between two and four times the infant and child mortality as their
Patterns of natality and child mortality are reflected in the
diagnoses and choice of rituals. Women who choose traditional village
parturition also rely on traditional therapeutic techniques. They have
greater participation in ritual and medicinal treatments at puberty,
parturition, and for sickness. Women who select hospital deliveries
reduce their participation in ritual and herbal treatments and rely
instead on modern medical facilities. I argue that sometimes socially
supportive therapies may have dysfunctional physiological effects.
The Anthropological Study of Ritual
Anthropologists study religious ritual for a variety of reasons
and, therefore, approach the subject in several different ways. Three
theoretical approaches to the ways in which rituals function are that
religious rituals (1) relieve anxieties, (2) symbolically present a
people's beliefs about the workings of the world and their place within
it, and (3) are the "social glue" of society and function to unify the
group. The first attempts to account for the origin and continuance of
ritual. According to the second set of theories, the intellectual
structuring and categorizing of events is accomplished by relating human
experience to conceptions of the divine. In the third set of theories,
notions of the mystical are invoked to keep the interactions between
Homans (1941) notes at the conclusion of his article "Anxiety and
Ritual: The Theories of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown" that a study
of their theories illustrates
"a common feature of scientific controversies two dis-
tinguished persons talking past one another, rather than
trying to find a common ground for discussion, presenting
their theories as alternatives, when in fact they are
complements" (Homans 1942:172).
Malinowski (1931) said that ritual functions to allay anxiety and give
confidence to people when they feel a gap in their empirical knowledge.
Radcliffe-Brown (1939) argued that people experience anxiety when the
usual ritual is not performed. Homans put these theories together so as
to account for the origin of ritual and its continuance. Its origin
lies in the formation of "primary anxiety" which leads to "primary rituals",
he claimed. That is, people invent ritual when they feel anxious. How-
ever, people continue to perform "secondary" rituals to allay the "secondary
anxieties" they feel because of their need to perform the primary ritual.
In any case, the cultural rationalization for continuance is elaborate;
the ritual has "its own vocabulary of symbols" which does not produce
a practical result on the external world, but "which does function to
give the members of society confidence". Rituals dispel peoples' anxieties
and thereby "discipline the social organization" (Homans 1941:172).
This view recalls the Durkheimian theory that religion and its
symbolic system makes social life possible by integration and discipline.
Ritual maintains and expresses the sentiments and values of society.
According to Lessa and Vogt religious ritual itself "is a set of practices
through which the participants relate to the sacred" (Lessa and Vogt 1972:
223). Geertz (1966) holds a view similar to Durkheim's. He argues that
a group's "ethos" is made intellectually more reasonable by religious
belief and practice. Religious beliefs function to relieve "meta-physical
anxiety". These rituals symbolically fuse world view and ethos, thereby
shaping the "spiritual consciousness" of the society. For Geertz ritual
is consecrated behavior that cultural performance where symbols evoke
"the general conceptions of the order of existence" (Geertz 1966:28).
The second function of religious ritual, which assumes that they
structure reality as a people conceive it, necessarily attempts to deter-
mine the meaning of any particular ritual and its elements. According to
Turner, a ritual symbol's meaning comes from the context and the emotions
it evokes. It is also asserted that ritual symbols create the categories
through which people perceive reality. These categories are charged
with moral significance. So that ritual symbols call to mind moral
axioms as well as the organization of traditional knowledge. It is par-
ticularly useful here to note that Turner demonstrates the various mean-
ings of ritual symbols through an exposition of Central African ritual.
The Mwinilunga Ndembu people are neighbors of the Balovale and Chavuma
Luvale people who are the subjects of this paper.
Turner defines a ritual as "proscribed formal behavior for occasions
not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in
mystical (or non empirical) beings or powers" (Turner 1968:15). Each
ritual contains a variety of symbols which have many meanings. A symbol's
meaning contains its usage as well as any behavioral components closely
associated with it. One knows the meanings of symbols from three classes
of data: "(1) external form and observable characteristics; (2) inter-
pretations offered by specialists and by layman; (3) significant contexts
largely worked out by the anthropologist" (Turner 1967:20).
He then refines this by distinguishing three "components" of the
meaning of symbols. The exegetic that is obtained from indigenous infor-
mants, the operational that is observed when people act out symbols, and
the positional that refers to the relationships among symbols. Within
the exegetic meaning he defines two polar clusters, the "oretic" and the
"normative". The former refers to physiology and emotional experience,
the latter to moral norms and social principles. Turner argues that a
dominant symbol, the basic unit of ritual, captures and sums up "the
major properties of the total ritual process". It thereby brings the
"ethical and jural norms of society into close contact with strong
emotional stimuli" (Turner 1967:30). Dominant symbols may be seen as
unifying representations of biological processes and a moral society.
Some dominant symbols may in fact originate as what Douglas (1966, 1970)
terms "natural symbols" that people have invested with great value and
meaning. These are popular recognition of the human body and its environ-
ment that are a basis for cultural codes.
Turner details the meaning content of dominant and instrumental
symbols for life crisis and curative rituals of the Ndembu in several
books (Turner 1967, 1968, 1969). The rituals discussed in this paper
include many of these symbols Turner mentions with Luvale cultural
variations. However, the meaning of ritual symbols do not form the basis
of this paper, and hence, the reader is referred to Turner for this type
The focus of this discussion is the operational meaning of the life
crisis and curing rituals themselves, rather than of the symbols that
compose the rituals. Turner notes that the operational meaning is derived
from observing the "structure and composition of the group" that is
directly involved. In the rituals discussed in this paper, the patients
or clients are people who are ill or undergoing significant phases of
physiological or life cycles. The rest of the people who are directly
involved are relatives of the affected person and other people who have
previously experienced the same physiological states. Physiological
experience and kinship are the means by which the groups are recruited.
Another aspect of the operational meaning of rituals is the scheduling.
Physiological references, what Turner calls the "oretic" cluster, may not
only increase the meaning of symbols or rituals, but may also be the
primary purpose for the ritual. Paralleling the origin of "natural
symbols", these biological events have been invested with value and serve
to schedule rituals. Rituals then may act to reinforce the public obser-
vation of these experiences and remind people of the correct schedule of
treatments to be performed.
This aspect of ritual and ritual symbols emphasizes the informa-
tion stored in symbols and in the telic structure of the ritual itself
(see Leach 1966; Turner 1967, 1968; and Rappaport 1968). For Turner,
symbols are "multifaceted mnemonics, each facet corresponding to a
specific cluster of values, norms, beliefs, sentiments, social roles and
relationships within the total cultural system of the community performing
the ritual" (Turner 1967:1-2). For Leach ritual encodes bits of informa-
tion analogous to those stored in computers. Rappaport emphasizes the
ecological information that is stored in ritual systems.
Leach (1966) asks why there is so much repetitiveness in ritual,
why are messages repeated and repeated in various forms? What is behind
the redundancy? He answers that rituals are "information bearing pro-
cedures" and that the message systems are redundant and make use of many
channels in order to reduce ambiguity and facilitate understanding and
retention. The message is conveyed by the "patterned arrangement and
segmental order" of objects, words, and actions. What Leach calls the
"language of ritual" is condensed. There is a great variety of alterna-
tive meanings implicit in the same "category sets" which he likens to
mathematical attributes. The redundancy is necessary because of the
high degree of condensation. "In any event in ritual sequences, the
ambiquity latent in the symbolic condensation tends to be eliminated
again by the device of thematic repetition and variation" (Leach 1972:337).
Turner (1968) takes off from Leach's (1966) idea that religious
ritual stores and transmits information. Partof this information is
conveyed by material symbols, another part by the behavior of the partic-
ipants. Turner argues that the storage units are packed with data
which correspond to beliefs and values, norms and sentiments, and social
roles and relationships. Rituals are divided into "phases" or "stages"
to which "correspond a specific arrangement of symbols, of symbolic
activities or objects" (Turner 1968:3). Further, Turner argues that
underneath the observable structure of ritual is its telic structure,
the ends and the designs of action.
When I discuss below how rituals serve as mnemonics which remind
participants of their illness, its syndrome of symptoms, and the appro-
priate medications, I am referring to the ritual's telic or purposive
structure. Rituals are repeatedly utilized to ensure the use of herbal
treatments. Rappaport (1968) sees ritual as a regulator. He says that
among the Maring of Papua New Guinea ritual is a thermostat, a binary on-
off system which acts as a transducer-translator. He states that a
"change in the state of one subsystem into information and energy . .
produces changes on the second subsystem" (Rappaport 1968:229). Maring
rituals regulate relationships among pigs, people, and gardens. The regu-
lating mechanism maintains the variables within a specified range and
permits the continued existence of a system. Furthermore, he says, this
mechanism and its effects are not necessarily understood by the people.
Rappaport recognizes, as do I, the social and psychological functions of
ritual, but argues that sometimes rituals do produce practical effects.
Finally, both he and I use ritual as the simple qualitative representa-
tion of quantitative information.
The third set of theories which focus on the "social glue" nature of
ritual sees ritual as providing status differentiation on the one hand
and restoring harmony during conflict on the other. The restoration of
social harmony through ritual can be accomplished both through collective
participation and through a conviction that the performance of ritual
realigns people and sets the universe in order. Horton (1964) remarks
that during ritual people behave properly in order to enact the ritual
correctly. Once people are realigned in their dealings with the super-
natural, it is easy to transfer this proper conduct to interactions with
ForGluckman and many of the "Manchester School", rituals are
vehicles for status differentiation. In small-scale societies, where
people have complex relationships with each other, rituals function as
role-segregating devices. Gluckman (1962) focuses on the "ritualization
of social relationships" by which he means "stylized ceremonials in which
persons related in various ways to the central actors . perform pre-
scribed actions according to their secular roles" (Gluckman 1962:24).
By performing these actions, they "secure general blessing, purification,
protection, and prosperity for the persons involved in some mystical
manner which is out of sensory control" (Gluckman 1962:24-5). He dis-
tinguishes between ceremony and ritual. The former covers "any complex
organization of human activity which is not specifically technical or
recreational and which involves the use of modes of behavior which are
expressive of social relationships" (Gluckman 1962:22). Ritual, on the
other hand, is "distinguished by the fact that it is referred to 'mysti-
cal notions' which are patterns of thought that attribute to phenomena
super-sensible qualities which . are not derived from observation
or cannot be logically inferred from it. ." (Gluckman 1962:22).
Horton in his article "Ritual Man in Africa" (1964) provides
another answer to Gluckman's query as to why rituals frequently accom-
pany the transition from one role to the next. He argues for the real-
ization that "ritual man" is not an entity that exists simply because
he deals with and relates to mystical notions. Rather, a
"corporate group is apt to be defined in terms of the
[mystical] personal beings who are 'behind' the co-or-
dinated activities of its members. Because membership
of the group implies having one's life partially con-
trolled by such beings, becoming a member logically
involves a process of being put under their control"
He notes that members of the corporate group approach the mystical power
with "exaggerated emphasis" on proper behavior because the spirits stand
behind the moral norms of the group and are connected to the members'
observance of these norms. The members'behavior toward each other
reflects their willingess to observe group norms.
Using rites of passage and curative rituals Turner (1957, 1967, 1968)
describes a cyclical process in which the Ndembu utilize ritual to
resolve conflicts. He delineates four phases of this resolution: breach
between persons, breaking off of relations, ritual redress, and restora-
tion of order. It is during the third stage that the ritual procedures
occur. Turner cautions that "the outcome of this stage is never cer-
tain, and regression to a state of unresolved crisis is always possible"
(Turner 1968:89-90). Among the available range of Ndembu roles are
ritual ones, which, being sacred, aid in the restoration of peace in the
secular world. The cycle of social situations or social dramas allows
the disputes and personal hostilities to be kept within the limits of
the Ndembu social order.
Turner believes curing rituals are redressive. Each individual's
misfortune brings to light some specific and localized conflict in inter-
personal and inter-group relations. "Ritual is then invoked under the pre-
text of curing the patient (in order to). . settle the conflict" (Turner
1957:302). Not only does he view the disease as having a social cause,
but a social cure. Doctors cure social tensions by scrutinizing many
relationships. The doctors must make sure that people do not escape
responsibility for the sick person. There is sickness in the "corporate
body", he argues, and the doctor raises emotions so that all desire the
The argument here does not focus on the redressive aspect of curing
ritual but on the physiological basis for illness. Doctors attempt to
administer medication and perform rituals which are believed to be effica-
cious for the disease. The participation by relatives and "enemies"
in procuring the doctor, helping where necessary, and paying the large
fees undoubtedly contributes to harmonious relations and is socially
supportive, but all of these actions are undertaken in the first place
because the doctor's intervention is regarded as necessary for a cure.
According to Horton, nineteenth and early twentieth century writers
such as Frazer, Tyler and van Gennep, tended to view religious beliefs
as serious attempts to account for the world and its workings. Gluckman
and other modern successors, Horton claims, fail to see the "intellectual
content of religious and mystical beliefs" and so "tend to treat them as
nothing more than a sort of all purpose social glue" (Horton 1964:97).
Religion thus keeps the society running smoothly. Horton clearly comments
that he prefers to be "thoroughly old-fashioned" and return to the early
assumptions. For him African religious thought attempts to explain the
constants behind the chaos of daily sensory experience.
The functions of ritual I have mentioned (anxiety relief, category
structuring, "social glue") do not really contradict one another; in
fact, they seem to hold for rituals anywhere. They are adeptly demon-
strated for Central African societies by Turner (1957, 1967, 1968, 1969),
White (1948a, 1948b, 1961), Gluckman (1949, 1962), Richards (1956),
Wilson (1971), Colson (1969), and others. All functions apply to the
Luvale, a matrilineal people in Northwestern Zambia who are the subject
of this dissertation.
I will be concerned mainly with the ordering and storage properties
of rituals, however. Certain Luvale rituals act as markers of private,
personal phases of women's sexual and reproductive cycles. As the argu-
ment is developed in Chapters 2 and 3, public performances of such rituals
establish social control over private events. Although the rituals are
intended to be therapeutic, they require medicinal applications which may
have unintended and dysfunctional physiological consequences. Since the
public ritual performance phase may be discussed and named, this aids the
anthropologist in the collection of personal data which might otherwise
be difficult to elicit.
The discussion in this chapter sets the stage for the theme of this
dissertation the interconnection of ritual and demography. For an
account of ritual symbols or social dramas, the reader is referred to
Victor Turner's work, which was carried out so brilliantly among the
neighboring Ndembu. The way in which ritual and demography specifically
reproduction and natality come together is detailed in Chapter 2.
Ritual and the Community of Women
The rituals and medicinal treatments that are considered in this
dissertation are life crisis transition and reproductive curative
rituals for women. One consequence of many religious rituals is the
development of a system of clergy and laypeople, that is, of ritual
experts and their clients. Although it would seem obvious that women
participate in the creation and structuring of society through ritual,
many authors do not account for this. Sometimes women's participation is
generalized and viewed in terms of their fertility.
There is much in the anthropological literature on the symbolic
representation of women in myth and ritual. The archetypal symbolic
metaphors of femaleness such as "earthmother" and "witch", as well as
ideas of female pollution, have been dealt with by such writers as
Leach (1964) and Douglas (1966, 1970). Less has been written about
women's autonomous participation in ritual and the way this participation
articulates with social organization. In most writings women are simply
mentioned as ritual adjuncts, that is, pheripheral actors.
Ardener (1972) argues that women have been placed in "an ideologi-
cally more primitive position than men". He notes that women's behavior,
marriages, economic activities, and rites have been "exhaustively plotted",
but also that women have been placed in "a multitude of bounded categories,
the bounds being marked by taboo, ridicule, pollution, category inversion
and the rest, so ably documented of late by social anthropologists" (Ardener
1972:141). However, he claims that
. when we come to that second or 'meta' level of field-
work, the vast body of debate, discussion, question and
answer, that social anthropologists really depend upon to
give conviction to their interpretations, there is a real
imbalance. We are, for practical purposes, in a male world.
The study of women is on a level a little higher than the
study of the ducks and fowls they commonly own a mere
bird-watching indeed" (Ardener 1972:136).
In opposition to those who argue that man is to woman as culture is
to nature (e.g., Levi-Strauss 1969; Ortner 1973, 1974), Ardener claims
that men and women each have their own models in society. He stresses
that the "Hot Stove" argument* cannot be substantiated. Males and male
models of society have the perennial "problem of women". But women,
Ardener notes, have the "problem of men". The Bakweri of Cameroon that
he writes about clearly express this. Both sexes see the "nature"
aspects of the other sex. For women, the world of hunting and war is
"the wild"; for men, the world of reproductive powers is the "wild".
The wild each sex sees in the other is threatening.
Women have also been discussed under the rubric of fertility. In
Africa many rituals are primarily intended to insure the fertility of
people, animals, and land in other words the well-being and reproduc-
tion of the group. Wilson (1971) is very clear in setting out the nature
of these public and private rituals. However, she too is bound by male-
centered models, whether devised by anthropologists or by the men in a
patrilineal society. Nevertheless, her exposition of the functions of
African fertility ritual is useful and perhaps representative of the "female
as ritual adjunct" notion.
According to Wilson, there are four elements in traditional Southern
African religion: "The cult of the shades, the belief in God, the manipu-
lation of medicine, and the fear of witchcraft" (Wilson 1971:26). The
*This arguementholds that ". . women through concern with the realities
of childbirth and child rearing have less time for or less propensity
towards the making of models of society, for each other, for men, or for
ethnographers" (Ardener 1975:3).
first and third directly relate to the topic under discussion. The cult
of the shades is concerned with the lineal continuity of the descent
group, and therefore with fertility and health. There are a variety of
rituals for aiding people to recover from illness. Since the shades are
"concerned with the observance of tradition", the precise details of the
ritual are carefully encoded and handed down. Wilson says such rituals
are tradition-bound and virtually immutable.
Medicines are used in conjunction with the ancestor cult and
also control health and fertility. They give the bearer power. Wilson
states that people believe that
". . 'medicines' in Africa were thought to secure power,
health, fertility, personality, or moral reform; they might
be used to heal or deliberately to kill, to make a bride
'patient and polite' to her in-laws, a chief 'majestic' or
a judge 'compliant'. A Nyakyusa layman's view of 'medicines'
was comparable to that of an Englishman's view of atomic
energy: useful but horribly dangerous" (Wilson 1971:34).
She points out that medicinal substances are continually sought and need
not be necessarily traditional, even though they are often administered in
an unalterable ritual context.
Wilson concludes that "small-scale societies are preoccupied with
reproduction" (Wilson 1971:47). Procreative power is not left unattended,
but is highly controlled. She notes that different kinds of fertility
can, however, be antithetical or even hostile to each other. Hence the
Nyakyusa believe that "a woman must be careful not to bear a child after
her son's marriage lest that cause him to be sterile" (Wilson 1971:80),*
and that excessive fertility, such as twins, can be harmful. Wilson
says that fertility is also thought to be limited, and gives the example
*This is definitely a reflection of the male model of fertility.
of a woman with a field that was "unusually productive". She was
"believed to have enticed away the fertility from a neighbor's land"
The control of fertility in all its diverse aspects "turned on the
right use of sex". Wilson argues this fundamental principle implies
beliefs that sexually active persons are dangerous to infants, that
sexual abstinence is necessary during certain rituals, and that numerous
rules regarding menstruation and pregnancy must all be adhered to.
These beliefs, she reasons, are observed with concern for health on a
way comparable to the "rules of hygiene", and as such "were based, not
on observation of cause and effect, but on a feeling of likeness"
Wilson's descriptions of the theme of fertility as endemic to tradi-
tional African ritual fits in well with the material discussed later on.
My analysis below centers on the so-called reproductive processes of
menstruation, birth, sickness, and sex, the so-called polluting processes
as they indeed affect fertility. Analyses of the symbols based on these
physiological conditions have been carried out by Douglas (1966, 1970)
and Turner (1967, 1968, 1969).
In contrast to the situation in Central African matrilineal groups
discussed below, La Fontaine (1972) reports that patrilineal Bugisu women
are primarily spectators in ancestor-centered religion. She claims that
the creative and destructive (dangerous) aspects of biological events are
ritualized in order to control Gisu women whose reproductive powers are,
therefore, under the control of male guardians. La Fontaine then proceeds
with the typical analysis of the 'evil pollution' of menstrual blood, the
blood of defloration, and childbirth. She reminds the reader of "the
power of the girl's agnates to exercise control over their female members"
at marriage (La Fontaine 1972:172). She says "for the Gisu it represents
male control of the female physical powers of creation, a dogma essential
to the maintenance both of male dominance and patriliny" (La Fontaine
1972:172-3). Clearly, she repeats the fallacy Ardener discusses that
of focusing on the male model.*
I must disagree with other parts of her argument as well. She says
that "childbirth then transforms girls into adult women through the medium
of pain endured"(La Fontaine 1972:174). This would be analogous to a
claim that the initiate in a boys circumcision ritual only becomes a
man because he endures pain, and not because of the instruction given
him in the lodge and the legitimizing effects of the ritual.
She concludes that Gisu women's creative power is natural, and that
these rituals "harness the reproductive powers of women for the benefit
of men whose powers by contrast are social, not part of the natural order"
(La Fontaine 1972:179). Her aim is the construction of an ascending
scale which ranks women's physical and social maturation according to
the degree to which they are controllable and uncontrollable with the
latter being, it seems, involuntary actions. For example she tells us
that menarche cannot be prevented (or predicted) and is therefore more
"natural", and that only defloration is really under the control of men.
Parturition is somewhere in between, and therefore "mediates between
nature and culture as the product of the cultural control of nature (the
husband's defloration of his wife)" (La Fontaine 1972:180). La Fontaine
*Fortunately works such as Lois Paul (1974, 1975a, 1975b) on women's
models of reproduction in male-dominated societies show that it is
still possible to look at the same data and create different and more
attempts to set up a continuum of nature and culture, one of which is
for women the other for men. She says that "for women culture marks out
stages in their progress to maturity and surrounds the natural events
with symbolism" (La Fontaine 1971:181).
One of the best studies of women's rituals is Audrey Richards'
Chisungu (1956) about the girl's puberty ritual among the Bemba, a Cen-
tral African matrilineal society. Couched in terms of the occurrence,
interpretations, and pragmatic effects of these puberty rituals in this
part of the world, the book is complete in its description of the rites
and women's participation, even though the data for it was collected in
the early 1930s. The cultural setting, and the analysis of social struc-
ture and sex roles serve to focus the discussion. She discusses the
importance of women's rites to the "maintenance of tribal tradition".
Her focus is on how women's rituals relate to economic activities (agri-
culture and domestic cycles), biological processes (birth, sex, food,
health, and death), social customs (marriage, corporate lineage obliga-
tions) and cosmology (ultimate beliefs and values). The analysis is not
couched in "negative female imagery", but in terms of the legitimizing
functions of rituals, their use in the inculcation of attitudes and values,
and their usefulness to the society's structure.
Richards advances several hypotheses concerning associations between
matriliny and certain kinds of rituals. First, that there is "a connec-
tion between matriliny and girl's initiation ceremonies which emphasize the
importance of fertility" (Richards 1956:160). Second, that the young
husband in a matrilineal society is permitted to participate in women's
rituals of initiation and marriage to compensate for post-marital
uxorilocal residence.* Another hypothesis she tentatively suggests is
that in this particular matrilineal society there
may be a connection between the lack of open hostility
between the sexes and an unconscious feeling of guilt at
robbing the man of his children, which is expressed in
fears on the part of men that their wives will not respect
them unless taught to do so by the chisungu" (Richards
Among the Luvale, the girls' puberty ritual includes many of the same
phases found in the Bemba chisungu. But there is a great deal of sexual
antagonism expressed in certain phases through song and behavioral hos-
tility toward the opposite sex. This is true also for Luvale boys'
rituals.** White (1953) documents the phases of the Luvale girls'
rituals and much of the female esoteria as well. White, Chinjavata, and
Mukwato (1958) compare the Luvale ritual with that practiced among the
Bemba. Turner (1967, 1968) gives the episodes of the Ndembu boys' and
girls' rituals as well as the social field and conflicts surrounding the
occasions. He notes:
"There is a masculine ideal of a community of male kin,
consisting of full brothers, their wives, and sons. But
matriliny, strongly ritualized in the girls' puberty cere-
mony and in many cults connected with female fertility,
prevents the full realization of this ideal" (Turner
Undoubtedly, there is a feminine ideal of community among both the
Luvale and the Ndembu whose realization is prevented by virilocal resi-
dence. Perhaps it is better to recognize that a variety of models exist.
As Ardener cautions, some have currency for one group, some for the other,
but both exist and are equally legitimate models of society and for ethno-
*Luvale young men also participate, even though post-marital residence
**The Bemba do not perform initiation rituals for boys, perhaps because
this society is more strongly matrilineal.
The dramatic unfolding of the myriad ways in which women are cast
into public roles and take up parts in rituals is discussed by Spring
and Hoch-Smith (n.d.). These ways have implications both for the women
and their audiences, as well as for the creation of societal models. The
female nurturing roles, for example, come to have important connotations
for women's activities in many nonprocreative roles such as those of
midwife and curer. A midwife is associated directly with the role of
nurturant mother, while a female curer forms close, personal associations
with her clients by acting as a nurturant mother to them. Women who play
these roles come to form close and expressive personal bonds with other
women like themselves, thereby creating a "community of sisters" (cf.
Turner 1969). Such female communities provide an alternate, essential,
and basic model of human interrelatedness for the entire society. The
authors argue that they function to create horizontally affective asso-
ciations which cross-cut otherwise hierarchical social orders.
Several of the authors in this volume (Spring and Hoch-Smith n.d.)
demonstrate that women in some societies must learn much esoteric knowledge
to become ritually competent. Women have a great deal of domestic com-
petency which has been noted consistently. That they are equally competent
in the ritual realm is often overlooked. The learning of ritual eso-
teria also involves a great intellectual commitment. The "wise old
woman" of fairy tales is documented in real societies over and over
again. Additionally, an emotive relationship between ritual expert and
novice (adept) develops and is cherished.
In some societies individuals must undergo a mystical, personal
experience or calling to become a ritual official. Turner documents the
male experience of becoming a doctor. Paul (1975a, 1975b), Keirn (1974),
and Dougherty (1974) give the female. Among the Luvale, the path to
ritual expertise is marked by personal experience -- either the experience
of life's transitions or the suffering of illness. To become a midwife or
curer requires an arduous apprenticeship and training (see Chapters 3 and
6 below) which may take years. During this apprenticeship an ordinary
woman is transformed into a sacred professional. Although only a few
women become ritual experts, many women learn some of the esoteria as
they participate as patients, clients, and aides. Hoch-Smith and I argue
that "this transference of ritual knowledge and its accompanying power,
in passing from woman to woman, forms the basis of the charismatic sis-
terhood" (Spring and Hoch-Smith, n.d.:7).
In many societies it is common to find that female physiological
processes require that women come together for treatment, consultation,
and education. The ritual experts' job is to control and channel these
processes. In order to do this, they must be in communication with
divinity or the supernatural as well as having knowledge about healing
and reproduction. Women who are able to obtain supernatural legitimacy
through ritual often have much power. We conclude that,"When women's
ritual expertise is valued and when ritual participation opens the way
for the flow of power, women become important in the religious well-
being of society" (Spring and Hoch-Smith n.d.:8).
Although many of these female models of interrelatedness are to be
found in most societies, they may be intensified in matrilineal ones.
Richards (1956) shows that this is true for the Bemba, and the following
chapters document the phenomenon among the Luvale. Entry into the posi-
tion of ritualist is accomplished through the agency of female matrilineal
relatives. Women require these women ancestors to direct their fertility
and channel their ritual careers, for the two are inextricably bound
(see Chapter 3). Wilson writes for the Nyakyusa that senior kinsmen
control fertility within the lineage. A priest in this patrilineal
society said, "the shade and the semen are brothers" (Wilson 1971:31).
Translated into the matrilineal equivalent, this would say that the shade
and the womb are one, and that kinswomen control fertility within a
lineage. It is a common folk saying that "the child is father to the
man". But it may be a unique situation that in matrilineal societies,
women are ritually socialized and acquire ritual power through their
mothers and grandmothers.
THE PROBLEM: NATALITY AND RITUAL RELATIONSHIPS
The Luvale people live in Zambezi District, Northwestern Province
of Zambia. Historical, demographic, anthropological, and other written
sources in the past one hundred years point to the Luvale as a low fer-
tility population. Whether or not this low fertility is the result of
low natality or high child mortality, or both, forms the problem of this
dissertation. African countries, similar to other parts of the world
where contraception and family planning are not available on a wide scale,
have high birth rates. The Luvale, therefore, present an anomalous sit-
uation. Previous researchers postulated a variety of causes for this low
mortality. The more plausible factors include venereal diseases, mar-
riage patterns, abortions, and indigenous medical practices. An awareness
of the problem and possible variables enabled me to formulate a number of
pre-field hypotheses in order to guide my investigation. I was able to
collect precious statistical information necessary to deal with this com-
plex question. Further, my problem orientation led to intensive partic-
ipant-observation of crucial rituals and medicinal treatments.
The research, therefore, centers on the interrelationships of medicinal
and ritual participation and its consequences for natality. The hypothesis
which is presented here postulates that traditional medicinal/ritual
participation depresses natality and increases child mortality. Some-
what heretically, I argue that sometimes socially supportive medicinal
therapies may have dangerous and dysfunctional physiological results.
Ethnographic Introduction to the Luvale
The Luvale peoples currently reside in Zambia, Angola and Zaire.
Oral traditions document their movements in these areas in the last
three hundred and fifty years (White 1949, 1962; Turner 1955a, 1957).
A steady southeastern movement of people from the Lwena River, a
tributary of the Zambezi River, in Moxico District, Angola, has brought
Luvale into Northwest Zambia in the last one hundred years (Beet 1946;
White 1949a, 1957a, 1962a). The Luvale are part of a larger group of
Southern Lunda which includes Lunda and Chokwe; these peoples are
culturally similar to and descend from the Lunda empire of Zaire
(White 1949a, 1962a; Turner 1957; and McCulloch 1951).
Luvale in Zambia refer to themselves by this designation (Kaluvale
is singular and Valuvale plural). In the literature they are Lovale,
Malovale, Lobale, Lwena, Luena and the Balovale Peoples (McCulloch 1951;
Venning 1955). The latter category often includes Luchazi, Chokwe,
Mbundu, and sometimes even Lunda peoples. When people speak of "Mixed
Tribes" in the area they include Lozi, Nkoya, and Mbowe (McCulloch 1951).
The Lwena and Luena designations obtain in Angola. Kasavi (from the
Kasai River) refers to northern members of the Luena under Chokwe
influence. A derogatory Angolan term is Ganguella. In the Western
Province of Zambia, Luvale are known as Wiko and Mawiko, literally,
"people from the west" (McCulloch 1951; Gluckman 1949; and Symon 1959).
In Zambia, the Luvale population is 95,838 (1969), which comprises
2.4% of the national total. The majority of the Luvale (47,222) reside
in Zambezi District (Appendix A, Map 1) where this research was conducted;
another 26,609 reside in adjacent Western Province, 12,232 in urban
Copperbelt Province and 9,775 in other Provinces. The Luvale people are
well integrated into the Zambian national scene. They are described
ethnically here, not to promote tribalism, which runs counter to the
national motto "One Zambia One Nation!", but to consider pluralistic
Northwestern Province is sparcely populated, for the most part.
It accounts for 16.7% of Zambia's 290,586 square miles and 5.7%
(231,733) of the total population of Zambia's 4,056,995 (C.S.O. 1970).
Within Northwestern Province, one of eight provinces in Zambia, Luvale
reside in Zambezi (formerly Balovale) and Kabompo Districts. The Luvale
comprise 20.4% of the population of the Province and share its territory
with Southern Lunda (33.3%), Kaonde (27.5%), Luchazi (5.4%); Chokwe (4%),
Lamba (3%), Mbunda (2%) and others (4.4%).
Zambezi District (Appendix A, Map 2) is the district furthest from
Lusaka, the capital, and the most densely populated of the five in
Northwestern Province, with 25% of the population (53,494) and 15%
of the land (7081 square miles). Balovale was a sub-district from
1907 to 1929 and has been a District since then; it was renamed Zambezi
District in 1970. The administrative boma (government center) founded
in 1907 is located in the town of Zambezi, fifty-two miles south of
Chavuma sub-boma. The 200 square mile Chavuma area with its nine
settlements (Appendix A, Map 3) has its southern boundary by the
intersection of Chivombo Stream with the Zambezi River, and its northern
boundary at the Angolan border (latitude 130 South). The political
history with its continuous immigrations and emigrations of the area and
District is detailed by Hansen (1976).
Livingstone mentions the Luvale in passing, as do other early
travelers. The first ethnographic works of significance are those by
various Native Commissioners (Venning 1955 and Hudson 1935). The
important ethnographic accounts are by Charles M.N. White, a colonial
District Officer, later an Officer of the Government of the Republic
of Zambia, and a practicing anthropologist. White discusses economics
(1959), politics (1957a, 1957b, 1960a, 1960b, 1962b), social organization
(1955, 1960a, 1960b, 1962c), and religion (1948a, 1948b, 1949b, 1953,
1954, 1961; and White, Chinjavata and Mukwato 1958); much of his work
forms the basis of this present study.
McCulloch's study (1951) contains the basic ethnographic survey
of the Southern Lunda Peoples. The major anthropological investigator
in this part of the world is Turner, who studied the Ndembu, a Southern
Lunda group located northeast of Chavuma in Mwinilunga District. His
work centers on politics and social organization (1955a, 1955b, 1957,
1967, 1968) and on religion (1953, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1968,
1969). Miscellaneous ethnographic accounts on ritual and medicines
are given by Gluckman (1949), Gilges (1955), and Reynolds (1963). Hansen
(1972, 1976) gives an analysis of contemporary politics and economics.
Various linguistic analyses have been carried out by White, but his
many publications in this field are not listed as they are not germane
here. Horton (1953) has written a Luvale-English dictionary and grammar;
Chinjavata (n.d.) provides a short word list. Mytton (1971) brings
the national language question up to date. (Luvale is one of the eight
national languages of Zambia.)
Trapnell and Clothier (1957) classify the Zambezi District as part
of the Northern Kalahari sands, although there are a number of micro-
ecological zones with loamy soils within. The area is savanna woodland
on sandy soil for the most part. Luvale in most areas of the District
(and in Angola) practice shifting hoe cultivation with bulrush millet
as the stable crop. They are loosely settled on the edge of the
flood plain; their fields encircle their villages. Fields and villages
shift according to the chitimene cycle (Richards 1939). In the Chavuma
area, by contrast, Luvale are settled cultivators growing cassava
(manioc) as their staple, and maize and millet as supplementary crops.
People live in villages built close to the gravel road and population
density is high (see Chapter 4). Hansen (1976) gives a detailed account
of the Luvale agricultural systems, old and new. The only ethnographic
analysis of the Chavuma area concerns agricultural production and incomes
Luvale supplement their diet and incomes by fishing, seasonally
leaving the Chavuma area for fertile rivers, streams and flood plains to
the west. Fish are exported to urban areas and constitute the major
stock of Luvale "big business". In the recent past groundnuts were
exported to Angola, but this trade is defunct now as a source of cash
income. Since groundnuts are sold by women and fish by men, a declining
groundnut trade, coupled with a thriving trade in fish, has affected the
traditional economic parity between the sexes.
Luvale in Chavuma organize themselves into small matrivillages ranging
from twenty to one hundred individuals. The matrilineal principle
guides succession to the headmanship and ritual titles and the inheritance
of property, but there is a tendency for villages to fission (contrary
to White 1959) and few matrivillages have a depth of more than two or
three generations at present. Matrivillages tend to be circular and close
together. From twenty to more than one hundred villages are grouped into
an administrative unit under an administrative headman (nduna) who is
responsible for his people's conduct, and for keeping an account of
them for voting and taxation. Several administrative units comprise
each of the nine settlements (Appendix A, Map 3). The entire area has
the status of a sub-boma.
The actual composition of any matrivillage may vary, but generally
the village consists of the headman (chilolo) and his matrilineal
kinspeople, and their spouses and children. Marriage is virilocal,
i.e., the woman joins her husband at his matrilineal village. The
permanent residents are the men; women always are entering as in-marrying
spouses, and divorced or widowed mothers and sisters, and leaving as
divorced wives and marrying matrilineal kinswomen. The "classic"
matrivillage composition would include the chilolo and his spouses)
and pre-pubescent children, his uterine nephews and their spouses
and pre-pubescent children, as well as his mother and her uterine sisters,
and his uterine sisters and parallel female cousins who happen to be
widowed, divorced, or unmarried. Hence a typical village might have
eleven adults (headman, his two wives, his two nephews, their two wives,
his mother, her sister, one unmarried daughter and his divorced "sister")
and eight children (headman's three children from two wives, his teenaged
nephew, his two nephew's three children and his sister's child) or
nineteen people in all. Some villages are three or four times this size
(about sixty to eighty persons) while others are smaller. (The average
is approximately fifteen to twenty persons.) A village might initially
start with only a man and his spouses) and children and have as few as
People generally live with the descendants of one womb (lijimbo
limwe) which is traced back three generations. The low natality rate
discussed below has certain social organizational consequences; namely
that villages include many collateral relatives. All one's maternal
sisters are called "Mother"; one's paternal bothers are called "Father";
and one's parallel cousins on both sides are brothers and sisters.*
However, collaterals may impute a uterine relationship and use the
colloquial expression "their mother's were sisters" which is a mech-
anism for linking several "wombs" or matrilineages.
On the other hand, villages often include non-matrilineal kins-
people such as the headman's married son or brother's son and his fam-
ily, an old widowed woman formally married to a man of the village, and
"children of the village," i.e., sons of former slaves and their fami-
lies. Occasionally, low status itinerant males formed special relations
based on clanship affiliation and settled with a particular chilolo.
A village might have additional temporary visitors (e.g., for a three
The Angolan struggle (see Chapter 8) precipitated an acceleration
of Zambian in-migration which had occurred more slowly during the pre-
vious hundred years. As a result, matrivillages include greater numbers
of "non-matrilineal" relatives of the variety discussed above. Addi-
tionally, "sisters" and "daughters" of the village settle with their
families. Therefore, the development of brother-in-law (nyali) ties--
for it is usual to trace affiliation from headman to head of household--
becomes an important type of village affiliation, although it previously
*See White (1955) for a description of Luvale kinship terms.
The Luvale ethnic group owes political allegiance to the Luvale
Senior Chief, Ndungu, whose capital is fifty-two miles from Chavuma, on
the west bank of the Zambezi River, across from Zambezi boma. The
Chavuma Luvale would prefer a local subchief in addition to their senior
chief and at various times have installed one, much to the chagrin of
the colonial government and now the Zambian government. The area is
politically restless and fraught with ethnic conflict. A number of
conflicts and reconciliations that have occurred over the years are
detailed by Hansen (1976).
The ritual process of neighboring Ndembu has been excellently
described and analyzed by Victor Turner. Unlike the other culture areas
of Zambia, the Northwestern Province has puberty rituals for boys
(Gluckman 1949; Just 1972; Turner 1953, 1967, 1968, 1969; and
White 1953b, 1961). Puberty rites for girls, however, are not unusual
and many of the other Zambian matrilineal societies hold them. Both
Turner (1967, 1968) and Richards (1956) note that the girls' puberty
ritual is intended to confer fertility among the Ndembu and the Bemba
as indeed it is among the Luvale (White 1953a; White, Chinjavata and
Mukwato 1958). Richards postulates a correlation between fertility rites
and matrilineal descent "and in fact such a correlation seems to hold
good in Central Africa..." (Richards 1956:148).
In addition to life crisis rituals at puberty, birth and death,
affliction rituals of the spirit possession variety for illness,
reproductive disorders and "hunting misfortunes" occur also in Northwestern
Zambia (White 1949b, 1954, 1961; Turner 1953, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1968,
1969). Colson (1969) notes their presence among the Tonga and Symon (1959)
among the Nkoya. Among the Luvale and Ndembu ancestors control the
particular illnesses and misfortune of their descendants through a
series of affliction cults. Divination (Turner 1961; Reynolds 1963)
and rituals provide redressive action for the living (Turner 1957, 1967,
1968a, 1968b, 1969) as well as the devotion expected by the ancestors.
The curing technique relies on spirit possession and herbal remedies.
Gilges (1955), Fanshawe and Hough (1960), Turner (1964, 1967), Watt and
Breyer-Brandwyk (1962) and Githens (1948) record herbal usages and their
species identification. Finally, the general welfare of the realm and
residents fall under the surveillance of a monotheistic and otiose god
Kalunga (White 1948b).
African Natality Parameters
In order to discuss Luvale natality, it is necessary to consider
the general parameters of African natality and the type of data on
which these parameters are based. Natality, as a general term, repre-
sents "the role of births in population change and human reproduction"
(Shyrock and Siegal 1973:462). Natality, as used here, refers to the
achieved and volitional control of reproduction.
Most demographic data from African countries rely on census reports.
Registration of vital statistics is not unknown, but effective nationwide
systems are still to be implemented. Caldwell remarks that "incomplete
registration tends to lower the birth rate; incomplete census enumeration
tends to raise it" (Caldwell and Okonjo 1968:7). Many of the demographic
studies consist of sample surveys of two basic types, the retrospective
survey and the survey composed of successive visits or small censuses.*
*The retrospective survey "aims at securing vital histories for either
an indefinite or a specific period prior to the survey" (Caldwell and
The retrospective survey yields better information on completed family
size, but recall data are somewhat problematic. The second type, demo-
graphers feel, yields data with greater accuracy, but persons who are
born or die between censuses are omitted and no cumulative experience
is recorded. In any case, with the many national censuses conducted
before and after independence (e.g., Ohadike 1969 and C.S.O. 1970) and
with demographic studies (Caldwell and Okonjo 1968, and Brass et. al.
1968) it is possible to summarize the parameters of the nearly fifty
According to Romaniuk, "there are reasons for believing that a
birth rate of 50 to 60 per thousand is typical for African populations"
(1968:214). This seems high. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
and the Princeton team (Brass, Romaniuk, van der Walle, Coale, et. al.)
place the crude birth rate between 30 and 60 per thousand. Zambia's
rate was 50 per thousand in 1971 and those of other African countries
between 40 and 50 per thousand. Ohadike remarks that Zambia's crude
birth has always been high.
"The level of the 1963 census estimate, which compares
favorably well with levels for other tropical African
countries, can only pass as among the highest and was
shown to be between 43 and 52 births per thousand popu-
lation during 1953/1963" (Ohadike 1969:37).
Romaniuk also suggests a natural sterility of about 5% for women
of completed natality (over forty-five years). Certainly this rate
is usual in West Africa. Brass et. al. (1968:65-70) show rates between
10% and 25% in Angola and Zaire, while noting the underreporting of
children ever born in the Portuguese colonies and the venereal disease
in Zaire (Romaniuk 1968).
A consideration of the Zambian child/woman fertility ratio (769 in
1963) shows that the country comes closer to the high fertility developing
nations -- Ghana 906 (1960), India 775 (1930), Tunisia 778 (1956) --
than to the low fertility developed nations -- U.S.A. 477 (1967), Japan
397 (1955), and France 319 (1936) (Ohadike 1969:41-42).
The percentage of children under fifteen years in the total popu-
lation is about 40% to 47% in African countries. In Zambia they con-
stituted 46.3% in 1963 (Ohadike) and 45% in 1971 (Matras 1973). Ohadike
remarks that the median age of the population is low, making the popu-
lation type "young and progressive."
The infant mortality rate (deaths under one year per thousand
live births) in Zambia is unfortunately the highest in the world (259
per thousand). The rate in most African countries falls between 100 and
225 deaths per thousand (Caldwell and Okonjo 1968:11; Matras 1973:Inter-
face). The crude death rate per thousand population is twenty for Zambia,
which is somewhat lower than its neighbors Tanzania (twenty-two) and
Angola (thirty) (Matras 1973).
Zambia's (1971) annual rate of growth is 3.0% which means that
the population will double in twenty-four years. In this respect Zambia
is similar to Kenya. Matras gives the average rate of growth for
Eastern Africa as 2.6% and the number of years required to double the
population as twenty-seven, while in Southern Africa the average rate
of growth is 2.4 and twenty-nine years are required to double the
population (1971 figures). Demographers caution that the base popula-
tions of the country must be taken into account with these rather high
figures. Zambia's population, for example, is only 4,400,000 (1971).
The important component of the natural increase is decreasing mortality,
but in some areas, such as northwest Zambia, fertility is increasing too.
Some countries are beginning to implement family planning programs.
Demographers' opinions differ as to whether or not Africa is similar
to Europe at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in terms of
population growth, population movements (e.g., rural-urban migration)
and age structure (Caldwell and Okonjo 1968:14-15).
Previous Studies of Luvale Natality
From 1908 to 1932 the annual reports of the Balovale Sub-District,
Barotse District, make mention of the low Luvale birth rate, few child-
ren, high infant mortality, and varying rates of venereal diseases.
For example the report of 1908-1909 which contains census figures for
the jurisdictions of three administrative headmen, one Luvale, one
Lunda, and one Mbowe permits the calculation of the percentage of child-
ren to adults as 21.1%, 39.9% and 47.4% respectively. The report writer
"It is curious to note the small birthrate amongst the
Balovale tribe. Infant mortality of both Malunda and
Malovale is very high, but the birthrate of the Malovale
is extraordinarily low...yet the natives declare that
infant mortality is higher amongst the Malunda than
amongst the Malovale...Syphilis is unknown" (National
Archives 1909, 31/3).
Palmer, an Assistant Native Commissioner in 1910, writes:
"...the population enjoyed good health this year,...
infant mortality is very great and the birthrate very
low...There is very little venereal disease among the
Malunda and Malovale, and syphilis particularly, is
conspicuous by its absence" (National Archives 1910,
The annual report for 1930-32 estimates that the infant mortality
rate is 25% and that children comprise 35% of the population (National
Archives 1932). For reasons presently unknown, the 1925 report
computes the percentage of children according to the following formula:
"...to the actual head count of adults, the percentage of
children was estimated as follows: 58 1/3% of adult
females 25% male children and 33 1/3% female children"
(National Archives 1925, 31/3).
In 1926 and 1927 censuses were based on a hut to hut count, as
opposed to the previous method of Mafulo, or central camp census. Cal-
culating the percentage of children in the total population shows a
total of 25.6% for the eastern areas, and 26.0%if the lower Kashiji is
included. The Assistant Magistrate comments, somewhat strangely:
"A count of children in the Malovale villages on the West
Bank of the Zambezi shows the proportion to the total number
of males to be as 2:3, e.g., in Ndungu county I counted a
total of 2600 children and 3900 adult males. This is a
most unusual figure as far as my experience goes. Among
the Malunda and Malochaze the number of children is more
normal" (National Archives 1926, 29/12).
He does not say what is "normal".
In 1929 when Hudson served as the Native Commissioner, the
annual reports contain more useful data, such as the crude birth rate
(34/1000) and crude death rate (294/1000) (National Archives 1929).
The percentage of children in the population for all groups in the area
is 22.8% (Luvale 21.5%, Lunda 25.2%, Luchazi 17.5%, and Mixed Tribes
24.5%). The ages of children and adults were first specified in Hudson's
article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1935).
Previously, females were counted as children until menarche (14-15 years),
and males until the age of eighteen. The purpose of the censuses in these
early years includes taxation of most adult males and a few adult females.
The fact that in all these early censuses male children exceed female
children provides evidence that these same cut-off dates are not being
used. Nevertheless, calculating the percentage of children from Hudson's
census gives an overall ratio of 22.9% for the whole area (Luvale 21.4%,
Lunda 26.6%, Luchazi 20.6%, and Mixed Groups 23.3%). Hudson, as might
be expected, has his own theory to explain the low birth rate.
"Although it is somewhat outside the scope of these notes,
it may be of interest to state that the figures show the
percentage of births among the Valochaze and Valovale to be
extremely low; this is also true of the Valunda to a lesser
degree. The birth-rate amongst the Maliuwa, Mankoya and
Marozi is comparatively high. The reasons for the low
birth-rate amongst the tribes mentioned are believed to be,
(a) promiscuity in sexual relations, and (b) the extensive
use of abortifacients. Children are not wanted because men
have no further use for a pregnant woman, who is liable
to be cast aside to be cared for by old women while the
husband transfers his attentions and presents to others.
This state of things is not universal, but it is very
general. Among the Mankoya, Marozi and Maliuwa a woman's
value increases when she is pregnant; polygamy is more
common, divorce less common, the standard of morals in
matters relating to sex is higher, and children are de-
sired" (Hudson 1935:243).
Data on venereal diseases are consistent, from the early 1908-
1910 reports which note their absence, to the 1925 report which notes that
of 3876 recruits examined by the mine labor board, only six men were
rejected for venereal disease. The 1932 report, however, mentions a
campaign against venereal diseases. It reports that syphilis is common
(and is being treated with injections of bismuth) as is gonorrhea, which
is easily confused with bilharzia by the people.
The first reliable comparative survey of natality was carried out
in the early 1950s by Mitchell (1965) on an urban sample which contained
people from all the major Northern Rhodesian (Zambian) groups. The sample
consisted of a 10% random sample of African dwellings on the "line of
rail" towns (Lusaka to Ndola) during 1951 to 1954. Mitchell measured
fertility by the number of living children and computed child/woman
fertility ratios using children 0 to 5 years and women 15 to 50 years.
Mitchell distinguished four main categories: High Fertility
(Mambwe and Bemba), Moderate Fertility (Aushi, Luapula, Lamba, Nyanja,
Ngoni, etc.), Low Fertility (Lozi, Ila, Tonga, Lenje, Ndembu, etc.) and
Very Low Fertility (Lwena groups only, i.e., Luvale, Luchazi, and Chokwe).
Below in Table 2.1 are some of his figures, including all those for
Table 2.1 Age Standardized Child/Woman Fertility Ratios*
Province Place C/W Ratio '
N. Province Luwingu Mambwe 1043 High
N. Province Chinsali Bemba 962 High
N. Province Kasama Bemba 887 High
N.W. Province Solwezi Lamba 683 Moderate
Central Lusaka Nyanja 639 Moderate
Barotse Barotse Lozi 545 Moderate
N.W. Province Mwinilunga Ndembu 478 Low
N.W. Province Balovale Luvale 304 Very Low
N.W. Province Kabompo Luvale 217 Very Low
*From Mitchell 1965:9-11
He also showed that the Luvale group had the fewest births per year
per adult woman and the highest rate of childlessness. Additionally,
he compared the ethnic groups in his urban sample with a general demo-
graphic survey that had been carried out in 1950 by the Central African
Statistical Office. The Luvale and Ndembu again ranked lowest in the
ratio of births per year to the number of adult women (see Table 2.2).
Table 2.2 Births per Year per Adult Woman*
Ethnic group Demographic Survey Urban Sample
Mambwe .322 .288
Bemba and Bisa .223 .256
Tonga, Ila and Lenje .188 .125
Lamba and Kaonde .171 .189
Ndembu and Luvale .103 .109
*After Mitchell 1965
Mitchell also considered childless women as a factor in the
composition of fertility rates. In his total sample the proportion of
childless women stabilized at nine per cent. Among the Luvale (Lwena)
he found 47.8 per cent of all women over the age of thirty to be child-
less. This compared with 19 per cent among the Ndembu and 15.8 per cent
for the Lamba.
"A very high proportion of childless women will depress
the fertility ratio as it apparently does among the Lwena,
but the fertility ratio may remain high even if a moder-
ately high proportion of women are childless as among the
Lamba type people" (Mitchell 1965:15).
He immediately noticed the significantly differential fertility of
the ethnic groups. His first hypothesis suggested that disease and diet
influenced fertility. After checking into regional variation in disease
and diet, however, Mitchell decided that gonorrhea and syphilis, malaria,
and cassava eating could not account for the variations observed, since
these factors were equally apparent in areas of low fertility and in
areas of high fertility. The three significant variables appeared to be
ethnic membership, religion, and degree of commitment to urban life.
Of these three, much the most significant was ethnic group membership.
Mitchell concluded that the differences were neither modern phenomena
nor easy to explain.
In reference to the Luvale, Mitchell cited communications from
Graves and Gilges, two physicians who had worked in the Balovale District.
Graves said that most of the barren women he examined had various forms
of pelvic sepsis and salpingitis, resulting in infertility. In his
opinion these infections were caused by a number of practices such as
childhood intercourse, early marriage resulting in difficult labor and
consequent vaginal manipulation by village midwives, frequent abortions,
herbal remedies, and gonorrhea (personal communication quoted in Mitchell
Gilges said he could not clinically or serologically diagnose
gonorrhea or syphilis in many cases. Although he listed irritating
and toxic herbs that were used intravaginally, he could not detect
the aftereffects with the inadequate laboratory facilities at his disposal
in the district. Gilges argued that a genetic factor was responsible
(personal communication quoted in Mitchell, 1965:23).
A demographic study in a predominantly Luvale area (Kabompo) was
carried out in 1959 by C.M.N. White, a District Officer who later
wrote many articles on the Luvale. (see Table 2.3). White interviewed
216 Luvale women in Kabompo District. His figures thus reflect fertility
in the 1950s in the district that had the lowest fertility as recorded
by Mitchell. White found a child/woman ratio of 269, somewhat higher
than Mitchell's ratio but still very low. Using White's data, Mitchell
calculated a net reproduction rate of .8945, for him indicating a static
or slightly falling population (White 1959). Mitchell also calculated
the age specific fertility rate which measures the number of children
a woman entering her reproductive phase is likely to bear throughout
her life. The rate was 2.04 children or 1.02 female children; this
rate again indicates a barely static population. The population could,
however, maintain itself without immigration.
White argued that "the basic structure of the low birth rate appears
to be low fertility with a high proportion of women who are infertile,
and declining fertility among those who are fertile" (White 1959:55). He
then gave the rate of live births per woman in five year age groups
which demonstrated a progressive increase in the rate with increasing
age. The following table is derived by collapsing his age groups into
three categories, for ease of comparison with the Chavuma data.
Table 2.3 Births per Women by Age Groups*
Age Range N Number of Live Births Rate
15-29 years 73 69 .045
30-44 years 86 134 1.56
45-79 years 57 156 2.74
*After White 1959
White noted that seventeen out of twenty women in his 15-19 years
age group did not yet have a child. From this he argued that "childbear-
ing commences comparatively late" (White 1959:55). Since six women in
this group were not yet married, he concluded that the age of first marriage
was rising. In an earlier article, White (1955) contended that Luvale
women wait until they are in a stable marriage before bearing children,
and he posited extensive use of contraceptives and abortifacients in
the intervening years. His data above lend support to this contention.
However, the data from the Research and Survey Populations show an oppo-
site trend; and the data on marriage and conception I collected (Chapter
5) also contradict White's contention.
How does this compare with the general natality statistics for
Zambia in the nineteen sixties? Ohadike (1969) analyzes the 1963
Zambian census and calculates child/woman ratios. He uses a different
age grouping, children 0 to 4.5, and women 15.5 to 45.5, and reports a
ratio of 769 for all of Zambia and of 563 for Northwestern Province.
Northwestern Province shows the lowest ratio in Zambia.
Using figures for the 1969 census (C.S.O. 1970), I calculated ratios
using both age groupings.
Table 2.4 Child/Woman Ratios*
Area C0-14.5 15-44.5 C0-515-50
Total Zambia 867 798
Northwestern Province 675 603
Zambezi District 560 482
Northwestern Province is again lowest in Zambia, and Zambezi District is
lower than the provincial mean.
From a consideration of data from the 1940s (Mitchell 1965; Central
Statistical Office 1950), the 1950s (White 1959), and the 1960s (Ohadike
1969; C.S.O. 1970) two trends become clear. First, the fertility of Zambia
and Northwestern Province is increasing. Second, even though there is
this general increase, the fertility in Northwestern Province was lower
in the past than the national average, and remains lower at present.
The first trend is understandable in view of the increased medical
facilities to treat venereal diseases and malaria, and to provide more
extensive maternity care. The second generalization, reduced natality,
forms the subject of the following discussion.
Postulated Causes of the Low Natality
Several possible causes for low natality among the Luvale are
suggested in the literature: (1) venereal disease (Romaniuk 1968),*
(2) ethnic or tribal group membership (Mitchell 1969), (3) genetic
factors (Gilges quoted in Mitchell 1968), (4) indigenous medical prac-
tices (Hudson 1935; Gilges 1955), (5) malaria (Mitchell 1965), (6) a
cassava diet (Mitchell 1965), (7) contraception and abortion (Hudson
1935; White 1959, 1961), and (8) marriage patterns (McCulloch 1951) and
promiscuity (Hudson 1935; White 1959, 1962c).
Perhaps the best case for low natality can be made for venereal
disease as a cause of low natality. Romaniuk (1968), a demographer who
studied infertility in Zaire, argues that sterility is "physiological
and not voluntary" and is caused by venereal disease, primarily gonorrhea.
He uses the birth rate figure of 50 to 60 per thousand as typical for
African populations as expected in a population. .
"(a) not resorting to birth control to any significant extent
(b) practicing universal and early female marriages, and
(c) subject to a low expectation of life at birth" (Romaniuk
*Other diseases, such as bilharzia, might affect fertility, but there
is little data on the subject.
He estimates "natural sterility" (the proportion of childless women over
45 years) at about five per cent in this type of population. Hence,
birth rates of 20-40/1000 characterize populations of low natality or high
infertility. Concluding that birth rates in Africa cannot be attributed
to matrimonial factors polygynyy, high conjugal mobility, and early and
universal marriage), diseases and malnutrition, and traditional abortion
and contraception, he advances the hypothesis that venereal disease is
the major cause of infertility.
Romaniuk bases his argument on two types of evidence--statistical
correlations of venereal diseases, sterility, and birth rates; and the
results of clinical examinations of sterile women. He uses venereal
disease rates based on hospital dispensary-medical survey records.
Although these records are inadequate to measure absolute levels of
the diseases, they prove useful in checking regional covariation of
venereal disease levels, sterility and birth rates. He therefore finds
a high negative correlation (-0.82) between syphilis/gonorrhea and the
birth and sterility rates. Gonorrhea is more important than syphilis in
affecting infertility; however, it is also much more difficult to diag-
nose. For example, a Ugandan study (Griffith 1963 quoted in Romaniuk)
finds a high negative correlation (-0.59 and -0.64) between fertility
rates and the manifestation of gonorrhea.
Romaniuk's clinical evidence is based on a study conducted by Dr.
Allard who examined 578 childless women in Zaire. Dr. Allard's examin-
ation reveals a large number of anomalies including various lesions of
the genital tract (348 cases), pathological conditions of the uterus
and tractus obstruction (182 cases), vaginal stricture (26 cases), and
inflammation of the genital tract (188 cases). An examination of
menstrual problems disclosed 206 cases of irregular cycles, 396 cases of
dysmenorrhea and 185 cases of hypermenorrhea. The interesting point is
that although Allard attributes many of the above to "various complica-
tions traceable to gonorrhea", actual microscopic verification could
be made in a minute number of cases (18 out of 70) (Romaniuk 1968:221).
Many reports (e.g., World Health Organization 1963) stress the
difficulties of laboratory culture demonstrations. Gilges (in personal
communication quoted in Mitchell 1965) reports that he was unable to
diagnose seriologically either gonorrhea or syphilis among the Luvale.
Others such as Welche (quoted in Romaniuk) have observed that
natality is not low in some populations where venereal disease is high.
Mitchell (1965) makes the same point of Zambian groups and cites the
Northern Province as notorious for having the highest rate of venereal
disease, as well as having the highest birth rate in the country. Welche,
however, has postulated differential sensitivity to gonorrhea. In
regard to origin of gonorrhea he mentions the possibilities of "being
either a bacteriological problem, perhaps associated with some gonococcal
mutation, or a histological phenomenon in the sensitivity of the mem-
branes" (Romaniuk 1968:221).
In sum, although many consider Romaniuk's as the final proof of
the correlation of venereal diseases and low natality, the data are
far from convincing; the problems of actual clinically valid diagnoses
of gonorrhea and syphilis are difficult. At the same time gynecologists
are clearly able to notice physiological anomalies and inflammations.
My contention, also supported by Dr. Felice Savage King, a gynecologist
who practiced in Zambia (personal communication) and mentioned by Dr.
Welche above, is that bacteria and non-gonococcal material may contribute
and/or be solely responsible for sterility causing pelvic sepsis and
Romaniuk in examining other possible causes of infertility mentions
the earlier held belief that African low fertility is ascribable to . .
"(a) induced abortions and resulting complications; or
(b) post-coital infusions used as prophylactic devices"
White (1959, 1962c) and Hudson (1935) believe that abortifacients are
in regular and systematic use among the Luvale. The reason for this,
Hudson has argued, is that pregnant women are not desirable or wanted
and promiscuity is widespread. White argues that women wait for stable
marriages. (Counterarguments will be presented in Chapter 5.) In fact
White and Hudson are correct in their observation of the widespread
use of intra-vaginals. But they were mistaken in attributing their use
as post-coital contraceptives and abortifacients.
Romaniuk admits that if infusions are used systematically they
may have a marked effect on natality. No previous researchers in
Zambia, who have primarily been males, have studied the problem in
detail. Even if they had, they would have been barred from observing
parturition, gynecological examinations and gynecological treatment of
diseases because of the strong tradition which allows members of the
same sex to be present. It is also considered shameful to discuss many
of these treatments and procedures; Luvale men are as unaware of them
as are male doctors and researchers. Hence, whereas many doctors and
researchers make the "observation" that intra-vaginals are widely employed
they assign incorrect uses to these medicines, and thus underestimate
their importance as fertility depressants. The affects of these treat-
ments upon natality cannot be clearly anticipated until their timing and
usage in relation to the processes of conception and parturition are
Research Focus and Hypothesis
This discussion focuses on a low natality population and the factors
that contribute to this state. Before commencing field research, I was
cognizant of Luvale low natality from earlier reports (Hudson 1935; White
1959; and Mitchell 1965). The literature also revealed the existence
of numerous rituals concerned with natality, specifically affliction
cults for reproduction and childrearing (White 1949b, 1953, 1961, 1962c;
White, Chinjavata and Mukwato 1958; Turner 1957, 1967, 1968, 1969;
and McCulloch 1951).
My research, therefore, centered on the interrelationship of medi-
cinal/ritual participation and natality. I wanted to focus on women's
natality problems in relation to disease and specify which categories
of women were ritual experts, and which were simply patients. Among
other activities, this focus would entail the analyses of ritual, the
life cycle, and the recruitment of ritual and medicinal personnel.
As a result of my analysis, I now suggest that the following sequence
occurs among the population studied. Medicinal/ritual participation is
personally desired by most Luvale women and men, except those who are
Christians, or consider themselves "modern". This desire, and occurrences
of reproductive problems and general illness, increase the extent of
medicinal and ritual participation. Medicinal/ritual participation,
in turn, decreases natalityand increases infant mortality. I hypothesize,
first, that in the treatment of reproductive disorders, the indigenous
medicinal/ritual therapies may inadvertently cause sepsis which results
in infertility. And second, faulty midwifery techniques increase still-
births and neonatal deaths and thereby lower natality as well.
The prevailing anthropological view on curing is that whatever the
technique, curing is generally beneficial to the individual or group
by providing catharsis for social tensions and by manifesting social
solidarity (Levi-Strauss 1962; Turner 1957, 1967, 1968, 1969; Beattie
and Middleton 1969; Douglas 1966, 1970; Curley 1973; Lewis 1966; and
Wilson 1967). According to this view, the beneficent magical techniques
do not harm the patient even if he or she is not cured; however, his or
her condition may deteriorate naturally. That there are definite
social benefits of curing rituals is obvious to all, including this
researcher. In the course of treatment attention is focused on the
patient and his or her kinspeople, social dramas are enacted, and breaches
are redressed. However, the actual illness and recovery of the patient
may be overlooked in the process.
A few researchers have questioned the efficacy of certain cures and
curing techniques (Harner 1973; Symon 1959; and Phillips 1959). They
have remarked that the cure may be worse than the disease, or in fact,
may worsen the patient's condition. Western medical tradition is filled
with examples of discarded treatments that did not work, "in spite of
all good intentions". If the anthropological researcher inquires
about the physiological efficacy of the cure as well as the social bene-
fits derived from it, then deleterious as well as beneficial aspects
of curing techniques must be considered.
As it happens, two of the few studies that record not only the
treatments but their efficacy were also carried out in Zambia, one
among the Shila people of Northern Province and the other among the
Wiko peoples of Mankoya District, about 350 miles south of Chavuma.
Luvale people, outside of their own territories are called Wiko or
Mawiko (Gluckman 1949; McCulloch 1951), so the second study may have
dealt with the same ethnic group that is the subject of this disserta-
tion. Dr. Phillips' study of blindness in the Kawambwa District shows
a blindness incidence of 2,369 cases per 100,000 population, which
is extraordinarily high. He demonstrates that the cause is neither the
parasite that causes river blindness nor malnutrition, but rather the
customary Shila treatments of often minor eye infections. Phillips,
an ophthalmologist, realizes that conjunctivitis and measles may ini-
tiate the infection. He remarks, however, that
"These diseases do not normally lead to blindness of such
extent met with on this survey even if left untreated...
My conclusion is that the universal use of customary Afri-
can treatments supplies the necessary "noxious factor".
When in powder form these treatments must be highly injur-
ious from their abrasive action...When in liquid form they
may be harmful by reason of their alkalinity, chemical
toxity or by introducing into a diseased eye fungus infec-
tion or virulent organisms with the concoction" (Phillips
Phillips performed pH determinations and found that while most herbals
were acidic, one common herbal was highly alkaline, making it particu-
Symon, the Resident Commissioner of Mankoya District, simply
recorded Wiko medicinal treatments for eye, nose, throat, intestinal,
and venereal diseases. (Phillips also surveyed the area with him, but
obviously did not find the same high incidence of blindness.) Never-
theless, Symon remarks that he has refrained "from giving any views of
the efficacy of any of the treatments other than the opinions given...
by the Africans themselves". However, he continues to say that some of
the medicines are extremely deleterious, while others are extremely
"There is no doubt in my mind that the high incidence of
blindness amongst the Wiko tribes can be largely attri-
buted to the use of indigenous medicines, either the
medicine itself or from the method of application" (Symon
On the other hand, Symon is much impressed with the efficacy of cures
for chest ailments (including tuberculosis). Further, Apthorpe, in
the introduction to the monograph, notes that a widely used drug in
European hospitals, strophantine, is known as a result of Livingstone's
and Kirk's observations of Zambezi herbals (Symon 1959:iv).
Turner's account of Lunda medicines (1967) lists those herbals
for eye diseases which are mixed with water and applied to the eye.
Two of these are listed by Symon. Turner says the efficacy of the
herbs are derived from its "bitterness."
"Bitterness is wukawu or the verbal noun kulula. Ndembu
say that "wukawu" can "stick to (ku-lamata) the disease,
"like a leech" (neyi izambu), until it dies" (Turner
Symbolic "bitterness" notwithstanding, these medicines would have dele-
terious effects if used with the same frequency and in combination with
other herbals as by the Shila.
Numerous ethical queries hounded my research and discovery. My
purpose, as always stated, is to examine causes for natality and to study
curative rituals. It is not to write an expose of a people's medicinal
practices. Unlike previous medical personnel (e.g., Phillips), hygiene
officers (e.g., Symon), and missionaries, I am not appalled and suspicious
of non-Western medical traditions. Nor do I find it a "heathen" practice
to live in the pre-germ theory world. At the same time, unlike some
anthropologists who find all herbal remedies and indigenous treatments
"groovy", I realize some are wonderful while others are not. I am
compelled to state the harmful as well as the beneficial consequences
of curing rituals. I hope that my readers will keep this dilemma in
mind when they turn to the discussion of the cultural factors responsible
for low natality among the Luvale.
Development of the Problem
This chapter has summarized the literature on the low Luvale natality
and its possible causes. Various authors have attempted to determine
the factors responsible for this situation; these include venereal diseases,
ethnic affiliation, genetic factors, indigenous medical practices,
malaria, diet, contraception and abortion, marriage patterns, and promis-
cuity. Ascertaining the influence of these factors and their contribu-
tions to low natality for any specific population is difficult without
an extensive medical survey that includes physical and laboratory exam-
inations. However, anthropological research among a specific population
can reveal volitional control of natality and therapeutic medical and
ritual practices which increase or decrease natality and mortality, while
demographic surveys reveal natality, mortality and marital parameters.
Previous studies have attempted to correlate the presence and inten-
sity of a factor with the existence of regional pockets of low natality
in tropical Africa. Venereal diseases and ethnic affiliation have shown
consistently high correlations with differential natality while malaria,
diet, and marriage patterns have not. Genetic factors and indigenous
medical practices have received less attention and have proven more
difficult to specify and measure. Although fertility is affected by
induced abortions with resulting complications, as well as by postcoital
prophylactic infusions, Romaniuk qualifies the importance of indigenous
medical practices by noting that they must be in general and systematic
use before their existence would have a significant effect. Previous
researchers have mentioned Luvale use of postcoital infusions and abor-
tifacients, but fail to clearly understand the systematic use of
medicines intra vaginam.
Chapter 3 focuses on the cosmology of the ritual and medicinal sys-
tem. Ritual cures require herbal medicinal treatments; the ritual struc-
ture locks these treatments into place, so that they occur on schedule.
The schedule itself centers on a woman's reproductive and menstral cycle.
Difficulty in conceiving, bearing, and rearing children establishes the
need for treatment. Most treatments require intra vaginam application of
herbals in conjunction with ritual performances. The intravaginals are
used systematically and frequently, and their use coincides with the
patient's greatest vulnerability and susceptibility to infection. Ritual
performances not only relieve tensions as all treatments help to do, but
both hinder and aid the reproductive disorders. Women in their repro-
ductive years who are living away from their matrilineage turn toward
traditional spirit possession cult rituals both to quell the physiologi-
cal disorders and to aid matrilineal continuity.
Chapter 4 surveys the natality of two Luvale populations during
the research period. The Research Population survey shows that Luvale
natality presently is greater than in the past, but continues to be the
lowest in the nation. Decreasing mortality and increasing natality due
to hospital parturition contribute to the rise. The second population
consists of Village Women and Hospital Women to whom a Fertility/Ritual
Survey was administered. A comparison in terms of their natality and
mortality shows differential birth and death rates. Village Women have
a static birth rate that does not increase with age, whereas Hospital
Women have a birth rate that does increase. Village Women have reduced
fecundibility, such that their reproductive spans are about half that
of Hospital Women. Village Women manifest high fetal wastage; their
miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal, and infant death rates are nearly
twice as high as those of Hospital Women.
Is the place of parturition significant to such an extent that it
accounts for differential natality and mortality? Chapter 5 shows that
parturients share a number of characteristics. Women who choose tradi-
tional parturition also rely on traditional therapeutic techniques; they
have greater participation in rituals and medicinal treatments. Women
who select the hospital for childbirth reduce their participation in
rituals and herbal treatments, rely on modern medical facilities for
their (and their childrens) illnesses, and attend school. Village
Women undergo traditional puberty, menstruation and general illness
treatments and rituals. Hospital Women opt for the shortened puberty
ritual which does not hinder schooling. Older women in each population,
for the most part, participate in the traditional ritual patterns more
than younger women. All age groups in both populations do not seem to
differ in terms of time of first conception which occurs generally two
years after menarche, whether they are married or not. Neither population
systematically uses abortifacients and contraception techniques. Iron-
ically, volitional contraception relies on non-vaginal treatments.
Chapter 5 also notes the prevalence of self-diagnosed venereal diseases
which probably contributes to low natality. Hospital Women manifest a
significant amount of the diseases, yet continue to bear live children;
undoubtedly, their continual use of hospital treatments is advantageous.
Chapter 6 considers the sequence of rituals for reproduction, child-
bearing, and childrearing. Commencing with pregnancy, minor rituals and
large public spirit possessions protect the women. Herbal medicines are
applied privately as well. Traditional midwifery is supportive socially,
but requires a multitude of genital manipulations and herbal applications
in the labor, delivery, and postpartum periods. The midwife's job is
complicated and lengthy; she performs minor rituals and medications to
guard ("cure") the child during the difficult postnatal period. Although
many Hospital Women account for their willingness to give birth in the
hospital by a desire to avoid paying the midwife's fee, numerous others
mention their dislike for the traditional intravaginal applications, the
arduous "pushing" demanded, and the many spectators at a childbirth.
Further, babies delivered in the hospital are not subjected to the
traditional rigors of the first week of life, although a "curing"
ritual is performed secretly for them after hospital hours.
The spirit possession doctor gives protection to the child in the
chipango (fence) type rituals. Ritual and medicinal treatments for a
child depend upon its mother's marital and childrearing history, as
well as on the family's economic situation. Women with poor records,
who undergo either the small or large fence rituals, become the center
of attention and receive instruction in proper techniques of childrearing.
The fence itself acts as a quarantine which protects the child from
contact with most other people. Special attention accords to the reduced
number of surviving children. Again, Village Women have greater partici-
pation in all rituals; however, Hospital Women do not abandon minor child-
rearing rituals as protective and undergo the small fence ritual for their
children and themselves.
Chapter 7 discusses marriage, divorce, and social placement.
Generally, women maintain independent social positions based on their
ritual and economic roles. Women marry and divorce a number of times
during their lifetimes which facilitates a separate status system. In
the past women's economic contributions equaled men's. However, a reduc-
tion of various agricultural markets for women's crops coupled with a
diversification of men's incomes have decreased women's incomes at present.
Women do not usually hold local level political offices, but are fre-
quently rulers of the realm. Women chiefs are known for peaceful reigns
and for quelling disturbances in the chieftancy itself. They choose
their own consorts and provide dynamic role models in a society where
people have much contact with their leaders. Luvale women like Luvale
men are autonomous persons with bold personalities.
Chapter 8 focuses on refugee women. Refugee women's natality
reflects Luvale natality conditions in the past. The lack of maternity
and modern medical facilities in Angola resembles the Zambian situation
earlier in this century. The presence of refugees adds continued support
for traditional ritual participation. Because women's ritual participa-
tion uses esoteric knowledge rather than wealth or political position,
refugee women assimilate more easily than refugee men into the Zambian
scene. Also, they quickly marry Zambian men to obtain material well-being.
The mobility women have as in-marrying wives, and their ready acceptance
into the ritual sisterhood, allow women to participate fully in social
life wherever they are.
Finally, the argument of this dissertation may be summarized here.
There is a relationship between Luvale ritual and medicinal participation
and Luvale low natality and high infant mortality. Ritual participation
includes performances of a series of traditional fertility spirit possession
cults which operate symbolically to dispel the dreaded reproductive dis-
orders and to prevent the loss of children. The spirit possession state
itself does not contribute to low natality. However, the utilization of
herbal treatments in the private phases of the ritual has harmful con-
sequences. The rituals serve as mnemonics which remind participants
to utilize the herbal treatments, and in fact, enforce their use. The
therapeutic style of application (intra vaginam), which is used for many
illnesses and during parturition, contributes to sterility through pelvic
sepsis and salpingitis. Luvale midwifery techniques most dramatically
influence natality and mortality by increasing stillbirths, neonatal
deaths, and maternal sterility.
Yet women value ritual and medicinal participation as a means for
learning adult female gender roles (esoteria), for creating sisterly
"communitas", and for gaining ritual placement. The septic therapeutic
style, with all its dysfunctional physiological consequences, is part of
a ritual system that is socially supportive.
THE RITUAL AND MEDICINAL CONTEXT OF CURING
This chapter commences with a distinction between rituals of passage
and affliction plus a brief description of Luvale disease causation in
order to place ritual cures in context. Ancestral intervention occurs in
all stages of reproduction. In order to discover the cause of an illness
or malfunction and to determine what remedial action is to be taken,
the individual and his or her family rely on divination. The diviner
and this ethnographer's methods are parallel in that each uses the
sufferer's natality profile to ascertain the cure. The path of treatment
involves a combination of herbal applications and spirit possession rit-
uals. Mahamba, the generic name of spirit possession rituals, include
traditional cult performances for illnesses and reproductive crises
caused by the ancestors. In addition, air spirit cults offer new treat-
ments for general illness, and perhaps for the new "modern" conditions.
They are not used for reproductive ailments or for children's illnesses.
The argument here is that the scheduling of spirit possession is
not primarily determined by the existence of conflicts, but by the inci-
dence of physiological conditions. Evidence in Chapter 4 documents these
conditions as reproductive disorders, miscarriage, stillbirths, and
neonatal deaths. The reason this epidemic obtains for the Luvale (and
probably neighboring Luchazi who share many of the same cultural
traditions) relates to the therapeutic style of medicinal treatment of
illness. Numerous medicines are applied intervaginally under septic
conditions at vulnerable times. Additionally, dysfunctional midwifery
techniques lower natality. Spirit possession and minor rituals do not
necessarily include these medicinal applications, but serve to regulate
the sequence of events and the scheduling of treatment. Futhermore,
the rituals act as markers of private, personal phases which use the
septic or deleterious treatments. This is useful for the scientific
researcher who might otherwise miss the private treatments all together.
The reason for the continuity of this dysfunctional system is that
ritual and medicinal treatments for reproduction and women's diseases
are controlled and administered by women who consider their domain very
important. Women are constantly engaged in learning ritual and medicinal
esoteria and instructing other women. Affliction and cult membership
follow matrilineal lines and serve to reinforce and continue partici-
pation in the system.
Life Crisis and Affliction Rituals
Turner (1967:6-15) writing about the Ndembu says that rituals in
this part of the world may be categorized into life-crisis rituals and
rituals of affliction. The former mark transitions from one physiologi-
cal or social state to another. Not only does the person undergoing the
"crisis" change, but kinsmen and neighbors find that their relationships
to him or her have altered.
The Luvale hold initiation rituals for boys and girls which are
similar to the Ndembu's. The girls' puberty ritual emphasizes fertility,
sexuality, and the knowledge of pharmacopoeia. It is the initial step
for adult female participation in fertility/natality cults (affliction
rituals). Participation in the girl's puberty ritual is virtually
universal although modern adaptations occur (a complete discussion
follows in Chapter 5). The young woman's female relatives and their
friends come together to celebrate her maturity and to welcome her into
the adult community. This kind of social solidarity continually renews
women's ability to regulate and control adult social, sexual, and cura-
tive behavior. Through participation in this and other rituals (see
below), a community of women ritual experts develops and replenishes
itself. Essentially, an apprenticeship system with a coordinated curri-
culum operates and organizes women as clients, adepts, and experts.
Two other life-crisis rituals connected with physiological changes
and maturation (birth/motherhood and death) repeat this display of female
solidarity. Every mother undergoes a small (village-local) ritual which
marks her new status of mother (Nyakemba, mother of the infant). This
minor ritual begins during pregnancy, has its liminal phase during
delivery, and concludes by re-integrating the woman into the community
of adult females. The public phase consists of relighting the hearth,
while in the private phases the women is medicated to make her sexually
attractive to her husband (see the discussion on medicinal applications
below). Further, every infant undergoes the makakala ritual a week
after birth (see Chapter 6) where it is privately medicated and publically
introduced to the village members.
Death is the occasion for a major life-crisis ritual among the Luvale,
as it is in all other societies. The funeral regulates the relationships
of the survivors to the "shade" of the deceased and to one another.
Formerly funerary societies were responsible for burying deceased members.
Mungongi and chiwila, the male and female funerary societies respectively,
were mainly directed by older persons, although members might be initiated
during adulthood. During my research I did not hear of the existence of
any contemporary funerary society activity. Perhaps the mungongi or
chiwila continued in other regions. According to White (1954) the chiwila
society has disappeared, whereas mungongi continues. My informants
stressed the friendships made by cult participation and also declared
that oaths of truthfulness were sworn using the society's name by members.
White writes of spirit possession rituals (see below), mungongi and
"They serve to provide a bond outside the limits of kinship
which bind people together in the same way as the male cir-
cumcision rites or blood friendships do: they provide oc-
casions on which people otherwise unrelated get together "
He also remarks on the bond created between tribes that practice mungongi
and chiwila and those that do not. As to why mungongi is still operative,
White remarks that "it would seem that the lives of the women have their
fill of ritual without the persistence of the chiwila" (White 1954:116).
Men's lives have changed more, and the money economy has made some inroads
on matrilineal solidarity, whereas traditional hunting rituals have been
much reduced. Therefore the mungongi is still needed for male bonding.
The existence of these funerary cults is a natural correlate of
the practices of ancestor worship. The "spirit" or "shade" of the
deceased is believed to be restless at first, trying to retain communi-
cation with the living. Proper burial minimizes the possibility of the
shade afflicting the living. But improper devotion in succeeding years
will cause the shade to inflict "afflictions" upon its descendants.
Turner (1967:9-10) uses the term "rituals of affliction" to denote
the ritual treatment of persons who are believed to have been "caught"
by the shade and thereby made ill or unfortunate. Symptoms of these con-
ditions gives clues to the particular ritual and medications required for
treatment. Divination reveals the genealogical connections of patient
and ancestral shades responsible for the affliction. In the case of
ancestral causal agents the process of recovery involves spiritual
redress as well as medicinal and herbal treatments. The herbal treatments
may be thought to work magically by contagion or homeopathy, or they may
be thought to contain certain substances possessing "pharmaceutical"
properties of supposed or real significance.
In general, disease is a category of misfortune, implying the
symbolic absence of purity and whiteness (Turner 1967, 1968; Douglas 1966,
1970). Turner analyzes neighboring Ndembu curing as having five components:
the disease, the color symbolism, the medicines, the modes of treatment,
and the times of treatment. Turner contrasts illness for which male-
volent agents are responsible with those inflicted by ancestral shades.
If a person has a headache, he says, witchcraft and sorcery are partly
responsible. Black color symbolism is then pervasive. The medicines
are strong and aggressive, bitter and hot. Clanging axes serve as shock
therapy. The treatment occurs at sunrise and sunset and is administered
directly to the head. Turner argues that the medication is more religious
ritual than therapy.
On the other hand, if the ancestral shades are responsible, a rite
of affliction will be performed to provide a more complex kind of therapy
"a combination of therapy aimed at treating the pathological con-
dition. . and a religious service for the veneration and propitiation
of ancestral spirits" (Turner 1967:323). If a woman has long monthly
periods, the ancestral shades are responsible, and red color symbolism
pervades the ritual. Medicines administered are taken from trees whose
red sap coagulates quickly and whose seed pods are numerous and repre-
sent the desired offspring. Ritual treatment proceeds with the perform-
ance of the cult of Nkula (Ndembu) or Kula (Luvale). The ritual follows
the classic pattern of rites of passage (Gennep 1960). First, a short
public ritual commences at sunrise and continues until sunset of the
same day, marking off the patient from the healthy. The second phase
secludes the patient from secular life for some weeks or months. Finally,
the patient undergoes a lengthy re-entry ritual. The first and third
phases include spirit possession. Herbal medications occur during all
phases. Some of the unforeseen consequences of these medicines and their
mode of application are discussed below.
Performances of Luvale "cults of affliction" differ from those
Turner describes for the neighboring Ndembu where each ritual (Nkula for
excessive menstruation, Wubwang'u for twins or sterility, Isoma for mis-
carriage and stillbirths, and Chihamba for any reproductive disorder)
is performed separately (Turner 1957, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1969). In
contrast, diagnoses of and cures for Luvale reproductive ailments require
many cults. It is common for three to eight different cults to occur
in the diagnoses and performance. The typical pattern is that three or
four of the cults, Kamayuwa, Kuvangu, Luvangu and Tembwa, occur, with the
addition of one or more of the following: Kula, Kawengo, Chitakayi, and
Kayongo. The proliferation of air spirit cults (see below) among the
Luvale may have been due to this propensity to have many cults at a single
Traditional spirit possession cults are multipurpose; they can be
performed for a woman's ordinary or reproductive illnesses, for her
ailing children (see Chapter 6), or prophylactically to prevent mis-
carriage, stillbirths, or neonatal death in a woman, illness or death in
a child. Unlike the Ndembu, the Luvale also perform hunter's cults
for women's illnesses. Among both Ndembu and Luvale the preponderance
of patients are women, but while most Ndembu doctors are men, women
doctors preponderate among the Luvale.
A further dissimilarity between Ndembu and Luvale is the importance
of the chipango, "big fence" ritual (see Chapter 6) among the latter.
Wubwang'u has some of the same shrine elements as the chipango chamalala,
the minor shrine ritual which is practiced widely and which Luvale say
they learned from Lunda peoples. The big fence seclusion ritual, how-
ever, is prescribed to protect the child of a mother who has had a poor
natality record. The Luvale also perform this for twins. This elaborate
ritual functions as a quarantine and as the pre-eminent cult for women
Spirit Possession Rituals
Mbiti (1969), an African theologian, argues that ancestor-centered
religion required the living to "keep in touch" with their deceased
relatives. Whereas living persons are in constant balancing interaction
with each other, there is no direct monitoring of interaction with the
"recently departed" or long-dead ancestors. People are supposed to remem-
ber their ancestors and pay homage to them regularly. But devotion
lapses. Therefore, the ancestors call attention to the need for devotion
by sending illness. Why do the ancestors choose illness? Perhaps
because ancestors and their descendants are in a personal relationship,
and illness is personalized as well. Ancestors generally do not chastise
a whole community; they are rarely credited with causing drought, storms,
or other general catastrophes which would effect all equally. Rather,
the ruler of the realm and his/her ancestors, the creator god, or gods of
the pantheon are responsible for these phenomena. Why do Luvale ancestors
interfere with fertility? Partly because the Luvale view reproductive
ailments and fertility problems as types of illnesses. Further, both
the ancestors and the living are concerned with lineal continuity.
Through illness an individual takes his or her social place within the
matrilineage in addition to inheriting ritual status through cult mem-
Colson (1954) writes that the ancestors are not evil; they injure
the living to keep their own memory alive. They depend on the living
for their continued existence. The living propitiate the spirits to
assure a continuance of good things and the good life. Each is dependent
upon the other. But the shades do not concern themselves with all the
living, or vice versa, she says,
"The relationships between them are projections of those
which exist between living persons organized in the kin-
ship system . the ties between them transcend time
and space so that the system exists in a 'perpetual present'"
Fortes (1959) hypothesizes that an ancestor cult is concerned mainly with
the transmission of jural authority through the generations; this concern
is partly responsible for the punitiveness and harshness of ancestral
intervention in the affairs of their descendants.
Luvale shades, like Ndembu shades, usually afflict their uterine
descendants with reproductive disorders. Turner writes that the woman
who forgets her ancestors is "in peril of having her procreative powers
'tied-up' by the offended shade" (Turner 1969:12). These "tie-ups"
manifest themselves by barrenness, miscarriages, stillbirths, and by
her children's illnesses or deaths. It is assumed that any such misfor-
tune has the ancestral shades as its probable cause. But the exact
nature of the illness, the identity of the afflicting ancestors, and the
treatment required must all be revealed by proper diagnosis.
The diviner acts as an ethnographer would, obtaining a ritual and
health (natality) "profile"of the sufferer. He identifies the afflicting
ancestral shades and the modes by which they are manifesting themselves.
He directs the patient's relatives to the kind of curing specialists)
needed. Diviners are most likely to recommend medicinal curing in
connection with spirit possession rituals as the therapeutic treatment
in serious cases. They recommend minor treatments as preludes to the
full ritual; these are cheaper, easier, and a test of correct diagnosis.
Additionally, diviners may direct their clients to employ herbal therapies.
The patient never attends such a divination personally; her or his
relatives are responsible for consulting the diviner and for carrying
out the prescribed treatments. Sometimes relatives go to several diviners
to obtain a consensus and to verify the diagnosis.
Luvale spirit possession rituals are called mahamba. The term
(mahamba, plural; lihamba, singular) actually refers to three things:
the spirits through which the ancestors manifest themselves and possess
their descendants, or the air spirits which people believe "infect"
them, the ritual of exorcising one or more spirits; and the cult of
adepts and curers (doctors) who have undergone the ritual. The term
"cult" refers to an informal group, made up of people in the same or
neighboring villages, that convenes for a particular performance. The
doctors keep the esoteric paraphernalia for ritual performances until
they are called on a case. They need not offer any devotion to para-
phernalia or ancestors in between cases. Luvale recognize two categories
of mahamba possessions--the traditional ones from the ancestral shades
(mahamba wakusema) and the "new" ones from the air (mahamba wapeho).
The former treat reproduction difficulties, general illness, madness,
and hunting misfortunes. The latter deal only with general illness and
infection and are discussed below.
A Luvale spirit possession ritual has both public and private phases.
The public phases commence with an all-night drumming, dancing, and
singing session in front of the patient's home. At this time the doctor
invokes the shades who have entered the patient's body and caused the
illness. Shades are exorcised through the inhalation of the steam from
a combination of all the medicines and by the dancing. A ritual "crew"
assembles at this time to aid the patient by singing and by teaching her
the appropriate dances. Women feel it is their obligation to help
other women during these rituals so they may expect assistance in return.
Each ancestor appears not as an individualized personality, but as
a representative of the particular cult that she belonged to when alive.
Hence, the signs that the woman is possesed are the codified dance move-
ments associated with each cult. For example, the Tembwa cult is asso-
ciated with a mythical female ancestress who bailed out water in small
pools to collect the fish. This dance consists of movements which
depict bailing water. The possession experience seems to vary. Some
persons appeared to me to be more fully in a trance state than others.
Some persons had to be protected so as not to harm themselves or others
as they thrashed around in the "dance". As their vacant eyes focused
upward, they foamed at the mouth and looked wild and unlike themselves.
Other people were more controlled in their movements and simply performed
Luvale rituals of affliction usually include the performance of from
three to eight cult dances. Sometimes a particular shade and its cult
manifestations do not appear in spite of the proper medications having
been administered and the appropriate songs having been sung. People
attribute its absence to an error in divination. Similarly, if a dance
associated with a cult that was not revealed through divination appears,
it is considered to be legitimate and a contributor to the patient's
Rituals of affliction, like life-crisis rites, follow the three-fold
process of separation, liminality and re-integration (Gennep 1960;
Turner 1967). The kulembeka phase of the ritual calls the ancestors and
through the dances shows the presence of the shades. These shades are
medicated with substances associated with the particular cult. This is
the ritual which commences in the evening and continues all night. An
early morning washing ritual completes this phase and suspends public
participation until the phase of re-integration. The marginal (liminal)
phase commences at this time and consists of the observance of food
taboos and behavioral restrictions (where, when and with whom to eat,
to have sex or to avoid, and places to go or not to go). This phase lasts
from a few weeks to a year. Following recovery or success in reproduction,
the kulembununa phase of the ritual takes place. This consists essen-
tially of the initiation of the patient into the cults and her re-inte-
gration with the healthy. A spirit possession session similar to but
more elaborate than the first phase now occurs. Slaughter of particular
animals connected with the various cults occurs, and a ritual meal marks
the patients' initiation into the cult and reintegration into normal life.
Types of Mahamba Cults
How common are these spirit possession rituals and how frequently
are they performed? White (1949) wrote that in the late 1940's the
traditional mahamba cults still survived, but that some were becoming
rare. He argued that the concept of affliction from nonkinship sources
appeared to be replacing affliction by ancestral spirits. The new types
of spirit possession (mahamba wapeho, literally "spirits from the air")
are often performed without diagnosis by divination. If the patient
feels better she or he may claim adept status and undergo the apprentice-
ship process to become a doctor. Older women (between forty and sixty-
five) who failed to have traditional mahamba prescribed and performed for
them in their youth--and who therefore were unable to become doctors
for these cults--often take up wahepo cults and are finally recognized
as curers. Men participate somewhat less frequently.
These air spirit cults are distinct from those devoted to the ances-
tors' shades. Instead they are connected to foreign, non-Luvale sources,
such as other ethnic groups and objects of European manufacture. Luvale
adopted some of the cults from neighboring peoples, while others they
developed themselves. Perhaps the traditional idea of animal spirits
which are not linked to ancestral spirits (e.g., Tambwe, lion) pre-
figured the acceptance of the new air cults.
Although the idiom of traditional ritual and medicinal expression is
well known to Luvale, individual reinterpretation of content or form are
possible. New cults that regularly "appear" in the area are the inventions
and reinterpretations of individuals. Colson (1969) reports on the
origin of the "airplane" cult among the Tonga in 1954. She traces the
songs, treatments, and dances to the creativity of a particular woman who
was possessed when the first airplane in the area flew overhead and
"received" the demands of the airplane spirit and the new ritual in a
dream. The same mechanism is operative among the Luvale, among whom
certain individuals are noted for their song-making abilities. When
they are herbalists or doctors as well and compose songs for treatments
and ritual performances, new cults are created. Women are particularly
likely to make innovations, since they conduct rituals more frequently
White noted that the air spirit cults became popular at three differ-
ent time periods which corresponded to waves of immigration of other
ethnic groups (Luchazi, Chokwe, and Ovimbundu) into the area, as well as
to increased European influence. The first period (1920-1925),White
noted, coincided with the first waves of Luchazi immigrants who brought
three new mahamba cults: Manyanga, Visongo, and Vindele ("the Europeans").
The first two originated with the Songo and Chimbande peoples who are
neighbors of the Luchazi in Angola. The third could have been derived
from the Luchazi. White reported:
"Mahamba can now be acquired by infection or contact, such
as eating out of a dish with an infected person, treading
where a mahamba has been left or where an infected person
has 'trodden'" (White 1940:319).
The first source may show the influence of the germ theory; the other
two are common ways of contacting diseases according to traditional
During the second period (1925-1935), Tukuka (or Viyaya) and Chim-
bundu were brought by Chokwe and Quimbundu immigrants. A third, Mahamba
Kalunga (lightning or "god"), may have been associated with European
missionary activity. These contacts continued during the third period
which began around 1935. Several new mahamba were introduced: Vanyatum-
bunda by Mbundu people, Vazezu by Chokwe people, and Kandundu perhaps
by Ovimbundu people. White wrote that since 1945 "the mahamba have
received some new accretions, both of those noted being of a bizarre
nature" (White 1949:330). These are Sitima (steam engine train) and
White stated that during the 1940s cult rituals were performed
almost daily throughout the area, but that by the late 1950s they were
performed less frequently, and only in certain areas (1961). White sug-
gested that these new cults served as a theory of causation by answering
the "why" of illness. These cults treated new diseases, especially
"infections" stemming from contact with non-Luvale societies. White
(1949) easily recorded time periods for the introduction of various cults.
I found this more difficult even the best informants could not pin-
point dates. The more exotic "airplane" and "steam-engine" cults were
unheard-of in 1972. However, a new cult, Tungelo ("Angels"), had just
been brought into the area by Angolan refugee women. Only one woman knew
it, and she had many patients requesting her to perform it. Colson reports
a Mangelo cult in the Gwembe Valley in the early 1960s. In another pub-
lication (Colson 1971) she notes that Tungelo entered the Kariba Dam
resettlement area in the 1960s from Mozambique. I suggest, as do many
students of African languages, that cults have several names as they move
through different ethnic and language areas.
The field research I conducted in the 1970s showed that traditional
cults were widely performed and not rare at all. However, the newer
cults that White had written about were less popular than they had been
in the 1930s and 1940s, when they captivated the area. There was almost
no overlap between air spirit cults and the traditional ones for repro-
ductive disorders and ailing children in the more than one hundred cases
of spirit possession included in my Mahamba Survey.* Women did not have
air spirit cult performances for reproductive disorders, but only
for general illness. Unfortunately, many of the people for whom air
spirit cults were performed during the period of field research died
shortly thereafter; others seemed quite ill. Perhaps in the 1970s the
air spirit cults were "a last resort", while from the 1920s to the 1940s
when they were at their zenith they were utilized on other occasions.
Table 3.1 lists Luvale mahamba cults according to type (either
traditional or air spirits), the symptoms they treat, whether they are
concerned with reproductive disorders or not, the sex treated, and their
performance status within the research area in 1970-1972. The Table
includes information on whether or not a single performance occurred for
men, women, or both. A rating system from one to four codes the rela-
tive frequency with which the performances occurred. Hence, whereas
many air spirit cults are listed, they were infrequently performed
(rated #3 or #4) compared to traditional cults (rated #1). Cults for
*The Mahamba Survey attempted to question all adults within twenty
randomly selected villages about their participation in both types
of rituals of affliction. Although the Survey was useful for obtain-
ing a rough idea of typical mahamba participation, problems with
reliability of the information and "unavailability" of some of the
subjects does not allow it to be used statistically.
Table 3.1 Luvale Mahamba Cults
Cult Type Sex R(a) Symptoms Observed F(c)
was cult mem-
ber and dancer)
M NA Head, arm, leg
F Yes Stomach pains
No and same as
M NA Arm, leg, body
Trad.(ancestor F Yes
bailed pools for Yes
fish and was cult
Dreams of lion,
woman who be-
comes ill after
her husband dies
All reproductive +
Difficulty con- +
+ ? 3
+ + 3
+ NA 3
Table 3.1 Luvale Mahamba Cults (continued)
Trad.(ancestor F Yes
was cult Yes
Trad. (perhaps F Yes
air spirit) ?
Trad.(ancestor F Yes
was cult member) Yes
Trad.(ancestor F Yes
was cult member) Yes
was cult member)
Trad.(ancestor F Yes
was cult member) No
Trad. (mole- F Yes
like animal) Yes
anus enlarge (e)
Leg and arm
+ NA 1
+ NA 1
+ NA 2
+ NA 1
Loss of hair,
sicken or die
Loss of hair,
or die, mis-
+ NA 2
+ NA 3
+ + 2
+ + 1
Table 3.1 Luvale Mahamba Cults (continued)
died in Euro-
Air (ancestor M+F No
died from this) No
Tooth of hunT M+F No
ter in body No
Air (lightning) M+F
Air (may be
Air ("Angels") F
? (the fool)
Air ? (per-
haps the same
was a dancer)
arm and leg
+ + 2
+ NA 2
+ + 3
+ ? 3
+ ? 3
Luvale Mahamba Cults (concluded)
Cult Type Sex R(a) Symptoms Obse197 F(C)
IV Women Men
Dreams or acts --
as European lady
? No/No ?
? No/No ?
Air (Mbunda) ?+F
Air (Mdunda) ?+F
Air ?+F No
+ NA 3
? ? 4
? ? 4
? ? 4
+ ? 3
+ ? 3
+ ? 3
-- + 3
Notes to Table 2.1
(a) R = Reproductive
(b) I.V. = intra-vaginal medicines used
(c) F = Frequency code devised by the researcher (1 = very frequent;
2= frequent; 3 = infrequent; 4 = rare)
(d) NA = Not Applicable. White reported Chitapakasa for males only.
My informants said it was for females only.
(e) White reports Manyanga's symptoms as fainting and staring eyes.
(f) White reports Chimbundu's symptoms as dreaming of European goods
or having a deceased relative become infected during a visit to
(g) White lists these as separate, but they seem to all be the same.
reproduction and the use of intravaginal treatments (discussed below)
are noted. Unlike previous researchers in the area (White 1949; Turner
1957, 1967, 1968), I found that "hunting" cults were also performed to
cure reproductive disorders. For example, Chitakayi was performed num-
erous times in connection with reproductive ailments. One man had Kamayuwa,
generally a woman's cult, performed for him. Luwanga is a traditional
cult, but one which has an air spirit as its patron. Animal spirit cults,
Tambwe, Nguvu, Chifwi, and Tuta, appear to be traditional. It is diffi-
cult to know if any of these are similar to new animal cults found among
the Tonga (Colson 1969:83).
Illness and Medicinal Applications
In the last paragraph of his description of Lunda medicine, Turner
remarks that the public health situation of the Ndembu is "highly unsat-
isfactory and that environmental and culturally determined conditions
maintain health at a chronically low level" (Turner 1967:347). In Schism
and Continuity he asks:
"Does the frequency with which such ritual is performed indi-
cate a high rate of reproductive disorders? I obtained this
impression that it was indeed high, but not exceptionally
high for Africa. I would like to postulate that the high
frequency with which curative and 'gynecological' ritual is
performed by Ndembu is just as much socially as biologically
determined" (Turner 1957:301).
and again in Forest of Symbols:
"Is there any medical basis for these widespread cults con-
nected with reproductive troubles? My evidence is slight
but suggestive. Figures supplied to me by the lady doctor
at Kalene Mission Hospital in August, 1951, revealed that
out of ninety women accepted as normal pregnancy cases, six-
teen, or nearly 18 per cent, underwent abnormal deliveries.
My wife was asked to assist at half a dozen cases of pro-
longed childbirth or miscarriage...in about three months.
Many women showed clear signs of anemia and some revealed
that they had frequent periodic troubles" (Turner 1967:12).
Although Turner directs his analysis to the body politic, he wonders
how health and morbidity conditions affect rituals. Whereas Turner
emphasized the application and efficacy of rituals and their accompanying
medicines in terms of social and psychosomatic stress and tension, I
addressed part of my field work to looking at the health and morbidity
conditions in terms of traditional medication and ritual performance.
Luvale reproductive ailments consist of genital diseases, menstrual
problems, fetal wastage, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. The frequency
of these disorders is great (see Chapter 4-6), and is due in part to
the traditional Luvale style of treatment. Most of the Luvale pharma-
copoeia for women consists of intravaginal treatments for reproductive
disorders, gynecological and nongynecological illnesses, and parturition.
This therapeutic style has three characteristics that contribute to
illness and fetal wastage: intravaginal application, use at vulnerable
times with consistent frequent application, and harmful chemical proper-
ties of the medicines employed.
Herbal medicines are inserted into the vagina to treat various ill-
nesses and disorders, both urinary-genital and somatic. Nongynecological
illnesses such as backache, heart palpitations, hysteria, weight loss,
and worms have vaginal treatments too, in addition to herbal preparations
that are taken orally or applied as poultices. Anal insertion of medi-
cines and enemas is widespread for both sexes. Insertion of medicines
intrapenilely is used to treat men's genital diseases. Turner's (1967)
description of Lunda pharmocopoeia mentions only the potions and poul-
tices that he learned about from Muchona, a male doctor. He does not
mention vaginal or anal insertions although he does note the use of
enemas as a technique.
Luvale recognize a variety of genital diseases, some of which are
identifiable and coincide with Western medical categories, but which
also include many named vaginal and penile lesions and tumors that
Western medicine does not recognize as distinct diseases (see Table 3.1).
Conditions regarded as pathological include a "bent" uterus, "vaginal
frigidity" (i.e., lack of proper "warmth"), and pale genitals. Female
sterility and difficulty in becoming pregnant require intravaginal
treatments. Male sterility and impotence are recognized also, but are
treated with oral herbal infusions. Swollen testicles require direct
application of herbals into cuts in the scrotum (Symon 1959:57). The
treatment for gonorrhea includes insertion of herbal infusions into
the penile meatus (Symon 1959:53, 58).
Table 3.2 inventories diseases and treatments, many of which involve
various rituals. As in the catalogue of Luvale mahamba cults (Table 3.1)
this inventory estimates the frequency of treatment and indicates
whether medicines are applied to the genitals. The preponderance of
genital diseases and treatments is striking. Because diseases and
medicinal applications are much more frequent than divinations and
mahamba, a #1 on Table 3.2 means that the treatment is almost universal
among traditional users (e.g., Village Parturients see Chapter 5)
and that it is sometimes used by "moderns" (e.g., Hospital Parturients -
see Chapter 5) as well. A woman is likely to receive all the medicines
for diseases marked with a #1 sometime in her life and perhaps some
of the #2's, #3's, and #4's as well.
Part of the rationale for the use of intravaginals is to maintain
"proper vaginal" conditions, which are considered vital for good health
and sexual well-being. The prelude to good health and proper adult
Luvale Diseases and Treatments
Disease/ (a) Symptoms or Occurs Genital (C)
treatment Purpose with Medicines Women Men F
Rituals + (b)
elongation of labia yes
post-partum douche no
retained placenta sometimes
to stop menstruation no
to commit suicide no
man fails to impreg- no
nate, "rotten sperms"
no strength, bits or no
blood retained post-
long menstruation yes
abdominal pains, yes
worms, pale genitals, no
genital sores, head-
genitals enlarge and no
become pale, weight
loss, backache, head-
ache, loss of appetite,
(gonorrhea, bilharzia) no
abdominal pains, leg
pains, painful and
wamachina pus in urine
wamanyinga blood in urine
+ -- 2-3
+ + 1
+ ? 3
+ + 2
Luvale Diseases and Treatments (continued)
Disease/ !(a Symptoms or Occurs Genital
treatment' Purpose with Medicines Women Men F(c)
Rituals + (b)
Unono, manyaza (syphilis) genital no
sores and itching
Masa small, reddish, knob- no
like vaginal tumor
Mapopolo round, red tumor in no
Mutunjiko stick-like vaginal no
tumor, painful urin-
Munyenyo anal protrusion no
Mukila growth on perineal no
Malengulula soft, red flaps in no
vagina, painful inter-
Mawengelele painful intercourse, no
itches, rubbery red
knob on labia
Ndondo stomach tumor yes
Nyavimeya "watery" vagina no
Vitumbo vya- medicines for warmth yes(e)
liyena kumwoteza or "watery" vagina
Chifuchi part of uterus comes no
Chiliva out at childbirth
Masangu egg-shaped thing no
comes out during
Kahachi, Mututo chest ailments no
Panga swollen testicles no
+ + 4
+ + 3
+ ? 4
Tabel 3.2 Luvale Diseases and Treatments (continued)
Disease/ (a) Symptoms or Occurs Genital (c)
treatment Purpose With Medicines Women Men F
Rituals + (b)
+ + 1
Table 3.2 Luvale Diseases and Treatments (concluded)
Notes to Table 3.2
(a) Diseases are capitalized whereas treatments are not.
(b) + = applicable; = not applicable
(c) Devised by researcher (1 = very frequent; 2 = frequent; 3 = infre-
quent; 4 = rare)
(d) Men also commit suicide. They could use mwise intra-anally, but
prefer to hang or shoot themselves.
(e) Treatment is first introduced at girl's puberty ritual. Use is
later confined to disease symptoms.
female sexuality occurs during the girl's puberty ritual when the labia
minora are elongated and cosmetically blackened. Because a month or
longer is required to stretch the labia to a length of one-half to one
inch, the young woman focuses on her body for an extended period. At
this time she learns many medications for menstruation and for erotic
enhancement, most of which are applied genitally. These are private
women's matters and a pledge to informants prevents their documentation
here. I can reveal, however, that the novices are taught aphrodesiac
medicines for "warmth". In future intercourse they use the precoital
infusions for erotic enhancement. A woman's body must "be" a certain
way; she must "dance" or move in certain ways and speak certain phrases.
Herbal medications are used to assure that a woman's body is in the
proper condition. Women say that a man can feel these "proper conditions".
If a man finds something wrong, instead of mentioning it to his partner,
he tells his partner's female relative, who informs the woman she
Finally, a more somber expression of the Luvale emphasis on the
intravaginal style of medicinal application is its use for female suicide.
Women commit suicide by inserting the crushed inner cambium of the root
of Securidaca longipedunculata (Luvale: muyise, mutata, muwise) per
vaginam. Gilges (1955) describes two cases in detail of this type of
suicide and mentions several medical officers who repeatedly noted it.
For example, Dr. J. W. 0. Will reported eight deaths from this cause in
Balovale District. Gilges remarks that this usage is confined to Balovale
peoples, so that if found elsewhere, "it is restricted to tribes of
Balovale origin" (Gilges 1955:6).
"On April 9th, 1952, a Luvale woman was brought to hospital
by her relatives because 'she had poisoned herself by in-
serting roots of the mutata tree into her vagina'. . She
felt so depressed that she wanted to die and inserted some
powdered roots of mutata into her vagina. The relatives,
on hearing this, cleared out her vagina and rushed her to
On admission the patient was found to be an elderly African
woman in a severely shocked condition. Her body felt cold
and clammy and the pulse was rapid (over 130) and hardly
perceptible...She vomited repeatedly and complained of
palpitations but no pain. Her condition deteriorated stead-
ily and she died about twelve hours after admission. A
post-mortem examination was carried out with the following
findings: multiple sub-mucous haemorrhages in the following
organs larynx, trachea, bronchi, stomach, intestines,
bladder and uterus. Large haemorrhagic area in left lung.
Complete necrosis of vaginal mucosa" (Gilges 1955:6).
Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk note that a cup of this root pounded with
cold water and inserted vaginally proves fatal in twelve to twenty-four
hours. In four to six hours profuse vomiting and diarrhea occur and
result ultimately in dehydration and collapse. The material is sometimes
used per rectum or per urethram with the same result.
Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk report on a number of researchers who
have isolated chemical components of the plant, including methyl salicylate,
saponins, tannin steroid glucoside, primaverose, glucose, and xylose.
It appears that the methyl salicylate and the saponins do the damage,
but no tests of direct action of these chemicals have ever been (or will
ever be) made to determine this with surety. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk
report on numerous post-mortems including this one of a woman who did
not die for nine days:
"...excoriation and peeling of the skin around the vagina
and labia minora with a thin watery greyish-green fluid
exuding from the vagina were found. The walls of the
vagina and the cervix were friable and very pale grey in
colour. The cardiac muscle was pale..." (Watt and Breyer-
The authors remark that if the woman's relatives and friends dis-
cover the insertion and promptly and thoroughly wash out the vagina
"no harm ensues, but if nothing is done, the woman dies
often within twelve hours but more rarely in seven to
fourteen days. The caustic effect results in exfolia-
tion of the vaginal mucosa. ." (Watt and Breyer-
Securidaca longipedunculata is a plant that is in wide use among
the Luvale in a number of treatments and rituals. The leaves are boiled
and drunk for colds and coughs, which include the symptoms of bronchitis.
The root scrapings are soaked to make a thick paste and then used as
a poultice for sore swollen legs (Gilges 1955:7). The steam from the
boiled leaves is inhaled during the spirit possession ritual of Kamayuwa.
This is the most common, important, and general cure-all reproductive
cult. Kamayuwa comes first in the ritual possession sequence, and muwise
steam is the first medicine given to the patient. Gilges mentions that
as a contraceptive measure the scrapings of inner stem or roots are
added to gunpowder and mixed with cold water. This brew is drunk through
an old axe or hoe handle (Gilges 1955:7). Also he notes that an oil
made from the seeds is used as a salve and furniture stain.
Luvale people have a reputation, locally as well as in urban areas,
for their medicinal skills; it is easy to recognize their skill in the
way they utilize Securidaca longipedunculata. The various toxic chemical
components are probably released with a slight crushing and destroyed by
boiling. Some specific medicines do seem to "work" because of their
chemical components rather than solely because of a belief in their
While many of the intravaginal medicines are not poisons they may
in fact have adverse effects because of their acidity and bacteria content.
I carried out pH determinations on actual medicines that practitioners
were in the process of giving their patients. The hot vaginal douche
that is used postpartumly in village deliveries (see Chapter 6) gave a
pH reading of 1.2-1.8. Almost all herbal medicines are acidic, so it is
not surprising that more girls than boys are born, since vaginal acidity
contributes to the viability of the X (female) chromosome (McCary 1973).
Further, the preparation mentioned above was applied from a septic con-
The greatest usage of intravaginals coincides with the times of
greatest physiological vulnerability, viz., parturition, gynecological
ailments, miscarriage or abortion, and menstruation. Infections are more
likely to develop and to cause damage when the uterus is healing in the
monthly and postpartum periods.
Midwives use intravaginals extensively before, during and after
parturition. During gestation and parturition, several herbal medicines
are frequently applied intravaginally to "open the way", to ensure an
easy delivery, and to quicken the labor. A difficult delivery or a
retained placenta call for continual intravaginal therapies. Postpartum
pains require yet other medicines. The pharmacopoeia for the normal
parturient includes a variety of intravaginals; the number of medicines
and the frequency of application for a troubled delivery are incredibly
greater. The series of intravaginal douches intended to return the
birth canal to the prepregnancy state often result in postpartum infections.
All miscarriages, whether induced or spontaneous, require womb-
cleansing by the insertion of douches, leaves, and powdered medicines.
Traditionally educated women, i.e., those who have attended the girl's
puberty ritual, medicate themselves during and following the menses. The
former medication is required because menstruation itself, as it formerly
was in our society, is considered a disease, and the women feel ill at
this time. Medications follow the menses to cleanse the vagina so that
a woman may resume intercourse.
There are, then, many occasions on which a traditionally minded
woman will make use of intravaginal treatments. Frequency of application
is an important consideration because the possibility that a woman may
become infected is greater the more she is treated. Many illnesses and
difficulties in conceiving and bearing live offspring require that many
medicines and practitioners be called in for the case. A woman who
experiences few or no difficulties requires fewer rituals, practitioners,
and medicines -- and suffers less from the deleterious effects of some of
Intravaginal medicines are not regarded as particularly esoteric.
They include many of what Americans would call "home remedies" and
"grandmother's treatments". Many are known to the majority of women,
who transmit this knowledge to their peers and juniors, usually at ritual
performances or curative sessions. These medicines are free or taught
for a small fee. Of course, there are the specialist doctors and midwives
who know more esoteric preparations which are used in connection with
"big cases", for which big fees are charged. Most "big cases" include
performances of rituals. Intravaginal medicinal treatments are sometimes
a prelude to ritual performance; at other times they are interwoven as
the private phases of either spirit possession or minor ritual perform-
ances. Rituals such as wali (girl's puberty), Kula for spirit possession
causing prolonged menstruation, kusakisa for barrenness, and those for
miscarriage and childbirth all include intravaginal medication in the
Table 3.1 above also indicates the use of intravaginal treatments
in rituals. Both traditional and new mahamba rituals (Kula, Manyanga
and Nyalukula) use intravaginal treatments in their specific medications.
All reproductive mahamba rituals (Kamyuwa, Tembwa, Luwangu, Juwangu,
Jinga, Jila, Kawengo, Tuta) and many rituals for general illness are
interwoven with medicinal treatments for barrenness or gynecological
disorders which use intravaginals.
In sum, intravaginal applications of medicines and septic conditions
may cause nonspecific infections, perhaps resulting in tubal scarring,
permanent sepsis, and sterility. Nonspecific pelvic infections may
result in further menstrual disturbances, severe abdominal pains, and
pains during intercourse--all of which correspond to a variety of ill-
nesses that the Luvale treat as part of the ritual sequence for women.
After recovery from this febrile illness the woman is infertile and has
vague symptoms--again more rituals will be performed. The fever, abdom-
inal pains, and tenderness that many of these Luvale women report corres-
pond to pelvic sepsis and infertility (Felice Savage King, M.D., personal
Ritual and Curing Experts
Life crisis rituals, rituals of affliction, and herbal treatments
are conducted by various official experts. The girls' puberty ritual is
led by the chilombola (teacher) who is any married woman the family
chooses. The Nyakemba and makakata rituals are conducted by the
chifunguji (midwife),a specialist. These roles are detailed in Chapters
5 and 6.
The types of doctors for rituals of affliction correspond to those
Turner has enumerated for the Ndembu. Male doctors are concerned with
hunting cults (Turner, 1962, 1967, 1968), female doctors with reproductive
troubles, and both sexes with general illness (Turner 1968, 1969).
Because herbal treatments and mahamba ritual performances require the
expenditure of much time and effort by the doctor and substantial pay-
ment by the patient, it is not surprising that doctor and patient build
up a relationship during the treatment. This, of course, sets the stage
for an apprenticeship which may follow later. It is not uncommon for the
doctor to return a small portion of the patient's payment at the kutewula
("to cut") phase of the closing ritual to emphasize that, although the
patient is cured, the doctor still has a relationship with him or her.
Female doctors frequently return or provide a small white chicken or
cash to the child for whom they have performed a ritual. Doctors keep
a tally of their patients, who, of course, provide their best advertising.
In addition to using herbals, a woman may specialize in spirit
possession doctoring for reproductive or air spirits mahamba, in the
chipango sequence for childrearing, or in mahamba for long menstruation
(Kula). The typical pattern is for a woman to have spirit possession
rituals for reproduction during her twenties and thirties. Then the
woman spends her time after reproduction has ceased, but long before
menopause, taking up the calling and undergoing apprenticeships by serving
in a variety of female ritual specialist positions.
The procedure for joining a cult is essentially the same for both
sexes. The prerequisite for learning treatments and rituals is to have
been a patient and recovered. When a woman falls ill, the cult she is to
join is named by divination and a doctor is engaged for the ritual per-
formance. After recovery and reconfirmation of the cure, the individual
participates as an adept in the rituals of others. Finally she may express
the desire to become a practitioner herself, and formally apprentice
herself to a doctor. It may be said that illness outlines and channels
careers, for one may become an adept only of those spirit cults one has
During the apprenticeship, the doctor teaches the names and prepar-
ation of herbals and sets a fee for the instruction. The doctor may
then mention that she knows medicines for other related illnesses and
rituals, and may offer to teach them all. For general illness and herbal
treatments doctors may treat patients of either sex,and apprentices
may be of either sex.
Persons who eventually become ritual practitioners do not have to
be taught all the songs, dances, invocations, public sequencing of
events, medications, and modes of treatment because they are already
familiar with these through attending rituals. The ritual status of
doctor simply requires that fees be paid and an "official" transfer
statement be made by the expert. All healers stress that if the learner
did not pay a fee, the medicines would be valueless and would not work.
Medicines and rituals work both because of their "inherent worth" and
because the practitioner has been taught to use them during her appren-
ticeship. Invocations to activate the strength of medicines taken from
a plant or tree begin with "mutondo tambu, keshi monako" "plant (tree)
paid for, not just seen". As the doctor paid to learn, so does he or
she expect to be paid for administrations.
Rituals and Matrilineal Continuity
The relationship between doctor and apprentice (adept) may be close
or distant. Frequently a woman learns doctoring or midwifery (see
Chapter 6) from her mother, grandmother, or other matrilineal kinswoman;
however, nonrelated persons may also be accepted as apprentices. The
herbal or mahamba doctor may take her kinswoman as helper on many cases.
As the doctor becomes old she desires to transfer her knowledge. This
makes "good sense" since ancestral intervention and affliction travel
in the matrilineal line. Therefore, matrilineally related women, dead
and alive, tend to be members and doctors for a particular one of the
traditional cults concerned with reproduction. (By learning doctoring,
the younger woman is not granted immunity from reproductive troubles;
she simply gains an insight into the causal agent.) The fees for the
apprenticeship are much less for close relatives and the apprenticeship
is more easily carried out since the junior has already helped her
senior relative in previous cases. On the other hand, persons without
the ritual antecedents in their matrilineages may be hindered if they
desire to become ritualists. These women may specialize in herbal
remedies, general illness, or the new mahamba wapeho.
Ritual is one means whereby each individual woman receives her place
within the matrilineage and eventually becomes a revered and significant
ancestor. The illness provides the continuation of matrilineal cult par-
ticipation and reminds the patient to keep in touch with her entire matri-
lineage (particularly when she is married virilocally). The living are
linked to the recently departed by carrying on the cult memberships of
the deceased. Dispersed matrilineal women become reintegrated through
their participation, and in this sense spirit possession and ritual be-
come the vehicle for bonding women of a matrilineage. Along with member-
ship, ritual expertise is passed down through matrilineal lines and
certain matrilineages have a preponderance of ritual experts.
Male members of a matrilineage are bonded by co-residence, positional
inheritance and succession, and ritual participation. Female members of
a matrilineage are bonded by ritual participation, reproduction, positional
inheritance, and succession. For males the positional inheritance and
succession is based on ritual and political leadership roles. For women
these are based on ritual roles which enable them to translate reproduc-
tive failures as well as successes into ritual status and power.
A young woman still in her reproductive years who resides virilocally
has spirit possession rituals for successful natality and childrearing
at her husband's house. In this situation she is residentially separated
from her matrilineage, for which she is reproducing. Her matrilineage
performs the fertility-conferring ritual for her when she reaches puberty.
After she marries, however, her husband is held accountable for bringing
her fertility to fruition. In return for receiving his wife's sexual
and domestic services, the husband and his matrilineage assume responsi-
bility for preserving her health and the health of her children. Her