AS the sun scorched the arid lands of Muhlanguleni village in Chiredzi South, a band of ululating teenagers swept across the dry area.
The young girls and boys, known in the area as Pombas, marched as they celebrated a milestone. They had just been initiated into adulthood after undergoing Chinamwari through circumcision and labia elongation.
Clad in white apparel, the marching Pombas approached the graduation venue but immediately stopped a few metres away to be given money as a sign of welcome by the elders.
The 16 virgins sat in rows on reed mats with heads bowed while the elders performed some of the rituals to complete the month-long process of transforming boys into men and girls into women.
At the forefront of the initiation process was Maria Makando, an elderly woman, who also underwent the same training when she was only 13 in 1974.
“The initiation programme is for girls who are transforming into adolescence. Traditionally, the programme mainly focused on sexual matters training in preparation for marriage in future,” she said.
However, the programme no longer centres on sexual matters.
“We discovered that training on the youngsters on sexual issues exposed the girls to child marriages,” she said.
While the young ones are in Chinamwari camp, they are encouraged to focus on their education and plan for future marriage. However, they are sworn to secrecy and are not allowed to divulge what happens in the camp.
“If one reveals the training camp secrets, they attract a bad omen,” said one elderly woman who declined to be named.
Muhlanguleni Village Zion Apostolic Faith Church elder Mr Hlaisi Machave said his church is deeply entrenched in the initiation culture.
He said they work with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and several non-Governmental organisations to ensure that public health practices are adhered to.
“We have partnered health institutions for medical assistance during the process to eliminate chances of infections,” said Mr Machave.
“Unfortunately, anyone who is not initiated is not allowed into the shrine and therefore, doctors cannot go anywhere near the shrine. Therefore they give us the equipment and medication, then we nurse the Pombas.”
Health expert Dr Edwin Muguti said there is need to modify culture in order to accommodate health personnel to avert any fatal mistakes in the circumcision of boys.
“This idea of partnering is long overdue. We are happy it’s happening. Health practitioners should be given more access to these camps,” he said.
Human Rights lawyer Mr Clever Mandizvidza said tempering with one’s sexual organs is inhuman and against Section 53 of the Constitution which says, “No person may be subjected to physical . . . inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
He added, “Genital mutilation and labia pulling is abuse of human rights. To achieve balance, there is need for inter-disciplinary dialogues, grounded research and reflective action towards this programme.”
The Chinamwari tradition can be traced back to Malawi and Zambia where the practice is still being adhered to without compromise.
In Christianity, such issues are tackled through women’s fellowships while in secular circles, it is done under ‘kitchen parties’.
ln Zimbabwe, the Venda, Nsenga, Tambuka, Chewa and Shangaani still follow the Chinamwari tradition.
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