In this piece of writing I am briefly going to describe some aspects of 'AMAKHUA' PEOPLE’S LIFE. My aim is to provide the reader with some awareness and understanding of Makua culture. My description will be based on my observation, and my daily experience since I belong to the culture. So occasions such as birth, initiation rites, marriage, and death will be the objects of my description focusing principally on people's feelings, beliefs and practices in relation to the events.
To start, lets find a definition of LIFE. In the collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, life is defined in deferent ways but the definitions which I consider to be parallel to one another and valuable in my description are three:
1- Life is the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual;
2- life is the period from birth to death;
3- life is a way or manner of living.
So, we can say that life is a sequence of mental and physical experiences that an individual undergoes in the period from birth to death due to a way or manner of living in a particular environment. Taking this idea into consideration lets look at what happens to an individual living in 'amakhua’ community'.
'Amakhua' (Makuas) are people who speak Emakhua (Makua) language living in the north part of Mozambique mainly in Nampula province . Their culture is characterized by the worshiping of the ancestors and diversities in terms of their traditional beliefs, food, dressing, entertainment activities and the language that vary from region to region. The more you move from the interior region to the coastal region the more obvious are the diversities. Yet there are lots of things in common among them. Because of these diversities my major focus will be on what the amakhua (makuas) who live in surrounding suburbs of Nampula city do in occasions like birth, initiation rites, marriage and death.
Beliefs and practices related to birth
I believe that in every society, birth (from pregnancy until the baby comes) is the most especial and exciting occasion. However the differences are on each society’s beliefs, behavior and practice with regard to the event.
In the makua society birth occasion is especial and happy but it seems that the level of happiness depends on different circumstances. In some circumstances the occasion may be unhappy because of various factors:
When most makua women are pregnant they feel scared and sad because of insecurity of losing their babies before or after birth. The problem of poverty , mostly when they struggle to get food and the level of mistrust that is seen in the community are also the factors of unhappiness during pregnancy. This mistrust occurs because of witchery that most people practice in the community. People use witchcraft to acquire things, to protect themselves from witches and to cause trouble in others. So pregnant women are considered to be the most vulnerable to these issues once the baby that they are carrying is the weakest member of the community. To minimize the situation spirits and witchdoctors play a big role in this period.
When a woman feels that she has conceived, the first person that she tells the news is her husband but sometimes she may tell her mother before him. If her mother is the first one to know about her daughter's situation, the news is formally passed to the husband.
The woman’s parents find a good opportunity to talk to their son-in-low. Most of the times the husband is invited for a meal witch ends in a serious conversation about the issue. In the conversation they tell him how to behave during his wife’s pregnancy, for instance, the husband is advised to avoid touching other women sexually because it can cause bad luck to the couple. They also agree what to do so that the she can be protected from bad spirits, curse and witches. So, the husband is advised to find a good witchdoctor who can protect the pregnant woman.
They believe that a witchdoctor can give protection to a pregnant woman because besides the medicine that he prepares and gives her, he also contacts the spirits or departed family members living somewhere on supernatural. The ancestors’ job is either to give protection or cause misery to people on earth depending on how these people respect and worship them. Those who follow the ancestors’ rules and hear their requests are blessed. Whereas those who don’t care about them and show stubbornness by not participating the ceremonies prepared for them are cursed.
So the witchdoctor is asked to contact the spirits to find out whether a family member, a neighbor or an ancestor is putting curse on her. If he discovers that anyone is trying to do so, he stops him or her. In some cases the witchdoctor 'kills' the person through witchcraft to protect the pregnant woman.
To accomplish the activity, the witchdoctor takes the woman to the ancestors resting place like tombs, big trees, termite hills, rocks, mountains, rivers or lakes where he establishes a connection between the woman and the spirits. The ritual is done by putting corn flour, cooked food, or clothing on those places or by pouring animal blood on them. During the activity they evoke the names of the ancestors asking them for protection. Most of the time as they plea the ancestors for protection from any kind of evil, they ask them to kill those who try to cause trouble to the pregnant woman and bless those who wish good things for her.
When the 'contact ritual' with the ancestors is finished, the witchdoctor gives medicine to the woman which he makes out of dirt, roots, barks, leaves of plants or trees; pieces of animal bones, hair, skin, flash, nails etc. The medicine can be worn on the pulse, waste or neck like a necklace, or they can be eaten, drunk etc. People believe that besides the curative substances that some of these medicines contain, the witchdoctor adds supernatural powers to them.
Again in order to make the magic medicine work efficiently the witchdoctor gives a list of prohibitions for her to follow carefully. For example she is prohibited to sit or stand on the door way because she will have difficulties in giving birth with the idea that the same way that she will be sitting or standing on the door way, also the baby will ‘stop” on his way causing childbirth difficulties.
Besides this prohibition there are other prohibitions commonly known by Amakhua community that pregnant women are expected to follow carefully. It’s believed that failing to follow this prohibitions a pregnant woman can end up in serious health problems. So among many other prohibition I will provide five:
1. A pregnant woman must not have sex with other men:
The belief behind this prohibition is that if a pregnant woman has a sexual contact with different man from her husband, she will be joining two different kinds of semen which is called Ephome in Emakhua language to mean blood in this context. Therefore joining two kinds of “Iphome” (bloods) may lead to an abortion because every man has his own kind of ephome(blood) and the iphome (bloods) should not be mixed in one woman or else the woman can have an abortion.
2. She must not drink water given by another woman that is in her menstrual period:
Culturally when a woman is in her menstrual period is on one hand considered to be impure that she can not serve food or other things to her husband, on the other hand being in menstrual period means that what would be pregnancy is destroyed. So giving water to a pregnant woman is to pass on her bad luck which may lead to an abortion.
3. She must not participate funerals:
Culturally when somebody dies, it is the saddest time for the family as well as the community. So, to show profound sorrow and solidarity anyone in the community does something to comfort the mourning family. Be it by offering food, firewood, water etc; or by preparing the body for burial and participating all ceremonial activities. But again a pregnant woman is prohibited to participate the ceremony directly for fear that the same supernatural power that caused the ‘person’ to die will easily affect the baby that she carries in her womb, once among the participants the baby is the weakest.
4. The pregnant woman’s husband is prohibited to dig a grave:
If her husband participates a funeral ceremony, he should not dig the grave. If he does so, the baby will never come as dead people never come out of the grave where they are buried. The idea here is, if the father digs the grave in which the body will be buried, and once the body will never come out, the same way the baby that is being expected will never come.
5. She should not announce her pregnancy progress:
During pregnancy the woman is advised to avoid telling anybody about her pregnancy progress. She can not anounce the state of her pregnancy. For example when she feels that the baby is fine or is not, she is prohibited to reveal it because It can give an opportunity for witches to attack the baby. Also she can not announce when and where the chieldbirth labor is going to to take place. If jealous people are aware of that they will easily kill the baby during the labor through curse or witchcraft..
As a result when a pregnant woman starts feeling signs that show labor is near, she tries not to let mistrusted people know that she is going to give birth soon.
To conclude, I would say that these matters about pregnancy are of common sense for those who are deeply aware of makua culture. A mmakhua (makua person) wont dear to ask a pregnant woman anything about her pregnancy, regardless he/she has a very good relationship with her because in this culture these issues are serious. Every one does his best to avoid being accused of causing trouble in a pregnant woman and every pregnant woman does her best to avoid being caused trouble.
If you are a foreigner and happen to fail in some of these things, it is fine. People will understand you. In addition, through the work that is being done by those who are spreading the GOSPEL, some people are realizing that although their culture is wonderful, we can find in it, as in every other cultures, some aspects that tend to be not only against God’s will but also their own health and relationships among them. There those who understand that some of their cultural values can be redeemed to a Christian life style which is guided by Jesus who fills us with hope, happiness a better understanding of life.