KUNAMA CUSTOMS - TRADITIONS-PREGNANCY Part 1 RKPHA 1999-2000
In this part of our Kunama Home Page, we shall be dealing with the Kunama customs and traditions adopting a step-by-step approach covering all the events and the accompanying ceremonies performed throughout the whole life span of a Kunama person.
For each major event, for instance: the birth of a child, its circumcision, the passage to adulthood and so on, the Kunama have an appropriate ceremony.
Such ceremonies are performed by the members of a kinship according to their own particular
As there are so many different kinds of Kunama kinship and sub-kinship so are the ceremonies also differently performed.
In our writings therefore, we shall be covering only those ceremonies which are commonly known to and practised by all or most Kunama.
Keeping our matriarchal tradition, we shall begin describing the state of a Kunama woman.
In the Kunama society, the woman occupies a prominent position and plays a pivotal role.
She is the provider of the new members of the Kunama society and families..
She is the keeper of the genealogy of a Kunama kinship or of a sub-kinship.
She is the most important member of her immediate family.
She is the head of a family's household administration.
In fact only the Kunama women guarantee new members of the Kunama ethnic group and only the presence of a female member in a Kunama family guarantees the continuation and extension of one's relatives.
According to the Kunama matriarchal social system, a child is a natural member of the Kunama society only if its mother is a Kunama.
We use the term "relative" to refer to the members of a Kunama kinship not in the sense used and understood by those patriarchal societies, where the family members of one's father and mother are recognised also as one's relatives.
A Kunama recognises as his or her relatives (kinship members) only those members belonging to and originating from his or her mother's side. These include, for instance, his or her grand-mother in upwards line, his or her maternal uncles, his or her aunts (only mother's sisters) and their children; the children of one's nieces (one's sister's daughters) and so on in downwards line.
There are no absolute pre-conditions for a Kunama girl to get pregnant. That is to say, she does not need to be neither necessarily and officially engaged nor married.
As soon as she reaches puberty, a Kunama girl is given a hat of her own where she can entertain her male friends.
She is totally free to choose her own boy-friend, a lover or her future husband.
It is very seldom that the Kunama parents would practise pre-arranged marriages for their children.
The only period of time a Kunama girl is expected not to familiarise with male friends to the point of getting pregnant is before her circumcision, but that does not usually take place as the Kunama girls are circumcised between 5 and 12 years of age.
Should a girl, for particular reasons, reach the puberty uncircumcised she should not only refuse, but she would not even be approached by any Kunama young man as she is considered to have not yet been brought into the Kunama "ways" (Ke-tabila-ta), literally translated: bringing someone into people's (Kunama) ways.
When a girl gets pregnant outside the wed-lock, she is asked by her parents to reveal the name of her male partner.
The identified person is asked whether he would be prepared to marry her or refuse to do so.
In the case of his refusal, then the girl has to go through a ceremony called "Mashkabara". (There will be a separate paper on this in the future).
To this purpose, the responsible male person is expected to provide a cow to be slaughtered for the occasion.
Close and distant family members take part in that ceremony.
Through that ceremony, externally consisting in the changing of her hair styling, the girl is brought into the state of womanhood.
The underlining meaning of this ceremony is that, to be a mother a girl has to become a "woman", no matter whether that takes place through marriage or just simply performing the "Mashkabara".
In the Kunama society, pregnancy is very honoured and the pregnant women are highly respected and very carefully taken care of.
In any Kunama village, the villagers are informed of how many pregnant women there are and who they are.
They are constantly followed, given pieces of advice and helped.
Any time there is a celebration in the village, the pregnant women are given priorities.
These consist in offering them the best food, drink and whatever pregnant women might desire for. The honey collectors too share their products with those women.
Should animals be slaughtered in the village, to each pregnant woman is sent a piece of liver which the Kunama believe to be a good nourishment for an unborn child.
Those village families who own enough livestock make sure that the pregnant women of the village are provided, on daily bases, with fresh and sour milk, cream-cheese and butter.
As the pregnancy progresses, the other women of the village, in turn, help the to-be-mothers in their heavier household chores like: fetching water from the water-wells, cooking wood as well as manual grinding of cereals for the preparation of their meals.
The pregnant women are also supported in their daily physical, health and psychological care.
Should some of them live alone or have no family members who could look after them, their close female-friends make sure of their day and night company.
As the rainy season begins and the village men undertake their ploughing activities, the boy-friend, lover or the would-be-husband of the pregnant woman, supported by his male-companions, prepares the crop-fields for his girl-friend and unborn child.
The female-friends of the pregnant woman join her in preparing food and drinks for the men engaged in the crop-fields work.
It is a Kunama tradition that works or activities which require a considerable length of time and effort are done in teams and these team-works have a particular social importance
and meaning when they are carried out to help the weaker and unable members of the Kunama society.
The crop-field-works in teams for the unmarried pregnant Kunama women could therefore, mean starting in the months of May or June and finishing in September or October when the harvest is completely collected and stored.
The supportive activities for the Kunama pregnant women by their families and co-villagers last throughout the period of pregnancy and the time soon after they have given birth to their babies.