Chilonga Mulilo

I had a fascinating day yesterday, I attended a Chilonga Mulilo ceremony.

Our neighbour (Zenia) has a sister (Martha) who is getting married in a couple of months. Zenia invited me to this ceremony, saying it would be good for me to learn more about some of the Zambian customs. The families were both very lovely in letting me be a part of this important day. They were keen to have me involved and learn some of their pre-wedding traditions.

Chilonga Mulilo is translated(ish) as ‘seeing fire’. This ceremony is a right of passage for a bride and a time of celebration for the bride and groom’s families. Much of the ceremony is about teaching the bride about how to make nshima (the staple food here) and how to feed her future husband and family. Before this ceremony the groom is not allowed to eat with his future in-laws, so this is also a step towards marriage and him being a part of his future bride’s family.

The day began early in the morning when the bride’s family and close friends began cooking pretty much every traditional Zambian dish.   Once all of the food was prepared, it was time to make the nshima. (Most Zambians eat nshima every day, it is a very important food. People often say that if they’ve not eaten nshima, that they’ve not eaten that day – regardless of what else has been consumed.) One of the grandmothers and a matron of the bride took an extensive amount of time teaching Martha about how to make nshima, many of the other women showed her how to stir it and the like.

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This was also a time for Martha to thank her family and friends for teaching her how to be a good woman and wife. She lay on the ground at various points to show her gratitude to the women there for their input in her life. This is serious business in the Zambian culture and while all of the women there sang and danced Martha was totally solemn as smiling and/or laughing would have been very disrespectful.

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It was interesting to me how, although Martha has already been cooking nshima for years and years (as every young girl learns this from their mother), this ceremony is all about her learning this fundamental cooking process. Young girls here, cook, clean, wear babies strapped to their backs – they are primed for marriage and children from a very young age. Yet this right of passage is all about teaching the bride about making this important food and how to cook for her husband and family. That said, I must say I admire the Zambian culture for their seriousness in bringing families together and the respect they have for their elders and age old traditions.

Once all of the nshima was made, the food was brought to the groom’s home. The groom was equally solemn, not cracking a smile as everyone around him sang and danced. There were various parts to this delivery of food, it took over two hours before the food could be eaten. At points there were chickens stuffed under women’s shirts, everyone had to walk into the Groom’s house backwards, money was hidden in the ground and could only be searched for with women’s mouths and a few other very interesting traditions. All in all, it was a fascinating day.

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