T H E D U A L O R G A N I S A T I O N O F L U A P U L A
The repeated assertion that matrilinearity is simply a matter of inheritance, and nothing else is clearly false, rather it is "at once a political economy and a religious system" - that is, "a worldview".Wherever it occurs, matrilinearity strenghtens the personal and social power women hold.
The Luapula people has got most of its features in common with the Bemba people, together with whome they share their proud history of being the descendants of the rich and powerful Luba Lunda Kingdom. The image here beneath even shows some ladies from the Luapula district performing an old ritual since these good old days. Here again society is matrilineal wich is the organisational basis for the economy as well as the religion. It doesn´t only determine their present situation, but their history as well, according to the overall customs among the Bantu peoples in Central Africa. History for them is central to their identity as the descendants to individual matriarchal clans in the community and passed down orally with amazing precision of the elder women, who are specialised in managing that tradition. They keep in memory and alive the deeds and experiences made by their ancestor religion, which determines everything. African history is not a common narrative of integrated whole peoples or countries but of different specific clans and ancient governments like the Luba-Lunda
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On the Website of AKROSS you may get a glimpse of toaday´s society in Luapula may look like; the women still taking leading positions in political life.
"The Luapula Province sits in Zambia’s northeast wing, nestled up against the Democratic Republic of Congo with Lake Mweru at its northernmost tip. It is a heavily populated area thanks to a rich fishing tradition and the fertile soil that supports the production of palm oil. For such a dense area though, the sanitary facilities in this area were few and open defecation was the common practice. The soil there is loose and sandy in some parts, making the construction of latrines difficult. There are longstanding cultural taboos that prevent the discussion of toilet use, and the idea of many people using the same place to defecate strikes many as uncouth. One of the main factors, previously unexplored, was the fact that the villages’ traditional leadership – figures such as village headmen and chiefs – had not been actively involved in pushing their villages to become open defecation free (ODF).
Chieftainess Lambwe Chomba is one such chieftainess among the Bemba speaking people living in Luapula Province in Chiengi District. This summer she participated in a community-led total sanitation (CLTS) chiefdom orientation meeting developed and presented by UNICEF and Akros. The session included an introduction to the philosophy, principals and practice behind CLTS. The group discussed the Zambian government’s policy on rural sanitation as well as the monthly reporting system used to track CLTS improvements. With Chieftainess Chomba at the forefront, the village headmen and headwomen were then challenged to set goals towards their villages attaining ODF status.
Before the orientation, none of the villages in Chomba’s Chiefdom were ODF and around 75% of the population had no access to toilets. Two months later the same figures are almost unrecognizable. Lambwe Chomba’s Chiefdom is now the best performing area in Chienge district with an ODF status of 97.5% with 10 of its 20 reported villages currently being reported claiming full ODF status."
Luapula and Bemba make up two different kinds of patterns of matriarchal societies as in the rest of the many matriarchal societies among the Bantu peoples in Central Africa, all of them built on the same basic principles of matrilineality, ancestor worship, and collective ownership of the land and whats produced thereby, supervised by the women. In spite of this they are individually different in a way that reminds of the anarchistic selfgenerating, selfregulating and selfimititating spiralling processes all of them unfolding different patterns although evolving from the same underlying basical principles of Sacred Geometry, which I have informed myself about when looking for the basic principles of how to balance Yin and Yang, and soon will make my report of on on these pages
This diversity of the wholeness might perhaps be understood as the result of the perfect balance between order and creative chaos, thats the requisite for keeping a society stable, and is achieved by balancing this chaos against order in a harmoniously steadily ongoing progress of evolving variety, flexibility and transformations.
Actually it would perhaps be more adequate to delineate such an anarchistic organisational system who like these processes in nature unfold as fibonacci-related spirals or vortexes from within and outwards-upwards than as "Bottom-Up" contrary to "Top-Down" -related systems.
The german historian and anthropologist Carla O Poewe has investigated the Luapula people and its matriarchal organisational system and written a book about that with the heading; Matriliny in the Throes of Change Kinship, Descent and Marriage in Luapula, Zambia. Part One, 1978 which helped pioneer a new genre of anthropological writing. The book was, at the publisher's insistence, first published under the pseudonym Manda Cesara. Carla O Poewe is Heide Göttner Abendroth´s referent in her chapter of her Matriarchal about this Luapula peoples special kind of matriarchal organisation in a dual system of labour division as well as economical, political and religious dual division between men and womens life - spheres. Thus the Luapula men have their own economy from fishing, of wich they make individual, rather than collective use, whereas the women prefer to work and cooperate on a collective basis with horticulture of their lands. The men don´t work on the women´s lnd as farmers but as fishers on the Luapula River and Lake Mweru in the Luapula Valley. Thereafter the foodstuffs produced independently by the men respectively by the women are traded between them both, but also between the many settlements in the valley. In this way each gender has its own economic realm and maintains a certain independence from each other. Göttner Abendroth writes that this dual organisation allo is a principle of balance, and that it is prevalent in social, political and religious order as well; every women´s society and each female honorary society, and each prestigious stage of life has a corresponding equivalence in men´s secret societies, male honorary society and a male prestigious stage of life. Men exclusively organises all aspects of men´s lives and women organise their, and this dual form of organisation is very typical for African matriarchal societies and make the differ from the ones in other parts of the world.
These kind of organisational pattern was, however, as much at odds with the patriarchal Western worldview that it never was recognised by the Western anthropologists, who wherever they went only investigated the men´s spheres, but ignored the women´s.
Heide Göttner Abendroth writes in her Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe, 2012:
"This omission is most blatant for the so-called matrilineal societies, of which many actually were matriarchal. Here, in spite of evidence, to the contrary researchers would emphasise only the men´s realm - in order to demonstrate that these cultures were "only matrilineal" and that woman actually had no say in matters. This obviously results in distortion and means that women´s culture in Central African societies is doubtly ignored by researchers. A great number of indigenous African societies have not been adequately brought to light, and there is much work to be done.
Since conventional anthropology has seen only the "men´s secret societies" usually organised for religious rather than power-wielding purposes, researchers have wrongly concluded that men dominate. Recalling the example of Luapula: more recent research by critical women anthropologists exposes the presence of women´s parallell religious societies, and shows that these societies to guard secrets are the older ones, meant to protect women´s knowledge of their own generative powers. Men´s secret societies are later imitations in which boy´s initiation and accompanying secret knowledge is cultivated. Another favorite anthropological prejudice is to see evidence of men´s dominance in the fact that in African matriarchal societies including the Luapula socity, the mothers elder brother represents the clan in relation to the outside world. This characterisation takes into account neither clan structure nor the role of women in the clan. If it did, it would become clear that the mother´s brother´s authority is only symbolic, since he lacks control over the clan´s goods and of the younger clan members´labour power. In contrast, women have the last word on all matters pertaining to clan and lineage, and the clan mother is the actual clan chief. In village matters as well - for which the mother´s eldest brother is responsible - women take an active part in decision making."
Heide Göttner Abendroth continues her critical review of Western male stream anthropological research in Africa, by stating that the common misunderstandings about the so called "virilocal" residing with the husbands as a given, although, as in practice, most young girls stay close to their mothers lineage, a fact that sometimes doesn´t appear as the clan of the husband lives nereby the clan of the wives. Then she gives further examples of the very complicated relations between cross cousin marriages in which it could be quite difficult for an outsiders to distinguish who belongs to wich clan as they both are so tightly connected - and concludes by stating that because of these close ties and connecting two marriages clans, neither the young people of the Bemba nor those of Luapula are ever cast into relationships with strangers; they easily move back and forth between their nearest matrilineal relatives.
Last but not least there has also been a great misunderstanding among the Western anthropologists and one-sided descripitions of only male "polygyni", in order to prove the alleged male dominance in these matriarchal societies, when in fact it is a great distortion to imply that these multiple marriages would be the equivalents to patriarchal harems. Because in fact there is as much polyandry among the women, who at the same time as men can have several wives in different villages, can have several visiting husbands coming to her house or hut.
The dominant form of marriage among Luapula could be delineated as polygyny-polyandry and different forms of multiple marriages and other strategies are taken into account to avoid too strong ties between man and women in the married couple to develop, as that is considered to make up a threat against the tight solidarity and collective structure of the women´s group.
As among the Mbendjele groups investigated by Jerome Lewis, its also very easy to get a divorce and to come and go as you like and to choose with whom you want to stay among ones clans. And these kind of flexibility never makes up a problem for the children as they always live with their mothers and belongs to her matrilineal clan.
The religious world of the Luapula has got much in common with the rest of the Bantu people´s religious concepts and is also based on the worship of the ancestors. The prototypes for the matriarchal kinship systems are the mythical primordial parents; the original ancestral mother and her twin brother, which creates an image of a single family tree that´s being shared by all people, thus being closely related to one another.
"Ifumu" is the central symbol for the mother´s womb - which facilitates the possibility for humankind to regenerate itself as well as it signifies the universe, giving birth to all creation and is filled with limitless abundance. The land inhibited by Luapula is also called "Ifumu" as well as the horticulture practised by women together woth the products of their labor, which are considered to be available for everyone. And on the basis of these sacred principles, women own the land.
Quoting Heide Göttner Abendroth in her Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe, 2012:
"The next most important wholy symbol is "mukova" which means the matriarchal clan but also signifies the womb of the ancestress, embodying both the origin and the history of the clan. The single lineage within the clan is called "cikota" or "great female" and indicates the particular womb from which the lineage sprang. The role of men´s fertility is known and honored; its equated with the liquid element. Semen is cognate with water, the substance that makes the earth fertile, so fishing belongs to the realm of men, as do the water."
A great threat to this kind of age-old, stable and wellbalanced societal organisations has the European colonisers and its protestant missionaries been, as their imposed industrial market system only has been advantageous for men, who nourish the hope of thereby becoming rich on private basis. And those who have, often decline to share their newly aquired wealth with their clanmembers and withdraw from them, to become members of Protestant sects, preaching the gospel of private property instead of clan ownership and reckon relationship through the father´s line instead of the mother´s. The Protestant ideology of prosperity being regarded as evidence of being blessed and elected by Good, makes it easy for these men to defense and justify their choice to put their own business interests ahead of the claims the clan might make on them. This kind of Protestant ideology furthermore propagate for monogamous marriage in which the man is the head of the family, in order to assure the private property to get passed down through the male line to their sons. And beyond this they try to seduce women with all their money for to "liberate" them from their clan structure, which some times make women give in to such temptations hoping to get rid of the hard farming work in the fields, which although motly turns out to be a shortlived benefit. Because although the women by these marriage arrangements also convert to Christianity, they often quickly drop out of the sects again, when they realise that they only are expected to play an insignificant role, which as we have learnt by now they certainly not are used to in their own African matriarchal tradition.
Heide Göttnere Abendroth ends this chapter about the Luapula matriarchal society with this lines:
"Most Luapula women have mounted massive resistance to this new power play which they see as `enslavement of women´. They claim the right to matrilineal distribution of goods (those who are better off are especially active in this) and foster the traditional system in which wealth is used exclusively to help the clan. This allows women to maintain control over their land and their descendants, and to be supported by their adult children."
In this statement she is referring to Carla o Poewes writings from the 70s, which thus maybe are too old for to be of much relevance today, when things changes so rapidly everywhere and even have done so in Africa.
Quoting Heide Göttner -Abendroth:
Carla O. Poewe comprehensively and accurately criticizes the biases of patriachy-influenced anthropology both past and present.She argues that the older (classical) anthropological studies of Africa confirm that women in matriarchal societies are persons with full rights and titles to property, as well as exercising the power to make decisions and manage resources. (Rattray, Forces, Richards) However at the present time, this research is either ignored or reinterpreted from an androcentric perspective that consults only male informants. This perspective is particularly influenced by the theory of Lévi Strauss (1969) which regards women as nothing more than objects for exchange between men, and which attempts to squeeze the diversity of social systems into an oversimplified, structuralist world (Poewe p. 27)