one year ago Covid 19 was declared a pandemic, and the people of Monze in Southern province, Zambia were advised like everybody else to seek immediate medical attention when the disease is suspected , keep social distance, avoid crowds, wear masks in public and wash their hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizers to keep the pandemic away. For people in the rural areas of Monze such as Chivuna in Chikuni area, like in most rural areas of Zambia have found it difficult to observe these health guidelines because items such as hand sanitizers, soap and masks are not only expensive but hard to come by. The nearest health center is 20 km away and cannot be easily accessed especially when one is sick as the only means of getting there is on foot.
Identifying the symptoms of the disease that are similar to local common flues and recognizing the measures that have been put in place to be similar to traditional Tonga practices in times of pandemics, most villages in the Monze district have resorted to utilizing their traditional responses to pandemics to slow the spread of the virus as follows:
Recreation of the Idyango :
“Idyango” which literally means an “entrance” or “doorway” to some space or room, refers to a traditional cleansing point at the entrance of every village or in some cases households that used to be a must in the olden days to avoid the spread of diseases especially from the forests and from strangers from faraway places, seemed to be one of the solutions that could easily be employed without any serious costs attached.
The history of the “Idyango” is that it was created for persons that could have come in contact with potentially harmful substances to human beings either spiritually or physically, to cleanse themselves before they entered the village or a homestead. It was mostly associated with hunters as the forests were believed to be harbored by different spirits and ailments that were harmful to humans or domesticated animals such as cattle. For this reason every time a hunter retained from his errands he was expected to go to the “Idyango” where he was to wash his head, face, hands and feet in water mixed with herbs that would cleanse him from the spiritual and physical harmful substances of the forest. Only after this ritual washing would he enter the village.
In addition, at every hunters homestead another personal “Idyango” was created, were the hunter would now wash his entire body and leave his hunting attire and gear at the Idyango and wear home clothing before he entered his homestead. His hunting attire and implements were considered impure to enter his home as they could be carrying the harmful substances of the forest. Only after performing these rituals would a hunter enter his own home. This practice was extended to visitors that came from faraway places that were considered too far to be very familiar with the local people. Such visitors were expected to undergo the rituals of “Idyango” before they could even be greeted or welcomed by the hosts. In the case were a homestead did not have a personal “Idyango”, one was temporarily created for such a purpose when there was need.
Idyango was also used whenever a person visited a place that was considered as “unclean” such as a graveyard after burial or after visiting a terminally ill patient. A temporal Idyango was either created at the house were the funeral was being held, where all mourners coming back from the burial grounds would find water mixed in cleansing herbs for washing their hands and feet before entering the homestead. In the case of visiting a terminally ill patient, a household would create an Idyango for the family member who had made such a visit to wash themselves before they entered their homestead.
Sadly this practice has slowly disappeared and it is no longer commonly used, due to western influences and the spread of some Christian belief systems . However, where the demands of keeping Covid19 at bay have been difficult to obtain, the recreation of an Idyango has become the answer. Villages and homesteads alike have recreated a cleansing point before one enters a village or a home. In this way it is hoped the spread of the disease will be curbed .
The recreation of an Idyango at Yvonne Ndaba’s home in Monze. All visitors are supposed to wash their hands and feet before entering her house.
Yvone Ndaba, standing at her Idyango where all visitors to her home have to wash with their hands and feet with water and herbal cleansers and /or ash before entering her home
The herbals used in the cleansings
CHIHUMU: TOTAL HOUSEHOLD LOCK DOWN
Chihumu is enforced at house hold level in the case of a household having a person that is afflicted with a disease that can easily be spread to other people or when the occupants of the homestead are sustainable to infections due to their conditions. In this case entry or exit to such a household is restricted or prohibited. Normally a bright string or piece of cloth is tied a few meters away from the household or space to warn people from approaching such a space. People from such spaces are not allowed to go out to other households and also other people are not allowed to come in to their space. Only a restricted number of people are allowed to enter such spaces, especially to nurse or feed the confined people. This used to happen in times of contagious diseases like small pox, contagious cough related illnesses and child birth (to protect the new baby from contracting diseases before it is strong enough). The practice of Chihumu is being encouraged by those that suspect they could have the Corona virus or who are nursing a Covid 19 patient in their homesteads. They are encouraged to isolate their homesteads and put Chihumu signs to alert outsiders of the dangers within their spaces as well to keep away unwarranted visitors .
Kafwungo: Extreme isolation within and among family members.
Kafwungo was isolation from close family members’ within a homestead. It was practiced to avoid contamination within a family when one member or some members of the family were believed to be contaminated with a disease or spirit that was supposed to be confined or arrested within the person/s while treatment to remove the contamination was being applied. The contaminated person was isolated in a particular space within the household. They were not supposed to come in any contact with any family members as such they eat and bathed in isolation. Whatever they came into contact with was not supposed to be shared or touched by other members of the family such as eating and bathing utensils, clothes or indeed anything that they used or touched.
This ritual was allowed in cases of activities that were considered highly contagious such as abortion, still birth, death and some forms of contagious diseases such as some contagious coughs, diarrhea, measles and small pox. Abortion or miscarriage was considered to transmit highly contagious diseases or spiritual affliction that could be fatal to family members and the affected woman was isolated while purification medication were administered. In the same way close relatives of the dead such as the spouse or parents who could have possibly nursed the dead, were feared to have the potential of transmitting the disease or spirit that killed the dead person. As such during and after the funeral rites these close members were extremely isolated until the purification rituals were performed. The same applied to those afflicted with contagious diseases as above. They were isolated while receiving medication until they were pronounced free of the affliction .
CHIGOGO OR KU GOGOLOKA: THE CLEANSING RITES AFTER THE KAFUNGO RITES.
Chigogo was the cleansing ritual performed by the person after the extreme isolation observed during Kafwungo. After being certified free of the affliction, whatever the person was using during the afflicted period was burnt to destroy any remnants of the contamination on the used objects. Things like eating utensils, cloths and even structures like the temporal structures of isolation were burnt down. The person was also ritually washed in cleansing medication .
In the same manner Covid 19 patients are advised to perform Chigogo after they are healed by getting rid of all the things that they were using during illness and disinfecting the places they were using before others could be allowed to use them. Chigogo is important in preventing the spread of the virus from the things and spaces that were exposed to the virus through the affected person during illness. This is because, while the person may be free from spreading the virus, the things that they came in contact with during illness have a high potential of spreading the virus to other people .
TREATMENT OF THE AILMENTS THAT PRESENT SYMPTOMS SIMILAR TO COVID 19
Communities have identified the symptoms associated with Covid 19 such as high fever, difficult in breathing, weaknesses, headache and a loss of taste and smell. Using traditional herbal medicines that have been used to address similar illnesses that present similar symptoms such as Malaria, the common flu, T.B and asthma, the communities are treating any person that has them as a first aid measure before and during the time of receiving medical attention, as follows:
(i) CHIVUTO AND KUJIKWA: HERBAL STEAMING
Kujikwa: Patients that have difficulties in breathing receive steaming treatment by putting them under a heavy clothing such as a blanket which cannot let steam out and placing a bowl or pot of steaming water infused with herbal medicines that help to open up breathing ways such as mouth, throat and lungs and improve breathing. The patient is encouraged to open their mouth and eyes while inhaling the steam. The heat from the steam is also expected to make the patient heavily sweat out, which is also encouraged as it is seen as a sign of purging out the disease.
Chivuto: Chivuto is the same as Kujika above only that a hot stone is used instead of water. In this case a stone is heated and some herbs placed on it. The patient covers themselves with a thick clothing and occasionally sprinkles water on the hot stone which releases hot steam that the patient inhales.
In the case of Covid 19 patients, Chivuto and Kujikwa steaming processes are encouraged to help open the patient’s airwaves and in turn improve breathing .
Herbs being prepared for “Kujikwa” or steaming
CHIHULA MATANGA: MASS PREVENTION FROM CONTAMINATION
Chihula Matanga which literally means a “crowded cattle kraal”, in reference to a group/s of people that are treated enmass. Chihula Matanga is a prevention processes that targets groups of people such as families or gatherings. When a pandemic breaks out, common drinking and eating spaces are treated with medicines to either purify the food or the water or destroy ingested bacteria. In this case water from which a family drinks from or mealie meal from which a family or a group of people prepare their meals from is mixed with medicines that prevent contamination. The most commonly used herb in water and mealie meal is charcoal. Another herb called Munyeu, a local tuber, is placed in the water container or in the mealie meal bin to prevent contamination.
The presence of Covid 19 has called for all possible means of reducing any form of contamination. Therefore families are encouraged to treat their drinking water and main mealie meal with Munyeu or charcoal to prevent any form of contamination that can weaken people’s immunity systems .
COMMON HERBS AND FOODS TO TREAT COMMON FLU RELATED SYMPTOMS:
With the presence of Covid 19, community members presenting flu like symptoms are treated with local herbs as follows:
Mubanga; Pericopsis angolensis: The bark and leaves of the Mubanga tree are used to make a herbal medicine that treats headaches. Mubanga has been used in treating headaches since time immemorial as such it is an offence to cut down a Mubanga tree in the Tonga society .
Muntanga Mbabala: The roots of this tree are used to treat cheat pains and shortness of breath.
Muwama: The Muwama tree has a fresh smell like Vicks. The roots of this tree are used in the Chivuto or Kujika steaming process to help open breathing airways.
Nyungu; Pumpkin seeds: Roasted Nyungu or pumpkin seeds are given to patients that show weakness to help them regain their strengths.
Mundambi; Hibiscus sabdariffa L: A species of Hibiscus of the Malvaceae family native to Zambia is a common traditional vegetable that is eaten as relish. Mundambi is believed to induce appetite and therefore patients that have no appetite are encouraged to eat Mundambi to induce appetite.
OLD TRADITIONS AS NEW INNOVATIONS: INGAZI; THE AIRY AND ISOLATED SLEEPING QUARTERS.
The Tonga of the Gwembe valley traditionally construct elevated sleeping quarters known as Ingazi, made of poles only that naturally leave out spaces in between the poles. The houses are so constructed to allow air circulation which is a luxury in the hot valley and the elevation acts as a protection from wild animals. Over the years these type of houses have become less common in favor of modern houses. However, with the outbreak of Covid 19, some households are constructing them to be used by those afflicted because they are thought to be a healthy solution if a family has a Covid 19 patient. This is because the sleeping quarters are airy and can be constructed away from other houses in the homestead, thus reducing the contagiousness of the disease as can be presented in a modern house set up that may not have as much ventilations
Newly constructed Ingazi, Siabaswi village, Sinazongwe, 15th October 2020
The wat Forward:
The Choma museum and Crafts Centre is in the process of reconstructing an Idyango at the entrance of the museum as an exhibition to visitors as well as a practical usable cleansing space for visitors before they enter the museum.
BY: VICTORIA PHIRI CHITUNGU, CURATOR, CHOMA MUSEUM AND CRAFTS CENTRE.
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