Who’s scared….of a few taboos?


Zimbabweans are generally a conservative lot and although we belong to different tribal groupings – there is a lot of commonality in our customs and beliefs especially in the area of sex education.

There was a time, I dare say, when people took pride in the sexual ignorance of young people; equating such naivety on sexual matters with chastity and sexual purity.

"..its taboo for a girl to have sex before marriage because it will break her mother's back" - Venda culture


The less a young person knew about sex and where babies come the more commendable they were for demonstrating that they were not inclined towards “naughtiness”.

In fact where ignorance about sex could not be imposed; our elders in their wisdom crafted clever lies to strike the fear of sex into the tender hearts and nubile bodies of the youth.

These clever lies are some of our Zimbabwean taboos drawn from various tribes and cultures and this post is written to remind us of them and to ask (tongue in cheek) – Who’s scared of a few taboos?

Who remembers the time when young girls were taught (and they believed these teachings) that:

Do not let a boy play with your breasts; because they will grow as big as pumpkins.
Do not have sex with boys; because you will develop pseudo-pregnancies
Do not look at the private parts of somebody; or else you will grow a boil on the eyelid.
Do not engage in sexual intercourse otherwise your sexual organs will turn into a frog or a chameleon.
Do not indulge in sex or else your sexual organs will move to your forehead.
Do not play with boys because you will fall pregnant.
A girl should not indulge in premarital sex because her parents will suffer from backache.

As a rule of thumb, human private parts were not to be exposed or looked at and the manner in which girl children sat was strictly monitored to ensure that their sitting posture did not expose their private parts.

Girls were always reminded to ‘sit properly’.

And of course the elders went to all the trouble of concocting these lies just to preserve the virginity of girls that “priceless” commodity tucked neatly between our legs. (Do I sound a bit irreverent?)

...no chastity belt required if your family can just 'lock' you with medicines and concoctions...aah - you gotta love the potency of African magic!


This brings me to the irksome topic of virginity testing since the virginity of girls was closely guarded as a matter of family honor and pride.

In some tribes, virginity tests were conducted randomly and usually the venue for these inspections was the river.

Some tribes relied on shaming the deflowered girls. If you failed the virginity test and it was discovered that you had been deflowered; you were made to carry a half-full clay water pot to your home as a sign to your mother that you’d been deflowered *cringe*.

Other tribes employed scare tactics to force a confession from a deflowered girl and this would involve asking the ‘suspect’ to suckle someone else’s baby. A virgin would not refuse but a deflowered girl would immediately confess and refuse because taboo had it that if a deflowered girl suckled a baby – the baby would fall sick and die.

Then there were the more hectic tribes that employed some really mysterious tactics to ensure that the girls’ prized virginity was not tampered with.

The families would simply “doctor” their daughters and the girls would have no idea that they were “fenced” such that when a young man had sex with them that young man’s stomach and genitals would swell (I kid you not!).

To avoid dying, the culprit would have to confess to the girl’s father ask for forgiveness, be cured by the girl’s further before being forced to marry that girl and be banned from having sex with any other woman and if he refused, he’d die.

Yeah…so that’s a bit on our Zimbabwean taboos and I know some of them will be considered outmoded because no young person these days will buy into these taboos but it’s always nice to reflect on the wisdom of old and acknowledge – they had a good thing going before modernity in the form of the internet, Google, TV and porn magazines ruined it!

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11 thoughts on “Who’s scared….of a few taboos?

  1. gracefulglider says:

    Intriguing read 🙂 I grew up with some of these beliefs as well and truly theyy helped maintain some ‘sexual ‘ sanity in the world.
    Lovely Post.

  2. Well, well….this is quite interesting. While I would say the idea was noble, I am not really sure about the way it was done. I have heard that young women who are sporty can break the hymen during sports…would they be classified as deflowered? Or perhaps someone who would have been raped? I can’t imagine having to put someone who had had this kind of an experience through such shame instead of helping them!

  3. Charlotte says:

    The other one was that elders can tell that you not a virgin or have had sex by looking at the back of your legs, right behind the knee part. Never understood it and don’t know if its even true. What were they meant to see?

  4. Sel says:

    Great post.

    It was a bit different for me growing up in Nigerian and Ghana. Adults did not tell us fantastical stories, but the effect of creating fear was the same.

    Between my mother giving me ‘the talk’ at ten years old (mortifying), all the Sex-Ed from Life Skills classes and Sunday School cautionings, I was plenty freaked out. Whenever a boy said he liked me all these horrible images of flesh-eating STDs, unwanted pregnancies and hell fire burning would flash right before my eyes.

    Sometimes the truth is scarier than fiction.

  5. Nonhlanhla moyo says:

    These taboos can hav both positive and negative efects…..My grandmother always said that if you play with boys you will get pregnant so when I fell sick people thot that i was pregnant (iwas not yet 12yrs old). Simply coz i tended to relate more with males as i was an only girl in a family full of males. The result is that they didnt sick medical care for me until i went into a comma, by then the meningitis was at an advanced stage…..

  6. I also grew up where such taboos were known to exist and that fear of the unknown helped a lot in delaying in engaging in some of bad tendancies at an early age to say, then movement of people with different cultures to various places led to people not fearing and coping other people’s way of leaving.

  7. Natasha says:

    I really find virginity tests disgusting and should be banned in all the places where they are still happening. What an infringement on bodily rights and freedom man. I’m glad I never went through that, God only knows what I could have done. They would kill me first,

    The only taboo I recall really believing was the one of being touched on the breasts and them elongating like mugoti. I think I’ll tell my daughter she would pregnant, get HIV or worse. Simplicity and honesty does it for me.

  8. Yes, I think those taboos were important during that era. But, it would be a disaster in this age of television and globalisation. Now, we find so many paedophiles such that sex education for children is actually very important. It may become difficult for them to talk in a situation where they are abused.

    On a lighter note, I heard that in Western countries they now have ‘surgery to restore virginity’. What the doctor simply does is hymen restoration, just simply stitching back together what was broken by a moment of passion. Heard its prevalent among the Muslims.

  9. Phineas says:

    When you reflect, everything becomes a joke now because we’re older but most of us are beneficiaries of these taboos and are alive today because they preserved us. It’s unfortunate isikhiwa has taught us and our children the words ‘HOW, WHAT, and WHY’ which leads to experiments. There is no longer fear of the unknown as in the days of old and there seem to be no replacements to these taboos which have become a joke. Young people now want to learn from reality which is dangerous and brings disaster.

    Try to come up with new ones Delta. How’s that one? lol

  10. pfimbiyangu says:

    i find it fascinating when we really look at what was effective in helping us save the sex for later.was it the scare tactics or something else? For me it was hearing someone my age.talk about their experience and subsequent decision to wait. There is no need to grow up and make the same mistakes, but young people do cause we do not share what we learnt, we share the same scare tactics that did not work on us.

  11. Before my daughter could read, I put the book “Where Did I Come From?” in her toy box. This children’s book is a very frank, but child appropriate discussion of the facts of courtship, love, love making, pregnancy, and birth. At first, I read only the parts that discussed pregnancy and birth to her, to be sure I would know she hadn’t heard it from the book if she came to me with stories of abuse. . . . Unbeknownst to me, she had taught herself to read and after work one night, at age four, she brought the book to me and asked me “to read all of it this time,” which I did. As a result, at age 28 and married now, she does not recall learning about sex and that traumatic moment so many of us remembering it being when our parents taught us. She has always had a healthy and sensible attitude about sex, and to date, no unwanted pregnancies, STDs, or multiple partners of which I am aware!

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