Zambia: traditional tales support sex education

A new book, published by Zambia’s National Museums Board, uses traditional stories and indigenous knowledge to educate young people about HIV and AIDS.

A new book, published by Zambia’s National Museums Board, uses traditional stories and indigenous knowledge to educate young people about HIV and AIDS.

The book, Vilengo and Mbusa in the Mitigation of HIV and AIDS in Zambia, is based on the use of traditional sex education methods. The authors are Clare Mateke, a biologist at the Livingstone Museum, and Victoria Chitungu, the director of Moto-Moto Museum.

Vilengo and Mbusa are objects which use insects, animals and plants to tell stories which have a symbolic or moral meaning. They are traditionally used to teach social, economic and sexual health practices among young adults at puberty, marriage and in marriage counselling for all ages.

Speaking at the book launch on 7 April, David Mabumba, Zambia’s deputy education minister, said: “This book gives us an insight into how rich and educative our indigenous knowledge systems are.”

Moral lessons

In one story, the millipede known as Iyongoli in local Bemba language, does not listen to its mother’s advice to eat enough while the ground is still soft, so that it can go into hibernation.

According to the book: “The Iyongoli teaches children that if they listen to adults on social advice, they will live longer. In this era of HIV and AIDS there are so many messages from experienced and well educated people on the problem of HIV.

“Listen to these messages and take them seriously in order to save your life. Don’t be like Iyongoli who did not listen to his mother’s advice and perished when the sun came out and dried the soft soil, making hibernation impossible.”

Mabumba added: “The Zambian traditional education is very rich and was designed to address the lives of an individual at all stages. This book addresses the issues of HIV and AIDS information dissemination, protection, re-infection, stigma, voluntary counselling and new infections among teenagers using traditional methods of Mbusa and Vilengo.”

He urged young people to use the book as a diary and guide in staying free from HIV infections.

Sharing information

Another Vilengo in the book is Fulwe, the tortoise. As a creature which withdraws into its shell, it is a traditional symbol of people who are no longer generous with what they have.

“It is important to be generous, even in modern society. Share your time and information with people who need it…There are still a lot of myths and stigma about HIV and AIDS. Clarify the information you have on HIV and AIDS with your local health centre and share it with your friends and neighbours,” the book states.

Other symbols include the lion, which calls for alertness, and the porcupine which symbolises the hardships one goes through growing up.

New research

The book is inspired by the works of a French Canadian Catholic Priest Jean Jacques Corbeil in the 1950s, who collected Mbusa objects from among the local people of Northern Zambia.

Chitungu, one of the book’s authors, said Father Corbeil’s collections were investigated by museum researchers again recently. They discovered that the Vilengo and Mbusa moral teachings went very well with the current teachings on HIV and AIDS.

She said some books have been distributed to Choma and Livingstone schools and requested for more funds so that more books can be reprinted.

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