Sambia - Religion and Expressive Culture

Ritual and the men's secret society are the key cultural forces in Sambia. Initiations occur on a grand scale every three or four years and are mandatory for all males. Female initiations occur later, at marriage, menarche, and first birth. Initiation for males also involved military training in the warriorhood.

Religious Beliefe. Sambia are animistic and believe that all forces and events have life. Men are superior and women inferior. Female menstrual and birth pollution are abhorred. Male maturation requires homoerotic insemination to attain biological competence. Initiation rituals thus involve complex homosexual contact from late childhood until marriage, when it stops. Female homosexual activity is believed to be absent. Men's ritual cult ceremonies centrally involve flute spirits (female). Other forms of supernatural entities include ghosts, forest spirits (male), and nature sprites. Bogs, for example, are inhabited by ghosts and sprites. Contemporary mission activities center primarily on the local Seventh-Day Adventist church. Daily and Saturday services are held. Baptisms and marriages are performed. Missionized Sambia are largely nominal converts.

Religious Practitioners. Each village has at least one senior ritual specialist who officiates at initiation. Shamans are the main religious specialists, however; they may be male or female, though traditionally males were more frequent and critical. They divine, exorcise, and sorcerize. They are believed to retrieve souls of the sick through magical flight. There are strong and weak shamans. Shamans organize events in ritual and funeral ceremonies.

Ceremonies. The seasonal calendar is based on a cyclical sense of time, with ritual events and feast gardens synergistic with dry season and early monsoon periods (May-September) .

Arts. The greatest decorative architecture is the ritual cult house, which is not maintained following initiation. Carving is limited to daily utensils and weapons. Body painting is elaborate in ritual and warfare. Feather headdresses are especially admired. Traditional musical instruments include ritual flutes and bullroarers and the Jew's harp. Dancing is extensive but simple and is part of all initiations.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to ghosts and sorcery. Possession is usually believed to be by ghosts or forest spirits. Local healing and spells are common. Herbal medicines are widely used, especially ginger and local salt. Shamans are the main healers.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals were traditionally shallow ceremonial events. The corpse was placed on a platform until its bones were exposed. The bones were retained by close kin for their sorcery power. The soul is believed to survive death and is seen in dreams. The widow observes a year or two of mourning. Today the corpse is buried. A name taboo is still observed for the dead for several years.

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