Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Zanaki and meat

There is a tradition among the Zanaki ethnic group that continues to be observed in which a family is required to donate a cow to the wider clan to which it belongs when the head of the family's household dies.


After Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere died in October 1999 and soon after he was buried, members of the clan showed up to demand their customary cow. It took a long time before that cow was given but it was eventually handed over, 8 years after his death.

I handed over the cow to the elders who insisted I accompany them to hand over the cow, in person, to members of the clan.

On the agreed date, four representatives of the clan showed up to collect the cow. Before we set off and in following custom, they cut down a branch from a tree and carved a narrow stick of about a metre long and handed it to me. They told me I had been elevated to a higher age class and was required to walk with the stick in my hand from that day onwards.

We set off with my family's cow and three other cows that were collected from other families and walked a distance of about 3 kilometres to a remote location that was enclosed by short a fence-like bush that concealed a large gathering of clan members from passers-by.


The meeting revolved around the slaughter of the cow and the distribution of its meat among all those who had assembled; it was also a gathering that was mandated by the clan to receive complaints against undisciplined members of the clan and could also apply fines or sanctions to any clan member who had breached social rules.

I asked whether I could take photos of the proceedings but was told it was forbidden. However, I carried home about three kilos of meat neatly wrapped in leaves that were picked from the surrounding trees. I also updated my list of known relatives, and was invited to attend the meat distribution meetings that are convened regularly.

4 comments:

Chacha o'Wambura a.k.a Ng'wanambiti! said...

Yeah! when it comes to customs you have to know that it is a way of life.

I wonder, though, if at all you walk with that stick as you were told by the WAZEE....lol

If not, where did you keep it? in the shelves like important documents to be discovered by grandchildren when you are gone?

Just kidding, but seriously I would have liked to dine with you to share the 3kgs of meat that you were given....lol

Madaraka said...

I have that stick at home, but I don't usually carry it around with me.

I gave away those 3kgs because I happen to be working towards becoming a vegetarian.

Mbele said...

This is an insightful and valuable record of Zanaki customs, better than an academic treatise, because it is so personal and human.

Reading this piece, I see clearly that you have inherited some of your father's (RIP) storytelling acumen, as well as his interesting combination of sensitivity to and light-hearted take on Zanaki customs.

Thanks. Keep writing, and best wishes.

Madaraka said...

Thank you.