A Sukuma Ceremony

A Sukuma Ceremony

My father spent 45 years living and working in East Africa. During the first 15 years he worked with the Sukuma people in northern Tanganyika. The Sukuma people are the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania and they live in the plains just south of Lake Victoria. My father learned their language and culture and was intrigued by their ceremonies and the parallels with Christianity. He used some of these rituals as parables in his sermons. The following ritual is called Kupalanghanya. About 70 years ago a young Sukuma man decided he was old enough to marry. He went and asked his father to arrange for a wife and his father agreed. His father was able to locate a beautiful girl from a prominent family and the marriage was arranged after a great deal of discussion between the two families. After the marriage celebration Maswa took his wife to a fertile valley where he built a mud house with a fine grass roof. Around the house he drew a large circle and then planted prickly pear and euphorbia bushes. Eventually these plants grew up into a strong fence that was virtually impenetrable. The purpose of the fence was to keep the cattle in at night and the predators out. But there was also a second, even more important reason. Evil spirits and witches were always a danger and it was a well-known theory that they were afraid of thorns. Maswa also built a strong gate that led in and out of his compound and this was firmly barricaded at night. As time went on Maswa became prosperous. His herds of...