“IF WE WISH TO KNOW ABOUT A MAN, WE ASK ‘WHAT IS HIS STORY—HIS REAL, INMOST STORY?’—for each of us is a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us—through our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions; and, not least, our discourse, our spoken narrations. Biologically, physiologically, we are not so different from each other; historically, as narratives—we are each of us unique.”
― Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales
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A couple of years before my family’s immigration to The USA, I was hooked on a Japanese anime show named “Science Adventure Command Tansa 5” tan-zaa-fai-fu 😀 shown on Hong Kong TV, it was an adventurous story involving the relationship between ancient civilizations and supernatural phenomena. This show left a huge impression on my childhood imagination, I wanted to become an archaeologist—who gets to pilot a giant robot—when I grow up. Not knowing much, I thought to become an archaeologist it is required to get a good grade in history. Sadly, in those days my teacher taught history classes in a non-narrative way but only emphasizing on memorization of dates, places, and names. Completely lost interest in the subject matter for it was sooooo boring! Thanks to Mr. History-Relic—adding with my life was turned upside down in that period—I did not pursuit history as an academic subject.
However, the interest in archaeology has remained and I am pleased to discover it has more to do with sociology, anthropology, investigation, interpretation, and story telling.
To gain a deeper understanding in Zambia’s culture and society, I had read a couple of anthropology books (brieﬂy described below), several articles written by native and foreign journalists, and countless blog entries by Hands At Work’s associates.
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Through in-depth research and documentation, the book offers detailed accounts of the Ndembu ritual complex and clans’ social drama. Particularly on the ritualistic role of the village “Doctors” (or Diviners) and his/her divination tools employed in kinship conﬂict/crisis resolution among Ndembu villagers. Most of the formative symbolism is secular and political.
Two passages from the book that stuck out on my mind—
“In the idiom of the rituals of afﬂictions it is as though the Ndembu said: ‘It is only a person is reduced to misery by misfortune, and repents of the acts that caused him to be afﬂicted, that ritual expressing an underlying unity of in diverse things may ﬁttingly be enacted for him’…When a man ceases to have, then he can begin to be, the ritual idiom seems to suggest.” [Emphasis in the original]
“As one Ndembu puts it to me [V. W. Turner], ‘For Europeans, things are more important than people, for us, people are more important than things.’ But Africans are rapidly becoming more ‘Europeanized’ in this sense. And as ‘people’ or rather the customary tied between people, becoming less important, so does ritual symbolism lose its efﬁcacy.”
Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia
University of Chicago Press; 2000 by Karen Tranberg Hansen
Salaula is a Bemba term that means “to rummage through a pile.” Professor Hansen’s book takes me on the donated clothing’s journey from its point of origin, through the salvage locations where it is sorted, to Zambia where it is being sold and consumed.
During our team’s training it was mentioned that in the local Zambian communities we will be serving, there is a recommended dress-code emphasizing on female wearing lengthy non-body-hugging dresses (not in pants), no bare-shoulders, and no jewelries. Being a curious cat and someone who loves clothing as an expression, also with an interest in social-cultural nuances of various garments/adornments, I am pleased to come upon the following passages and related topic in a chapter called “Clothing, Gender, and Power.”
“…dress should complement the body structure rather than putting it on conspicuous display. For both sexes these formal dress proﬁles convey notions about respectability, maturity, and being in charge. …on the matter of how to present the dressed bodies, the clothing proﬁles of women and men differ signiﬁcantly. Women must cover their ‘private parts,’ which in this region of Africa includes their thighs. This means that dress length, tightness, and fabric transparency become issues in interactions with men and elders both at home and in public.”
A 12-year old boy explained in an essay: “Boys are supposed to wear trousers starting their adolescence; this is due to our traditional dressing. For girls, they are not allowed to wear trousers because it’s against our culture and it is part of family rules. Because of they start wearing trousers, they will show no respect to our parents who brought our cloths.”
“The desire to be well turned out, even if the garments are secondhand, makes cloths-conscious Zambians insist on immaculate ensembles whose elements are carefully laundered and ironed. For this reason the faded and torn jeans that are part of salaula bales imported from the United States are particularly unpopular.” 😀
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Reading the books has signiﬁcantly expended my interest. I look forward to asking questions to the locals, listening to their stories and prespectives, and learn more about the social and cultural dynamics there.
Credit for header images: (L) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure by Victor Turner. (R) Salaula stall. lifeinvestfoundation.com
7 days to embarkation.