Pastor Frank Michael Tweheyo is the African Program Director for Empower. This is an edited transcript of a recent letter describing a church leaders’ training event he attended in Northern Mozambique, as the guest of Transforming Nations Alliance, a Ugandan community-transformation organization. Learning about the challenges facing the church in Northern Mozambique, particularly the way that animism, witchcraft and other cultural forces have blended with Christianity and threaten it, made Pastor Frank all the more certain that Mozambique needs the truth that Empower teaches.
Hello dear friends.
It was a very eye-opening visit as we engaged church leaders on Culture and Bible and the role of church in cultural transformation.
When Portugal colonized Mozambique long ago, it brought Roman Catholicism to the country, which quickly blended with the native culture. This promoted a syncretism between biblical and cultural beliefs, which remains so entrenched in people’s minds that they believe it is normal.
The Anglican and other Evangelical- Pentecostal Churches are a recent phenomenon (some as recent as 1990’s). Their presence has not yet changed the cultural mindset of the day, which accepts and promotes sexual promiscuity, and strange customs. The society is matrilineal, meaning women own and inherit property, and have more power, but the culture still discriminates against women in some ways, while discriminating against men in others!
Some of the issues on the ground are:
Children (both girls and boys) between the ages of 10-13 have to be taken to the bush for a month for initiation into manhood/womanhood. During that month they are indoctrinated in a variety of ways, but also told to engage in all sorts of sexual exploits. When they finally come out of the bush, they are told they are adults and can do anything they want. The girls are told not to fear any man, nor to deny any man’s sexual advance. Hence if a man asks a young girl out for “love,” the girl is not supposed to refuse!
If a boy is not circumcised, he is despised by girls and cannot marry, take part in a burial, or in a marriage ceremony.
Girls go through symbolic circumcision, not FGM.
In that month-long bush initiation, girls are told that they are now women, they are rich, and must not fear any man. So there is a lot of sexual promiscuity in teenage years.
The church has started shutting off their kids for a month (age 10-13), in churches, as an alternative to these witchdoctor initiation rites. Unfortunately, the churches are not teaching them the Bible. They teach them cultural ideas.
Both for the church and the culture, in this initiation month, the children are not allowed to eat meat especially chicken. They are given water mixed with ash to drink.
I kept asking whether these things are true or whether they are still in operation and our participants all answered in the affirmative, some clapping their hands, meaning they themselves practice them.
When boys and girls are due for marriage, they are sent to witchdoctors (although they’re called “cultural experts”) to be taught (I don’t know what!) before they can go to church for marriage blessing.
(I have excluded some of the deeper cultural practices, I am sure they would be repugnant to the American understanding, so I spare you!)
This is the first African society I have known to not practice dowry/brideprice. It is a matrilineal society. Children belong to the mother, not the father. The father has absolutely no say about the children. The women are “stronger” than men in that they are the ones who divorce, and kick out the men. So you find women with children of several different fathers.
They told us that a woman can have sex with a stranger or lover while the husband is in the bathroom (totally shocking!)
Despite the fact it is a matrilineal society, there are some odd cultural practices against women. For example, a woman cannot put salt in food when she is having her periods. I am not sure of the cultural implications.
Also, a woman cannot eat that part of the chicken around the loins (call it the middle part.) That is because the man thinks that is where his “instruments of power” lie. So, since the culture has taken away much of his power, it lets him deny the woman this good part of the chicken because it is equivalent to his own loins where ‘power’ lies.
In a nutshell, Animism is still at the root of the Northern Mozambican societies. During our training, one of the pastors was called away to a meeting. When he came back the next day, he lamented that the government has signed an memorandum of understanding with the witches to intensify the teaching of culture to the young generation. These witches turned to the pastor and asked him: ” So, where is the church in all this?”
Indeed, the church has to regain the prophetic mantle in these communities if there has to be a change.
There are probably no greater lethal cultural practices to be combated than these, and, in light of that, a great need for the work of Empower.