May 11, 2005

"People ask, Why should we change?"

The NYT reports on a horrible ritual:
[In Malawi] and in a number of nearby nations including Zambia and Kenya, a husband's funeral has long concluded with a final ritual: sex between the widow and one of her husband's relatives, to break the bond with his spirit and, it is said, save her and the rest of the village from insanity or disease. Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life....

In a region where belief in witchcraft is widespread and many women are taught from childhood not to challenge tribal leaders or the prerogatives of men, the fear of flouting tradition often outweighs even the fear of AIDS.

"It is very difficult to end something that was done for so long," said Monica Nsofu, a nurse and AIDS organizer in the Monze district in southern Zambia, about 200 miles south of the capital, Lusaka. "We learned this when we were born. People ask, Why should we change?"

Read the whole article. It contains many woeful details.


leeontheroad said...

"[The village "cleanser"] insisted that he cannot wear a condom because 'this will provoke some other unknown spirit.'"

this is not tradition; this is making stuff up.

Ann Althouse said...

Let me quote an email someone just sent me:

"Read your blog from time to time. Usually it is interesting.

"Your article about the NYT hand-wringing over the sexual customs of Malawi was, however, unintentionally hilarious.

"The NYT is staffed predominantly by leftist gays from Manhattan who want to force their bizarre idea of sexuality on the entire country. And they are worried about the sexual habits of Africans? I'd suggest that the staff of the NYT mind its own business. Maybe Africans don't want to import western feminism and homosexual activism. They be very smart to refuse to do so.

"The NYT staff has also been involved in the long-term attempt to cover up the source of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., which was the behavior of gay men. Don't write me off as a crazy right winger, Ann. I've lived my entire adult life in the San Francisco and NYC. I watched an entire generation of gay men, many of them my friends, annihilate themselves.

"Might be better if the NYT staff saved its moralizing for its own staff.

"What a hilarious article! What pretentious, world-saving nonsense!

"You are very convincing in your writing about the demise of the Soviets. Somehow, you don't seem to be able to make a few connections. Try dumping the feminism and gay activism. It's evil. I know it makes sense to you. You are conning yourself. It's the same old Marxist crap dressed up in new clothes."

(When did I ever write about the "demise of the Soviets"?)

Well, I'll let my readers respond to that if they want. I don't see anything Marxist about recognizing the blatant oppression of women. That email was the weirdest adherence to cultural relativism I've seen in a long time.

amy said...

Africa seems to be the bastard red-headed step-child of the world. I don't even know how a nation could begin to clean up such a place.

Baron Violent said...

There are a lot of social problems related to traditions. I studied this issue extensively in grad school and the main problem is that there is no educational or healthcare infrastructure. In developed countries, we have hospitals, schools, roads, etc., to connect people and to give them better access to care and information. In Africa, for a litany of reasons that have a lot to do with bad development policy on the part of African leaders and from donor institutions, no such things exists. These isolated tribal areas have relatively little access to any education or information of any kind other than what their elders tell them. That's why in Africa most of the more successful anti-AIDS campaigns are the educational/awareness type, because in a lot of cases people don't know any better because they're not being confronted with any information to contradict what tribal elders tell them.

jeff said...

I think your e-mail correspondent may have you confused with Ann Coulter - pretty, blonde, conservative... I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time.

Kathleen B. said...

The NYT staff has also been involved in the long-term attempt to cover up the source of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., which was the behavior of gay men.

but isn't this article about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? or did gay men from SF and feminists cause that too?

Maybe Africans don't want to import western feminism and homosexual activism. They be very smart to refuse to do so.

yes, so smart that mortality rates are dropping across the continent. but I am sure that is also the feminists' fault. emails like this scare me. I just am deluded into thinking most people are rational. *sigh*

Ann Althouse said...

Kathleen: You should see the follow up email, after I responded, saying he didn't seem very familiar with my blog or the way I think about things. First, there was this:

"My dear, departed wife was Filipino, and she actually grew up in a tribal society. The practice you are discussing was actually part of the life of her tribe several generations ago. I'm not practicing any kind of politics when I tell you that my wife, and the members of her family saw the practice of the eldest male inheriting a widowed female as a compassionate and wise tradition. The NYT piece is a pure advocacy piece, picturing local sexual custom in the worst possible light for the clear purpose of advancing the Times' crazy homosexual and feminist agenda.

"You should dump the feminist crap. The writers of the NYT need to go home and mind their own business.

"I actually have experience with the tradition that you are discussing. That's a rarity, isn't it? I'm sure that your abstract approach to the subject, gained through access to the NYT beats that.

"So, what would you like to see. Gay bathhouses in Malawi? Spoiled brat lesbian activists in Rwanda?

"And, yes, the article is ridiculous. You have nothing but contempt for the people you pretend to be concerned with. Destroying the traditional cultures of this world to replace them with the bizarre stupidity of Madison and Manhattan may seem clever to you. To me, it just invokes the old phrase: "Misery loves company." I gather that you would like everybody in the world to be just as miserable as the leftists in Madison and Manhattan. (Go ahead, con me. Pretend that love, sex and marriage are working in theses places. I know better.)

"So, you think Malawi would be improved by gay marriage? You sort of left out the funny parts of what I had to say. You should spend some time just being a girl. Trying unfurrowing your brow. Have a beer. Maybe, go home and do some dishes.

"You are taking yourself far too seriously."

I then pointed out that the elders in the NYT story were not taking in the widow, that it was a one-time rape, and he answered this way:

"Yes, the writers of the Times are looking for rape everywhere. They are nutjobs. They've been obsessed with rape for 50 years. I have a summer home in Woodstock, NY. The women there all fantasize endlessly about rape. Mostly, they are bored to death. Maybe, one day, somebody will come along to satisfy their fantasies of rape and victimization.

My wife used to brag that long ago generations of her family killed Magellan. She took great pleasure in describing the hatred of her family for the Conquistadores and for the idiot missionaries who followed in their place.

There is no difference between what you are doing and what those missionaires at the Times are doing. It's called White Man's Burden. That burden has just been taken over by feminists. You are a missionary in disguise.

I'll repeat. They need to mind their own business. So do you. You don't know anything about what you are talking about. Take care of your own family in Madison, if you have one. Africans don't need or want you to destroy their local cultures. I guarantee that."

I really don't know what to say to people who cannot perceive the practice described in the article as rape. The fact that it is ritualized doesn't make it not rape.

Ann Althouse said...

Jeff: If he has me confused with Ann Coulter, he's really confused, since he considers me an extreme left-winger.

Kathleen B. said...

Prof. Althouse: There is really only one word for that: wow.

although, I must admit that I actually laughed out loud at "You are taking yourself far too seriously."
however, I am sure he think that irony is a feminist-marxist invention propagated by the New York Times....

Firehand said...

Ref the belief in witchcraft, Peter Capstick wrote in the 70's that he'd seen a bush African, told he'd been cursed, sit down under a tree and three days later, he was dead.

That kind of belief takes a loooong time to do something about.

Ann Althouse said...

Firehand: The fear of being shunned by the whole community is greater than the fear of AIDS -- greater than the horror of AIDS and rape combined.

leeontheroad said...

Your correspondent merely projects his own experience on the NYT piece, rather than engage with what the woman quoted are saying. To do so, he's got to assume that the Marxist gays at the Times (I guess including David Brooks and William Safire?!??) are just making up those quotes.