Of Sacred Times, Rituals, and Customs: Oral Traditions of the BaLemba of Southern Africa

by Rabson Wuriga

Many authors have written about the BaLemba people since time immemorial. The focus has been on the identity and origin of the BaLemba people. This was so because of the oral transmission of the BaLemba history. The BaLemba people had for a long time maintained a secret life-style because of fear of being identified as strangers who might be a threat to safety of their host neighbors. This is a common experience among many Jewish communities in Diaspora. The BaLemba people, in a bid to avoid the onslaught of genocide or extinction, became so secretive in their observance of sacred times. In so doing many things remained in the hands of the elderly people who would release the details at a very slow space.

Our research addresses the following questions:

  • What is the basis of the BaLemba traditional, cultural, and customary behavior?

  • Are there any sacred times in the calendar of the BaLemba people, basic rituals, laws or customs governing their diet, and life-cycle events?

  • If they are there, how are they observed?

  • If they are no longer being observed, what was the cause of this failure?

  • What is the community doing to preserve the traditions?

The research seeks to gain better understanding of the traditions of the BaLemba by gathering information about their ritual calendar and daily divisions of time which regulate their religious behavior, by reflecting on their meaning, and evaluating the implications for the future of community building. The gathered and analyzed information shall lead to the publishing of a book.

The study encompasses a review of the available documents and reports relevant to the BaLemba people’s traditions and practices. The main body of the study is a collection of primary information that includes intensive face-to-face interviews of individuals and/or groups of elders (focus groups).

Participants were asked what they thought were the relations between these sacred times and the whole body of BaLemba traditions and laws which is mostly understood as the fountain of their daily behavior. The questions were asked in three main time blocks: some years ago, the present time and in the future. Participants were also asked the following questions about to community building as a way to preserve their traditions, including:

What is your assessment of the current community?
What is your thinking regarding strategies to build the community?
What are the barriers to building community?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction
The introduction discusses why it is so important to have oral traditions written down as was done to the Talmud and the Mishnah Torah. Recording of oral history should be seen as an important method to preserve traditions of a group of people.

Chapter 2: Brief History of the Lemba
Who are the Lemba? Why is it so important to study them?

Chapter 3: Basic religious beliefs of the Lemba
What is the drive behind the Lemba behavior? Are they simply observing customs because of their forefathers?

Chapter 4: Space: The Lemba Home
What role does the Lemba home play in oral traditions handed down to the children in word and practice before going out to the community?

Chapter 5: Sacred Times
What is he relationship between one’s daily life activities and the factor of time? This includes traditional sacred times and how they impact Lemba identity.

Chapter 6: Rites and Events in the Shape of a Lemba life
TWhat is the interconnection between rites of passage, and events in one’s life cycle, including various rituals that are carried out by the Lemba?

Chapter 7: Dietary Laws
What are the main dietary laws?

Chapter 8: Inter-generational connection between the old and young
What is the inter-generational connection between the old and the young? What are the conflicting or different views?

Chapter 9 The Future of the Lemba coomunity
How are the Lemba going to live in the paradigm they have created? This includes contains implications of ideology, institutional framework, and the course of action.

Chapter 10: Relationship between the Lemba and their neighbours
How do the Lemba interact with their neighbors and those of other religions?

Chapter 11: Summary and Conclusions
How can the Lemba build their community and what will be needed to make it stronger?

Appendix: Methodology

Link to Rabson Wuriga’s Bio