New ideas regarding the wisdom of continuing with some of the outdated customary practices such as mourners returning from the grave side having to wash their hands en masse in a bath full of water in accordance with custom among some African societies are beginning to emerge from the ordinary man in the wake of the speed at which corona virus, otherwise known as Covic-19 is spreading globally since its outbreak in Wuhan, China.
I was in a bar in Mochudi the other day, when a handsome looking man known as Jomo Matlapeng came to sit next to me. He introduced the discussion on the outbreak of the virus. The discussions touched on some of the customary practices being carried out in Botswana and elsewhere in Southern Africa. He specifically mentioned the dipping of hands by a large group of mourners returning from the graves saying it was unhygienic. I am almost certain that he raised the issue with me because he knew that as an opinion leader I would consider putting the flesh onto the skeleton he had presented me with.
The washing of hands en masse by mourners after the burial is customary. It originated from time immemorial. It is common in Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho. Legends in Mochudi speculate that the washing of hands in that manner was meant to prevent bad luck. They say failure to wash hands was tantamount to importing death to one’s home. Others give a different account. They think washing of hands en masse was for hygienic reasons since they could have been participating in the carrying of the coffin to the cemetery, throwing in of the sand into the grave and the laying of stones on top of the grave and so forth. There are others who associate the practice with the Bible. Whatever the reasons, the washing of hands in that manner is a threat to today’s required health standards. It exposes people to a number of unacceptable situations.
At least the Zion Christian Church is far ahead in that respect. Their members do not dip their hands in a bath water. The exercise is administered by a senior church member who pours water with a mug on members’ hands individually until the job is over. This is commendable.
Let us examine in detail what the Bible says about the washing of hands. This appears in the book of Matthew 27 verse 24 when Jesus was brought before Pilate by the chief priests and elders. Pilate saw nothing wrong with Jesus and kept asking them why they wanted him crucified. According to the Bible, “when Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, I am innocent of this man’s blood, it is your responsibility”. This is the only passage in the Bible where the washing of hands is mentioned. It was not in the Botswana context of washing hands.
Amendment to a custom, tradition or cultural practice is usually spearheaded by a Kgosi at a kgotla gathering except where churches on their own introduce their religious beliefs. The Kgosis in Molepolole, Kanye, Ramotswa and Tlokweng may drive this move for change because they appear to be harboring progressive ideas. Mochudi remains problematic in the absence of Kgosi Kgafela II. The village remains headless. Those currently in charge are pursuing what can be termed the policy of Mokgatla-to-Mokgatla confrontational behavior. For instance, Deputy Kgosi Sekai Linchwe has announced his intention to depose the management committees of both the Puthadikobo Museum in Mochudi and the Masama Livestock Advisory Centre near Artesia in due course. He wants them replaced by other people presumably his choice. The exercise had been billed for last month but he postponed it because he had not invited the management committees of the two institutions for a meeting of 13th February. He said he was going to “write them letters forcing them to attend” the next meeting. The use of the words “forcing them to attend” clearly shows that Sekai Linchwe is in a fighting mood. With the support from his stooges, Sekai Linchwe is unlikely to approach the issue with the sensitivity or dignity it deserves. He likes playing to the gallery. Next in Sekai Linchwe’s target is the Old Linchwe Primary School complex. He mentioned it in passing at the last kgotla meeting. But one could see clearly that the writing was on wall for another confrontation.
During Kgosi Linchwe’s rein, a change on a matter of culture or custom was not difficult because he was a progressive leader. In 1975, when he revived bogwera (initiation ceremony) he effected a major change in the manner of administering the ritual. The olden way was barbaric. The saddest thing was that, parents of the deceased were not formally informed of the deaths of their loved ones. What used to happen was that, the deceased would be buried in the bush. His clothes and other belongings would be dropped by the door side at his parents’ home at night when everybody was asleep. Parents would be greeted by his clothes when they woke up in the morning and they would know that their son was no more.
That was why when Kgosi Linchwe revived the exercise, Sir Seretse Khama who was then the president of Botswana was highly critical of Kgosi Linchwe’s revival move saying it would be irresponsible of him to allow the “mutilation of our young boys and girls in the bush” through “wasteful and long forgotten tribal rituals such as bogwera”. In his view, “bogwera is a divisive ritual, it smacks of the seeds of disunity” and that “for all it does is encourage tribal identities and ethnocentrism at the expense of national unity, and the very fact that this useless primitive ritual has, in some cases, resulted In deaths gives me every reason or right to discourage it as much as I can”, he said. This was on 30th September 1975 when he was delivering independence message to the nation.
What Sir Seretse did not know was that there had been radical changes in Mochudi from the manner in which the old practice was performed by people who perhaps had no knowledge of stopping bleeding and pain. As a modern day Kgosi, Linchwe II involved local and medical doctors and students from MEDUNSA in the exercise with a view to avoid pain and suffering as well as deaths. Sir Seretse was not aware of this fact when he launched a scathing attack on the revival of bogwera in Mochudi. His intelligence had failed to provide him with facts.
These are the views of the ordinary man. Government must in its wisdom of dealing with the spread of the virus, not forget that there are border jumpers who may export the virus to Botswana. This is the time the BDF should be utilized to intensify border patrols particularly our northern and western border lines. Batswana must also reduce their external travels. Otherwise government seems to be doing on the right track in dealing with the virus. The minister responsible for health matters is not missing in action. He briefs the nation daily on the situation.
Before I sign off, let me remind readers that in March 2003, the world experienced a similar virus which claimed lives at several countries. It was called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). We were in Japan accompanying President Festus Mogae on an official visit at the time of the outbreak of the disease. It had been traced to a hotel in Hong Kong where the presidential entourage had an overnight stopover. Only God knows how the presidential delegation escaped contracting the virus. The outbreak of the virus was first reported by the Japan Times of 19th March 2003 and the Botswana delegation left Japan on 21 March when the virus was already spreading having been reported in Singapore, Vietnam, Canada, Thailand, New Zealand, the US and Germany. Suspected cases were being investigated in England, France, Israel, Slovenia and Australia, according to the Japan Times.