ZAMBIA / Republic of Zambia. Formerly Northern Rhodesia(Generalia)


IndexAfrica→ Zambia


Featured: Kaonde, Nkoya, Tonga, Ila, Bemba, M’wemba, Ndembu, Mambwe / Amambwe, Luvale, Lozi, Lambas


“In Zambia, the timing of sexual activity initiation, and the societal control of sexual relations among adolescents, varies across ethnic groups. The Bemba, for example, expect teenage females to be chaste before marriage. The Cewa, on the other hand, tolerate limited and discrete sexual relations among the young. […] One of the most common traditional methods of imparting family life education among Zambian ethnic groups is through initiation ceremonies. The Bemba, a large Zambian ethnic group, seclude the teenage woman for a few days to a month at the commencement of her first menstruation. Elderly women, chosen by the initiatee's parents, instruct and test the ability of the teenager to perform the Cimwangalala dance. This is a dance every Bemba woman is expected to know. In addition, they instruct the young woman on many familial and personal matters such as sexual hygiene and child rearing. These ceremonies provide young Bemba women with sexual knowledge and the ability to make decisions in the interests of the self and the family (Barnes, 1970; Jules-Rosette, 1980; Mair, 1969). […] The results of this study underscore the importance of traditional institutions such as initiation ceremonies on sexual activity levels of teenagers”[1].



A brief account of sexual curriculum in girl initiation rites is offered in Kapungwe (2003)[2]. A more in depth study was delivered by Rasing (1995, 2001, 2003, forthc.)[3].


“Sex education in Zambia has slightly changed in the last few decades, due to urbanization, in which the old system of sexual teaching by elderly women has slightly disappeared, because these women are not always in the close neighbourhood of their grandchildren. Female initiation rites, however, remain to be the main institution of sex education. In initiation rites, the novice is given knowledge about sexuality. Yet, for many this type of education is not sufficient any longer. The rite is performed at a time when many girls have had sexual experience already. Moreover, there is no information given about HIV/AIDS. For boys only ethnic groups in the West of Zambia have initiation rites. so many boys lack traditional sex education. Youngsters start having sexual relationships at an early age. This age is the same as in the (pre-) colonial past. At that time, however, sexual intercourse between youngsters who were engaged was allowed to a certain extent, because a wedding would soon follow. Today, however, young people have sexual relationships mainly to get sexual experience, but such a relationship is not related to a marriage. Although many students believe in the ideal of no sex before marriage, many of them are sexually active. The ideal of pre-marital abstinence is emphasised by Christianity, while being sexual active to get sexual experience is culturally acknowledged for both boys and girls” (Rasing, 2003, op.cit.).


According to Bond[4], “Even traditional sex education undermines efforts to control the spread of AIDS, since "bamachimbusas" (traditional sex educators) counsel girls to be subservient to their husbands and "never say no." Boys receive no sex education at all”. In a recent study[5],

“Parent/guardians were asked whether schools should teach about sex education, and 62 percent said that they should. Among these parent/guardians who approved of including sex education in schools, the majority thought that the subject should be introduced in the upper primary grades. Among the 38 percent of parent/guardians who said primary schools should not teach sex education, the most common reasons given were that primary school pupils are too young, that sex education encourages children to have sex, and that it is not appropriate to teach sex education in schools”.


Among 1980 Toka (Zambia), the supposedly secret dances of the girl’s initiation, which imitate desirable sexual movements were actually common knowledge of all small children, boys and girls, who liked to play at practising them “in public and in full view of annoyed adults” (Geisler, 1997:p96-7). As for initiation:


“The process of initiating a girl […] plays a crucial role in shaping a girl's perception of sex and sexuality” (Mlay, 2000:p79-80)[6]: “In Zambian families it is a taboo for parents to discuss matters relating to sex and sexuality with their children as only grandparents are supposed to do so. […] Depending on the subject, demonstrations would have to be carried out. This particularly happened during lessons on love-making during which an old woman would lay on top of her for therapeutic [?] demonstrations. […] [According to an informant,] “During all this time the emphasis was on how to please your husband in bed and being submissive to him at all times including making love to him whenever he demands” […]”.


In order to prepare Zambian women for their reproductive life and lifestyle they go through special initiation rites. These rites are still widely practised in Zambia. After the initiation ceremony the girl is considered an adult and is prepared for marriage. The girl is then assumed to be protected by the ancestors and the guardian spirit and have a good will for her marriage” (p10-1)[7].


In a 1973 study by Bahl et al. (1975)[8], the commonest age of first sexual experience in Zambia was about thirteen. In a study among 64 mostly male university students by Bloom (1972)[9], first sexual experiences were indicated to occur at a range of 8-17 (p295). About 1/5 claimed to be seduced by older girls, and about 1/5 found their early sexual experiences so traumatic “that they had abandoned overt sexual behaviour until recently”. According to one study[10], indicate that traditional courtship forms are slowly being replaced by modern patterns of courtship behaviour.

According to clinical admissions[11], most STD’s in children are due to a vertical transmission by adults to “promiscuous” adolescents to passive yet curious children.


A further note:


“Many boys and young men recalled early childhood experiments in sexual experience, though they commented, “You know, at that time, we didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t feel anything.” The pervasive associations between sex and eating are present even in children’s play. Here is just one brief example from the many I recorded.

This young man, a Bemba, now aged twenty, recalled childhood play when he was six or seven year old. There is a clear sense in which children’s play reflected an attempt to imitate the world of their parents and other significant adults. Sexual position also mirrored the assumed superior status of the male. (Most boys and young men also commented that if the girl or woman was on top of them, they would risk being hurt by the weight on their penis). “You know we used to steal some mealie-meal (maize flour) and go in the bush. It was a game. We called it “cooking in small quantities” – but that wasn’t all we did! We would pretend that it was dark. Then the older boys would start to divide us – boys and girls – “This is the wife of this one. This is the wife of this one. Now we young ones we were told that we were the animals in the village – dogs and hens and cocks. Then they would say, “Now, it’s time to sleep!” And the older ones would go into the shelters we had made. Now, those older boys and girls, they would do it (i.e. attempt to have sexual intercourse) and we young ones we would peep and then later we would try for ourselves. I didn’t really do anything, but as a boy, as long a you were on top, then you felt o.k.” A considerable number of boys and young men reported having witnessed (i.e. either seen or heard) their parents or other family members engaged in sex, often in situations where the child slept in the same room as parents or older people and at a time when the child was assumed to be sleeping. Some reported that this aroused in them an early curiosity to experiment”[12].



Some indigenous concepts[13]:



• MPOLOTO: It is believed that one can cure sexually-transmitted infections by having sexual intercourse with a virgin.

• MAHAMBWE: In this custom a man has sexual intercourse with a close relative, often a child, as it is believed that, through witchcraft, this will bring affluence (increased fertility of the land and animals).

• NKOLOLA: An initiation ceremony of young girls into womanhood. Girls have an overnight stay. This puts them in a dangerous situation because often an elder has sexual intercourse with all the girls.




Ethnographic Particularities


Featured: Kaonde, Nkoya, Tonga, Ila, Bemba, M’wemba, Ndembu, Mambwe / Amambwe, Luvale, Lozi



Additional refs.:


  • Peltzer and Likwa (1991)[14]
  • Pillai Vijayan, K. & Gupta, Rashmi (Mar 2000) Modeling Sexual Activity Among Schoolgirls in Zambia, J Family Issues  21:170-90
  • Dahlbäck, Elisabeth; Patrick Makelele, Phillimon Ndubani, Bawa Yamba, Staffan Bergström & Anna-Berit Ransjö-Arvidson (2003) “I Am Happy that God Made Me a Boy”: Zambian Adolescent Boys’ Perceptions about Growing into Manhood, African J Reproductive Health 7,1:49-62 []
  • Cherkosie, A. (2000) Situational Analysis Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East Africa. ECPAT International, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, p59-69 [fulltext at]
  • Carmody, Brendan (2003) Religious Heritage and Premarital Sex in Zambia, J Theology for Southern Africa 115:79-90
  • Breaking Silence: Gendered and Sexual Identities and HIV/AIDS and Education, UNICEF 2003 []

§         Child marriage briefing: Zambia. New York: Population Council, 2004 []


Zambia Sexual Behaviour Surveys (Chapters 5: Adolescents):


§         Zambia Sexual Behaviour Survey 2003. Central Statistical Office, March 2004 [,]

§         Zambia Sexual Behaviour Survey 2000. Central Statistical Office, April 2002 []

§         Zambia Sexual Behaviour Survey 1998. Central Statistical Office, April 1999 []






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: May 2005


[1] Pillai, V. K. & Barton, Th. R. (1998) Modernization and teenage sexual activity in Zambia, Youth & Society 29,3:293-310

[2] Kapungwe, Au. K. (2003) Traditional Cultural Practices of Imparting Sex Education and the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The Case of Initiation Ceremonies for Girls in Zambia, African Sociol Rev 7,1 []

[3]Rasing, Th. (1995) Passing on the rites of passage: Girls' initiation rites in the context of a Roman Catholiccommunity in the urban Zambian Copperbelt. London/Leiden: Asgate/ACS; Rasing, Th. (2001) The Bush Burnt, the Stones Remain: Female initiation rites in urban Zambia. Hamburg / Leiden: Lit Verlag/ASC; Rasing, Th. (2003) HIV/AIDS and sex education among the youth in Zambia: Towards behavioural change. Occasional paper []; Rasing, Th. (forthcoming) The persistence of female initiation rites in urban Zambia; reflexivity andresilience of Zambian women and culture, in Van Binsbergen, W. & Van Dijk,R. (Eds.) Situating Globality: African Agency in the Appropriation of Global Culture.Leiden: ASC/Brill

[4] Bond, V. (1992) Winds of change in Zambia, WorldAIDS, May (21):3-4

[5]Zambia DHS EdData Survey 2002, Education Data for Decision-making. Central Statistical Office, Lusaka, Zambia, ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland, USA, April 2003, p21, 150-6 []

[6] Mlay, M. (2000) The impact of negative cultural practices on the spread of HIV/AIDS in Zambia, in Kwame Boafo, S.T. & Arnaldo, C. A. (Eds.) Media & HIV/AIDS in East and

Southern Africa: A Resource Book. Paris: UNESCO, p75-82

[7]Maimbolwa, Margaret C. (2004) Maternity Care in Zambia. With special reference to social support. Stockholm 2004 []

[8] Bahl, V. et al. (1975) Nephrotic syndrome and secondary syphilis, East Afr Med J 52,4:172-5

[9] Bloom, L. (1972) Some values and attitudes of young Zambians, studied through spontaneous autobiographies, Afr Soc Res 14:288-300

[10] Pillai, V. K., Barton, Th. R. & Benefo, K. (1997) Sexual activity among junior secondary school girls in Zambia, J Biosoc Sci 29,3:297-301. See also Pillai, V. K. & Barton, Th. R. (1999) Sexual activity among Zambian female teenagers: the role of inter personal skills, Adolescence 34(134):381-8

[11] Ratnam, A. V. et al. (1983) Sexually transmitted disease (STD) in children, East AFr Med J 60,9:637-9

[12] From: Anthony Simpson, THE MEASURE OF A MAN - Boys, young men and dangerous ideologies of masculinity in the time of HIV/AIDS . A Report for Save the Children Sweden, 2002?[]

[13] Elective Report by Hannah Brown, The University of Nottingham School of Nursing, May 2003 []

[14] Peltzer, K. & Likwa, R. (1991) Attitude towards sexual behaviour and sex education among primary school children in Lusaka, Zambia, J Psychol in Africa 1,4:65-71