The people of the south-central African nation of Zambia and the pueblo people of New Mexico have much in common.
Both had thriving tribal cultures that were oppressed during a period of colonization. Both resisted and fought against that colonization.
Now they must figure out how to deal with many social and economic issues while rebuilding, redefining and preserving their cultures.
His Majesty Chitimukulu Sosala Kanyanta Manga II, king to 6 million Bemba-speaking people of Zambia, and a delegation of eight other Bemba officials, are in Albuquerque this week for a cultural summit with the leaders of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos. The Thursday summit was held at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
The Pueblo and Zambian leaders discussed some of the issues common on pueblos and in Zambian villages, including poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, unemployment, domestic violence and violence against women.
But they also noted the richness of both cultures, and had discussions on tribal governance and laws, education, self-determination and the preservation of language, culture and traditions.
There are 73 ethnic groups in Zambia, of which the Bemba ethnic group represents 21 percent of the national population. The Bemba ethnic group is the majority population in five of 10 provinces in Zambia. The Bemba kingdom is divided into 18 semiautonomous kingdoms, with Manga II being the “paramount” king.
The visit by Manga II and his delegation is being sponsored by Women To Be, a New Mexico nonprofit that fabricates and distributes reusable sanitary pads and women’s underwear, and provides sex education to girls around the world, said Christine Glidden, president of Women To Be.
In the United States, girls and women have easy access to sanitary napkins, so it’s hard to imagine that in countries like Zambia the lack of this basic feminine hygiene product can cascade into numerous social and economic problems.
“In Zambia, we cannot publicly discuss that kind of thing,” Manga II said. “Females do talk about it to other females, but it is not a conversation for the majority. When girls have their menstrual cycles, they stay home and miss school. Then they fall behind on their schoolwork and can’t catch up, so they drop out of school.”
As a result, these children remain uneducated and poor, and often find themselves in child marriages as a way to alleviate economic pressure. Further, these marriages often erupt in domestic violence and being forced to have more children than desired.
Glidden said the Women To Be project will for the first time this summer be going to Zambia, where girls and women rely on leaves, old newspapers or rags when having their periods.
Studies, she said, including one done in Zambia, show that when girls have appropriate female hygiene products during their monthly cycles, “they stay in school, learn a skill, delay marriage, have fewer children and are independent for the rest of their lives.”
A simple sanitary napkin also allows them “to experience a sense of dignity, so they participate in and contribute to their families and their villages,” Glidden said.
“Our end goal is to establish a sewing center in Zambia to train women to sew, and then employ them to sew our product,” she said.