|Court Clears Ritual, Bare Handed Killing of a Bull - Does the Judgement Threaten Wider Environmental Problems?|
Yesterday, a “thanksgiving” festival for the seasons first fruits included the killing of a black Nguni bull by hand by 40 young men, after legal attempts to stop it failed. The annual festival was hosted by King Zwelithini of the Zulu Nation and attended by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and other dignitaries.
Legal actions by Animal Rights Africa this year brought the practice to the fore in South Africa as they struggled to halt the practice after some years of trying to convince the Royal House and Government.
I need to personally admit that, although I was brought up in KwaZulu Natal and worked in rural Zululand with Zulu Chiefs, I had never heard of this particular ceremony. I did once witness a Zulu prince eating uncooked liver from a bull that had been slaughtered in response to the Princes ruling in a traditional court, so was not completely isolated.
Ukweshwama the First Fruits Festival
“His Majesty is especially elated about the pivotal role he has played in reviving the culture and traditions that had served as the bedrock upon which the Zulu Empire was founded. The Reed Dance, “First Fruits” festival and hunting ceremony have helped the present generation within the kingdom to merge modernism with tradition.”
According to tradition, subjects have to offer their “first fruits” to their king before they could use the new harvest. This was formalised in the Ukweshwama festival, that was held at the King’s palace and also served as a thanksgiving to God for providing food for the nation.
The Ukweshwama festival is one of great joy and cultural song and dance, that reflects the Zulu nation celebrating the fact that they can look forward to a good harvest and ample food in the kingdom. A major highlight of the festival is the ritual killing of a bull by 40 young men with their bare hands. This is not a quick humane slaughter but can be a protracted 40 minute struggle, where the bull is throttled death or has its neck broken. It was originally seen as a test of young men’s courage and bravery and a chance for the warriors to prove themselves. The power of the bull was supposedly transferred to those who took its life and via them the king.
A suggestion by the judge that the ceremony is video taped so that it could later be examined to decide whether it was cruel or not was refused by the respondents.
During his judgement in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, Judge Nic van der Reyden allowed the festival to continue because he was satisfied with the evidence of cultural expert Professor Jabulani Mapalala. Mapalala said that the the animal’s death was quick, unpainful and that no blood was shed and claimed that ARA’s objection to the ritual was based on untrue information and hearsay.
There seems to be some doubt around Mapalala’s interpretation of painful and quick. For instance an article in an ANC newsletter of December 1995, quotes Chief Mlaba saying
“We must use our bare hands, It’s cruelty, we agree, but it’s our culture. We cannot change our culture.”
and describes the action
“For 40 minutes, dozens trampled the bellowing, groaning bull, wrenched its head around by the horns to try to break its neck, pulled its tongue out, stuffed sand in its mouth and even tried to tie its penis in a knot. Gleaming with sweat, they raised their arms in triumph and sang when the bull finally succumbed.”
Attempts by animal rights organisations were seen as “racist actions” against the Zulu nation, while the animal rights the killing as cruel and unnecessary - a culture gap.
The over exploitation of many plant species for cultural uses as medicine/potions is well documented in South Africa. Animal parts are also used in traditional medicine raising the danger of a conflict between tradition and the conservation of species.
Even more disturbing are the cases of human body part being used in traditional medicine with recent cases of albinos in Nigeria and twins in Ghana being murdered, highlighting horrendous acts in the name of tradition.
On a lighter side (because the slaughter could be well controlled and humane) the Makhonya Royal Trust has proposed that cattle killing ritual are used as a “true African” way of blessing the stadiums to be used in 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but minister Sicelo Shiceka has promised to lobby Fifa to support this action.
Source - GO Media - Written by Dave Harcourt - photo by justinjerez on Wikipedia under a Creative Commons License.