Recently I read the book A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer. It is a fictional story about Nhamo, an 11-year-old orphaned girl in Mozambique who is told by her mother’s family that she must be given away as a slave wife to atone for a murder her father committed. This verdict was issued by the Nganga, or witch doctor the family consulted after cholera had ravaged their village. Nhamo’s family is part of the Shona culture in a traditional village. Knowing that the arranged marriage with an older, abusive man will not end well for Nhamo, her grandmother takes this matter into her own hands, and secretly decides to change the course of her granddaughter’s future by providing her with the means to escape. With only her grandmother’s blessings, some gold nuggets, and eleven years of survival skills, Nhamo sets out on what should have been a two-day boat trip across the border into Zimbabwe to find her father’s family. The journey ends up taking a year, spanning the rainy and dry seasons, several wrong turns, and riveting adventures. This book is a must-read for anyone traveling to Mozambique; it gives you an excellent understanding of the country’s spiritual heritage and cultural norms of village life. In this blog, I will compare some of the differences between a Christian and Shona worldview in order to better understand some of the belief systems among the people of Mozambique.
The Shona believe that all animals and humans receive one spirit from mother earth, but humans receive another spirit from Mwari (the Supreme Being of the Shona). However, having this spirit from Mwari doesn’t seem to correlate to having equal value between males and females in their culture. Throughout the book, emphasis is placed on the roora, or bride price that the groom’s family gives the bride’s family as compensation.
“Fathers counted on the wealth they would get for their daughters. How else could they be rewarded for raising otherwise useless girls? Nhamo understood that a woman’s value was determined by the size of her bride-price” (24).
This differs from a Biblical worldview where The Bible states, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:27, 31) Not only has God created men in his image, but his very imprint is in women as well. This concept of Imago Dei, or being made in His image, changes everything! We no longer need to work at meeting others’ approval, or search for significance through our performance, or fret about what our bride price might bring. We can rest, knowing we don’t have to earn our value regardless of what any culture might deem important, because that was determined for us at birth. We as women have been stamped with God’s approval; there is freedom in such approval!
The second factor that stood out to me was the Shona’s hierarchy of authority. While Polygamy was an accepted practice, there was still a pecking order. The first or eldest wife had the most authority; beatings of wives and children as a form of proving power over another person were common. For instance, Nhamo’s aunt said casually to her regarding her husband’s second wife’s son, “You may beat him if you like.” (276).
Jesus’ teaching on authority completely turned every culture’s hierarchy of power upside down! When James’ & John’s mother, Salome, singled Jesus out in an attempt to secure her two boys a special place of privilege in Jesus’ kingdom, the other disciples caught wind of this and were indignant with the two brothers.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus responded. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:20-28).
I can guess fairly certainly that this answer was not at all what Salome had in mind for her sons!
Through the fictional character of Nhamo, we are able to gain greater understanding of the traditional culture of Mozambique, including ancestor worship, adelphic inheritance (if a husband dies, the wife and children go to her husband’s next of kin), beliefs of origin and afterlife, and the tradition of child brides for atonement. All of these cultural traditions offer opportunity for significant oppression of women and girls. While Mozambique has laws in place making child-brides for recompense illegal, these practices continue to take place in remote villages across the country. While drafting these laws is essential, implementing them is a whole different challenge. Please pray for the people of Mozambique that the Holy Spirit will work in them to see that the same God who created them in His very image, also sent His own Son to restore the brokenness and oppression that our sin created. Pray that they will be open to receiving that restorative gift. Please pray as well for Christ followers to be raised up who are passionate about loosening the chains of injustice, seeing the laws enforced, and working to help all their people flourish; physically, emotionally and spiritually. That changes everything.
-- Heather Weisel © May 2017