Thursday, November 19, 2009

Killing A Bull With Your Bare Hands In The Name Of Culture

Last week I listened to a radio interview with a man from Kwazulu-Natal who was describing and defending the First Fruits festival known as Ukweshwama.

Times columnist Fred Khumalo describes Ukweshwama as a ritual:

"... observed by people of Nguni stock, including Zulus, Swazis, and Ndebeles - which involves about 40 young men killing a bull with their bare hands.

There is a belief that the warriors inherit the bull's strength and power when the beast is killed. When the warriors salute the king upon completion of their mission, the power is transferred to the king and his kingdom.

Another explanation for the ritual is that, by killing the beast, the young warriors form a bond of trust and commitment to each other, a sentiment they then transfer to their other peers, creating a strong manhood in the kingdom in question."
Khumalo, a Zulu, goes on to argue that the practice is cruel and should not be supported simply because it is said to be a cultural right.

Ukweshwama rituals have largely been absent in South Africa in the last five or so decades.

Khumalo points out that the ritual has been revived and that its interpretation is at odds with the progress we have made as a nation.

PETA says on its website that:
"... during the festival of Ukweshwama, a group of youths torment and slaughter a terrified bull with their bare hands. They rip out the bull's tongue, shove handfuls of dirt into his mouth, tear out his eyes, and mutilate his genitals."
The man being interviewed was indignant that non-Africans, including Indian politician Maneka Gandhi who is associated with PETA, was calling on President Zuma to condemn the practice.

Just yesterday The Star (print edition) ran an opinion piece by University of Cape Town philosophy professor, David Benatar, entitled "Culture does not justify cruelty".

Like Khumalo, Benatar presses the point that just because a practice is deemed a cultural ritual does not mean it is not cruel.

Benatar is careful to explain that he views the slaughter of animals for purposes of eating as "wrong" too but he argued further that "the dismembering of a live bull is still worse and thus deserves special criticism."

I agree with Khumalo and Benatar.

Culture cannot be treated as static. Times and circumstances change and culture is not immune.

I do not expect that President Zuma, who is a Zulu, will respond to Mrs Gandhi's call. This is tricky political terrain that is best left alone or rather, ignored.

There are many insistent voices who purport to represent Africans who say that outsiders interfering with their cultural practices amounts to racism.

Nonsense is my thinking.

There is no racism in calling the act barbaric. The act is simply an outdated and cruel practice any way you slice it.

The same is true for bull fighting.

Killing a bull with your bare hands or as a sworded matador does not make you a man or brave, it just makes you a cruel f*ck and cruelty knows no skin color in these terms.

The practice should be banned and the elders of the communities concerned should sit together to figure out a more humane rites of passage ceremony.


Picture Credit

UPDATE(November 24): Animal Rights Africa appeals to high court to stop Ukweshwama ritual.
Animal Rights Africa (ARA) will be going to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on the 24th November 2009 to try and end the extremely cruel Ukweshwama ritual, which is due to take place on the 5th December in at Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, during the First Fruits Festival. Said ARA spokesperson Michele Pickover, "It physically pains us and is an affront to our dignity that an animal is made to suffer in such an overtly cruel and protracted way. "
Read the rest of the press release here.

Also, see the Mail & Guardian article(November 24) entitled "Bull-killing ritual to be debated in Durban".


Cartmanslover said...

I'm Zulu and I'm not trying to hear anyone criticise my TRADITION.Zulu people keep their noses out of other folk' s traditions.

We' re a warrior nation.It' s just the way the gods made it.I didn't hear Almighty"PETA" protest when Samson split that lion' s jaw into two. :)Just kidding, Dr Laher. But really though, I didn' t know anything about this ritual, you were the first person to tell me about it.I then asked my family about it and my aunt- in- law(a proud, even arrogant Zulu woman through and through) asked me to pass on the following comments to you.

She said:"Tell your Dr.Laher that killing a beast like that with your bear hands is BRAVERY not abuse!It' s not for (indojana)which directly translated means "little men".We Zulu women appreciate men who can face beasts and not run away and leave us to handle them.No Zulu woman wants a coward like that!We're proud of this, we will never let it go.We dare the courts to take us on, we' ll do the ceremony right in their parking lots if we have so they can see that we're not a nation to be messed with.Bluddy imperialists."

That' s a typical response. I think you' d get it from just about any Zulu in KZN.Fred Khumalo is a diluted form of Zulu, which means he doesn' t qualify to be called one of us anymore.We don' t pay much attention to him.He's like those darkies that were abducted, stuffed into boats, went to pick cotton, graduated from plantation to house n*#%ers,put dead people' s hair on top of their own then came to Africa to tell us how backward we are. I'm not trying to have that in my space.

On my "coming-of-age ceremony"called "umemulo", I' m also going to kill a cow with a spear...I'm going to stab it in the back of its neck while my uncles and Dad hold it down...I'm guessing you won't be coming.


Ridwan said...

Thanks for weighing in on my mostly ignored post Cartmanslover.

Your Aunt is funny. Please thank her for her comment.

I think if forty men will enter into a cage with about twenty lions (wild ones too) and kill them off one by one (bare hands) then I will be among the first to applaud their bravery.

Killing a domesticated animal over 40 or more minutes is just abuse.

The same kind of abuse if you strangled a dog to death like the woman who did so just two days ago.

The police called her schizophrenic.

Fred Khumalo says he is a Zulu. I take the man on his word.

You be well and thanks for looking in :)


Cartmanslover said...

The woman is probably Zulu but Fred is the one who's

I'll pass the message on to my aunt-in-law.She' ll probably say as I' m about to about the woman with the dog- "was she Black? What was she doing with an animal in her yard?Those things are wild- domesticated or not.Ok, maybe she was bewitched." And it will end there.

I got chased by a bull when I was 7 years old. I was with the sheep minding my own business at my family' s farm. I had to climb over a 3m fence to get away from that mad cow...bull, I mean. And trust me, those puppies are anything but tame...or what' s that word you used...ah yes, "domesticated".

And when my folks and I were living in Botswana I got attacked by two Rottweilers...I was 5 years old!Were those babies"domesticated" too, Dr.Laher? I think not.

Anyway, it doesn' t take a Freudian analysis to explain why I don' t care much for wild animals. As long as they stay out of my way, I' m cool.

Annie.Zhang said...

I was doing research on Zulu traditions when I came across this page. I would just like to comment on this problem. Personally, I believe that the ceremony is by no means wrong. It is a sign of courage and strength, and is a tradition that has been passed on for many years. also, the bull, or rather steer, is castrated. I don't think you can mutilate non-existant genitals. It is their culture, and PETA can't just say, "we think that's mean to the cows, stop that." What are you going to do with those bulls? Let them go out into the wild, where they'll just die anyways?
As you can tell, I'm not vegetarian. I revel in the consumption of meat products.
This is also merely my opinion.

Ridwan said...

Thanks for your comment Annie.Zhang.

We will have to differ.

Best wishes,