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Ululations

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

ULULUNT

In high school Latin Ms. Kris Schwickrath instilled the power of this onomatopoeia in me through our translation of the Aeneid.  From ululare, it means “they wail” or “they cry out.”  The reason it burrowed deep into my consciousness was her urging us to keep adding lu-lu-lu-lu-lu and imagining the actual sound being made.

ULULULULULULULULULULULULULUNT

As a high schooler in Shelbyville, IN, I could imagine something but could never actually grasp what this might sound like. In the States it seems that many communities have lost the practice of ululating. I say “lost” because etymological research shows that several of the root languages from around the world have a similar form (Greek—ololyzein, Sanskrit—ululih, Lithuanian—uluti, and Gaelic—uileliugh). Given that the word was there in our ancestral history, I am sure the practice it evokes was also there. Indeed, I think it names something that was there in the very beginning for shared ritual expression.

Let me tell you, because of my time in Zambia I no longer have to imagine anything. Ululations have become a striking part of everyday life. Celebrations, times of mourning, expressions of appreciation, and cheering are all marked by a chorus of lingual and glottal howls.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, now pretty much a full year back. Since a proper church service can take a community through all of the above celebrating, mourning, appreciating, and cheering, churches are the echo chambers of ululations across Zambia. So, it was when I first walked into Mindolo UCZ—of squeak yodel fame—that I was hit with this undulating wall of raw, human sound. I was honestly in awe.

I still stand in awe of the communal ululation and all that it communicates. There is nothing quite like rising as one and expressing something vocally without having to use words. This is especially powerful when it comes to community-wide lamentation. It is all too often the case that words get in the way of what really needs to be expressed.

I am saddened that in my own context we have lost the ululation. We certainly have communal expressions, like clapping and shouting, but we don’t have anything that reaches the depths of the elemental choruses here in Zambia. Even after a full year I am not very good at it. It’s difficult for me to let go and let it all out. I get concerned that I am not doing it right or that I am an imposter or that I sound ridiculous—all worries and rationalizations related to my privileged social location that fundamentally contradict that spirit and purpose of the ululation.

And I NEED the ululation. I am to the point here that I need to express something deep down that words simply cannot convey. I need to let out this great big mess of grief, joy, gratitude, guilt, hope, anxiety, and love that is growing in my gut as my time here comes to an end. And I need to do so communally with my friends and neighbors, loved ones and family members who have impacted me and whom I have impacted.

Will you join me?

Come on, do it.

ULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULULU!!!

Posted August 23, 2016

 

Umuntu ni Lungu

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

What a man this Lungu. That's the basic translation of "Umuntu ni Lungu," the ubiquitous slogan that has been plastered all over Zambia the past several months. Apparently it is a slogan that works. Edgar Chagwa Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) party, the incumbent president, has been declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election after an exhausting and nailbiting five days of counting.
 
As soon as it was announced this afternoon, the streets exploded with dancing and the PF campaign song that I fear will be stuck in my head for years to come (Dununa Reverse by JK if you want it in your head as well!). Sorry for the strange orientation of the photo!
 
 
 
It has been a particularly passionate and fraught election season for the country. Edgar Lungu became president last January after a special election to replace President Michael Sata, who died in office. Michael Sata has achieved almost saint-like status here for running the country with integrity and charisma, knowing the plight of people of all areas and all walks of life, and battling corruption. So, for many people, a vote for Lungu this time around was a vote to honor the legacy of Sata and the party he founded.
 
On the other side was Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND). A perennial candidate, he came within around 20,000 votes of beating Lungu in last year's special election. He continues to have a massive following, with his strongholds amongst the Tongas in Southern Province and the Lozis in Western Province. He has defied accusations of tribalism, evidenced by his surprisingly broad support amongst many though not a majority of Bembas and related tribes. For many people a vote for Hakainde Hichilema...or HH as he is most well known...was a vote for change after a very difficult year in terms of the economy.
 
Seven other candidates ran for president, including the third-place Edith Nawakwi, who in my opinion would have been best for the country. This election was the first in Zambian history to require a 50% + 1 vote majority to win the presidency, and many of us are shocked that this happened on the first vote (50.35%). Usually the winner in this multi-party democracy only garners between 40 and 48 percent. On this front, I am sure there will be legal challenges and calls for recounts. An actual recount, however, seems unlikely.
 
Edith Nawakwi wowed me with her speech at a recent event
Another major change this election was the addition of running mates on the ballots who will become part of the succession (much like the vice presidency in the U.S.). The last two regularly elected presidents--and wildly populary presidents I might add--both died in office, leading to poorly attended by-elections and therefore murky mandates for their replacements. The addition of running mates is meant to prevent such a situation. Inonge Wina, the first woman vice president of Zambia, is now the first popularly elected vice president of Zambia.
 
Perhaps the most important outcome of this election, and the least talked about, will be the yet-to-be released result on a referendum to add a bill of rights to the Zambian constitution. This measure has been controversial on multiple fronts. Since it was pushed heavily by the ruling part and opposed mightily by the opposition, there is a concern that people are voting based on the popularity of ther respective presidential candidates rather than the actual content of the referendum. Further, the broad consensus is that most people simply don't know the content. It is difficult to find the actual document, and most people do not have access to it. Therefore they are voting on something that they know little about (I know we do this all the time, but it is still disconcerting). I have read the thing and am certainly not thrilled about certain measures therein, but it could be worse. Finally and most bizarrely, the symbols for voting on the referendum were an eye for yes and an ear for no. How the heck do those to body parts represent yes and no? The issue here is that many people associated the eye with the freemasons and therefore with satanism. The things we need to think about when it comes to true enfranchisement!
 
In conclusion, there will be many people upset. There will be many people overjoyed. There will be challenges to the results. There will be failed candidates agonizing over what they could and should have done differently. There will be drunken fistfights and unfortunately probably some deaths due to the toxic mixture of over celebrating and driving. There will be confusion. There will be calls for peace.
 
But, no matter what, there will be dancing.
 
Posted August 15, 2016

 

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8