MYTH AND RITUAL, DIVINITY AND AUTHORITY IN BEMBA TRADITION: AN ANALYSIS OF THEIR ORAL FEATURES AND OF THEIR HERMENEUTICAL TRANSFORMATION BY LITERACY (BANTU; RHODESIA)
MAXWELL, KEVIN BURNS
Doctor of Philosophy
This case study of Bemba tradition employs media analyses of scholars such as Walter Ong and Jack Goody, who delineate significant differences in consciousness and culture, resulting from oral peoples' auditory sensitivities and literates' reliance on vision. Our hypothesis is twofold: Bemba tradition evidences features of primary oral cultures; its gradual transformation ensues partially from the introduction of literacy's mental technology. Our research included fieldwork in Bembaland and comparative review of historical archives in Africa and Europe. Bemba culture is transmitted by spoken words whose physical properties carry resonances of power and personal presence. Stereotypical and repeatable formulas are mnemonically necessary for preserving cultural wisdom in the evanescent medium of sound. The charter myth, initiation rites and folklore exemplify oral processes for socializing tribespersons according to ancestral ideals and establish networks of central metaphors and limit-symbols enshrined in religious practices. Matrilineal spirits are venerated and reputedly reign over places whose acoustic characteristics make them the sacred coordinants of tribal territory. This ancestral pantheon inhabits sacred time structured not by historical depths but at the storied center of contemporary society. One royal spirit, Lesa, has been stripped of maternal/terrestrial imagery and elevated to God-father-in-heaven doctrine by literate missionaries. By presiding over the democratization of school-learning and the codification of law, literacy also contributes to the demise of tribal chieftainship, whose central authority is symbolized by tumultuous acclaim and constituted by personal loyalties, privileged knowledge and control over oral transmissions. The concommitant rise in influence of spirit-possessing, witch-cleansing and mantic-healing phenomena is partially due to efforts of previously peripheral authorities to reclaim audiences of persons unsuccessful in the literate economy by conjuring up again the orally constructed spirit-world. We conclude that efforts to reestablish oral tradition as a whiole are reactionary. Literacy restructures consciousness and society by deanimating cognitional objects, developing language for hermeneutical precision and unburdening individuals of tribal needs to remember and conform. As more Bemba convert to Christianity and interiorize writing technology, elements of their oral religion ironically become more dependent for survival on acculturation with these literate forces.