Vol. 17 (2021): Purezza

Female blood ties: ideas on menstruation and female initiation rites in the context of purity in Zambia

Thera Rasing
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Published July 26, 2022
  • female initiation rites,
  • menstruation,
  • female blood,
  • matrilinity,
  • motherhood,
  • religion,
  • Zambia,
  • Bemba
  • ...More
How to Cite
Rasing, T. (2022). Female blood ties: ideas on menstruation and female initiation rites in the context of purity in Zambia. Storia Delle Donne, 17, 61-83. https://doi.org/10.36253/sd-13453


Most anthropological literature about ideas on menstruation claim that in many cultures menstruation is associated with impurity, pollution, contamination, fear and danger, and therefore menstruation is surrounded by a lot of taboos. In Zambia, too, menstruation is surrounded by taboos, as is taught during female initiation rites, which is the main institute in which girls learn about these issues. However, these ideas and taboos are not only associated with concepts of impurity or contamination, but merely with inclusion as “pure” or “real” women. This is both on a bodily and sociological level. On a spiritual level, menstrual blood predominantly indicates relatedness to a spiritual and physical ancestral line, hence inclusion in the ancestral line as well as in an ethnic group. Today, in Zambia female initiation rites are disappearing rapidly due to western influences. This means that girls lack knowledge about menstruation that is culturally considered necessary for women which can only be given during initiation rites, while this also leads to social exclusion from the socially ‘pure’ or “real” women, and also leads to cultural disorder. This article will revise concepts of purity and cultural (dis)order, using ideas on female initiation rites and menstruation in Zambia. It will show that mixing western and Zambian concepts of purity and pollution may lead to cultural disorder.


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