Renegotiating cultural practices as a result of HIV in the eastern region of Malawi
Kunkeyani, Thokozani E.
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A number of studies have shown that HIV awareness is very high among Malawians and yet infection rates are rising. Local cultural practices have been identified as contributing to this contradictory situation. Using data from 12 focus-group discussions collected in Balaka, Zomba, Machinga and Mangochi, the paper explores the reformulation of nine cultural practices as a preventive measure against HIV. The study reveals that cultural practices that involve sexual acts for completion are mediated through condoms and HIV tests. The study also shows that traditional herbs known for healing ailments are repurposed to symbolise sexual acts. We conclude that the idea of repurposing offers an avenue in which initiation and cleansing rites that involve sexual acts are replaced by other semiotics such as a traditional medicine called mtela. We also conclude that the modifications to cultural practices do not indicate complete abandonment of associated traditions, rather, they constitute the renegotiation of cultural practices and meanings associated with particular rites of passage. Lastly, we propose that a comprehensive prevention programme needs to be part of a wider national HIV-prevention effort combining a women and child rights and empowerment agenda and, critically, lifestyle lessons in a process of cultural renegotiation.