Courtship, marriage, the birth of a child — every culture on every continent marks these (and other) rites of passage in different ways. Here are 10 fascinating, traditional, obscure and downright strange customs of African tribes.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
Wooed by The Wodaabe, Niger
The men of the Wodaabe — a North Nigerian tribe and a subgroup of the larger Fulani people — decorate their faces and accentuate their bone structure with colored clay for the annual Gerewol courtship ceremony. They apply black eyeliner and lipstick, then stick ostrich plumes in their hair. The ceremony precedes the rains that relieve the dry season in the Sahara. With the women serving as judges, the dolled-up guys line up and enact a series of facial movements and sounds including eye rolling, tongue clicking and teeth baring. Wodaabe men typically have one primary child-bearing wife and three other partners.
Lobolo and the Wedding Payment, South Africa
Lobolo or lobola (roughly translated to “bride price”), is the practice of the groom offering a money to the bride’s father, in exchange for her hand in marriage. It’s a traditional custom among Bantu tribes of South Africa including the Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele. This is meant to unify two families and also prove that the groom can support his new wife. In days of yore, the price was expressed through the gift of cattle, which represented significant wealth. Today, cash is viewed as more practical, especially in urban settings.
Kikuyu and Circumcision, Kenya
Known by the Kikuyu people as “irua”, this controversial rite of passage for both young men and women has been practiced for centuries among Kenyans. In fact, male circumcision is common in most of Kenya, with the exception of the Luo and Turkana societies. The Kikuyu practice circumcision in a public ceremony. For girls, clitoridectomies are still practiced on roughly 30 percent of the Kenyan population, however, this is not the only place in Africa this practice is done. Female circumcision is internationally frowned upon. The medical complications for women can include infection, loss of sexual pleasure, hazardous childbirth, and death.
Kara Tribe and the Abolition of Child Sacrifice, Ethiopia
Until 2012, some Ethiopians practiced what the rest of the world would consider barbaric: sacrificing children. Babies that were born via tribal intermarriage, were considered “mingi,” or impure, and were either thrown in the river or abandoned to the wilderness, as decreed by the elders. Until 2012, there was an estimated 8,000 children sacrificed in 12 years. Even twins were sometimes considered impure and killed. It wasn’t moral outcry that halted the tradition — it was stopped because of population decrease in the Kara Tribe, which numbering around 2,000. All the other tribes in the area had much higher populations.
Chewa People and The Secret Dance
Though there are more than 1.5 million Chewa people living in Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi, they are not considered native to those countries, but from the Bantu Nyanja group. Among many unique practices, the Chewa men uphold a secret society called the Nyau brotherhood. They perform Gule Wamkulu, a ritual dance every July after harvest. These fantastic dances are also performed sometimes during weddings and funerals. Participants get dressed up in costumes representing various animal bizarre animal costumes. The movement of the tribe during the secret dance helps to convey differences between good, evil, and spirituality. The secret dance has been around since the reign of the 17th century Chewa Empire and the traditions survived through British colonial control. Of note, the Chewa people have incorporated some aspects of Christianity into their choreography as well.
Edo People and the Naming Ceremony, Nigeria
Edo is the name for the generations of people who founded the Benin Empire, as well as their language. When a baby is born in the Edo ethnic group, the village waits until the seventh day, then everyone gathers to name the newborn infant. Prayers, feasting, and the symbolic breaking of a coconut are all part of the opulent ceremony. After festivities commence, elders gather around and engage with each other in divination (also known as future telling), to offer a name to the child’s father. Names are extremely significant for the Edo people, and during the feasting, other members of the village will offer names to the child as well.
The Ashanti Family, Ghana
Ashanti is a name for one of the four post-colonial regions of Ghana, and is also one of the main ethnic groups of the country. The Ashanti are a sub-ethnic group of the Akan, the largest nation in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The spiritual role of parents is stressed in this culture: the mother imbues the child with flesh and blood, while the father’s soul inhabits the child’s own. Other interesting roles include the father teaching the son a skill or trade, the mother showing the daughter how to keep house, and the mother’s brother being responsible for teaching his nephews the “talking drum”– imperative to communication in the Ashanti nation.
Berbers and the Festival of Fantasia, North Africa
These indigenous North Africans number up to 40 million today, and are found mostly in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, as well as some outside of the Maghreb. Remembering a victorious history of battle, the Berber enact the Festival of Fantasia, also known as the Game of Gunpowder. Usually performed during a Berber wedding, a group of men armed with antique firearms dresses themselves and their horses, then charge at a fast speed for roughly 200 meters before firing guns into the air in perfect unison. The skill involves harmonizing the movement of the men, horses, and firearm discharge.
Pedi People and Killing the Lion, South Africa
The Pedi people, a subgroup of the Sotho nation, no longer practice this dangerous rite of passage, but it is still kept alive through song. In the past, a young man who wished to marry a new wife must kill a lion to score the ultimate good catch — the village chief’s daughter. In modern times, it’s a thing of the past. As they work, young men still traditionally sing of killing a lion in the hopes that it will speed up completion of their daily tasks.
Kachipo and Facial Scarification, South Sudan
The Kachipo of Southeastern South Sudan live mostly on the Boma plateau. While they have been heavily influenced by Christian missionaries, they still practice witchcraft and physically disfiguring traditions. The women are still known to stretch their lips in order to pierce them — a sign of beauty. Scarification is also found within this group on their faces and bodies. Glass, coconut shells, or knives are used to cut the faces and bodies of men and women. The process is done carefully to control scar tissue and form keloids. Keloid designs represent lineage, ethnic identification, and often in women are meant to attract men. Scarification is found in scores of African tribes, especially in West Africa.
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