Courtship, marriage, the birth of a child — these and other rites of passage and milestones are celebrated around the world in different ways. Here are some family and community practices of 10 African tribes.
The men of the Wodabe — a North Nigerien 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, and stick ostrich plumes in their hair. The ceremony precedes the rains that relieve the dry season in the Sahara. It also is a time for pairing up. 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.
Sources: pulseplanet.com, bbc.co.uk
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.
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. This is not the only place in Africa this practice done. Female circumcision is internationally frowned upon. The medical complications for women can include infection, loss of sexual pleasure, hazardous childbirth and death.
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.
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, or sometimes during weddings and funerals. Participants don costumes representing various animals. Their movements help to convey good, evil, and morality. The secret dance has been around since the 17th century Chewa Empire, and survived through British colonization. They’ve incorporated some aspects of Christianity into their choreography.
Edo is the name for the generations 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 part of the ceremony. The elders gather, and after engaging with each other in divination (also known as future telling), they offer a name to the child’s father. Names are significant, and during the feasting other members of the village will offer names to the child as well.
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 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.
These indigenous North Africans number up to 40 million today, and are found mostly in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and outside of the Maghreb (North African region). 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, and charges 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.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, findtripinfo.com
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 must kill a lion to score the ultimate good catch — the village chief’s daughter. Nowadays, it’s a thing of the past. Young men, as they work, will sing of killing a lion in the hopes that it will speed up completion of the task at hand.
Sources: krugerpark.co.za, southafrica.net
The 30,000-plus 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. 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 African.
Sources: randafricanart.net, flickr.com
The Fang people, a tribe that is part of the larger ethnic group the Beti-Pahun, keep the bones and skulls of their ancestors in boxed, believing these hold some power. The Fang mostly only do this for male ancestors.
The Gullah tribe is a tribe of descendants of enslaved Africans, and even though it began in the United States, it carries the traditions and practices of several different African tribes, namely those in West Africa, the Rice Coast and African Sudan. One tradition of the Gullah tribe is they carry a dead body to a cemetery, but to wait at the gates until dead ancestors have granted permission to enter.
The Karo people of Ethiopia tattoo the abdomen of a bride before her wedding with several symbols meant to enhance the beauty of the bride. The Swahili group of Kenay also tattoos brides on their limbs with henna.
In Sudan, amongst the Neur people, a marriage is only legitimized once the wife has had two children. If the wife only has one child, her husband can ask for a divorce but in that divorce he can only get back either his one child or his dowry.
In the Wodaabe people of the Fulani Nation in Nigeria, cousins can and often do marry one another. In this case, the marriage is usually arranged between the parents of the children when the children are between two and four years old.
In the Zulu culture, it is polite for the owner of a home to enter before his or her guest, in case there is something that might take them by surprise and harm them inside the home.
In the Yoruba people of the Sahara Desert, when a baby is born, he is immediately sprinkled with water until he cries. Nobody in the room can speak until the baby has cried. The placenta is buried in the backyard and over it the baby is bathed in palm oil and shaken to make him strong.