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Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter
– African Proverb
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will
– Frederick Douglass
The most pathetic thing is for a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave
– Malcolm X
Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.
– Ancient Egypt
Rites of passage play a central role in African socialization, demarking the different stages in an individuals development, as well as that person's relationship and role to the broader community. The major stage in African life is the transition from child to adult when they become fully institutionalized to the ethics of the group's culture
What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of their oppressors?
– Owen 'Alik Shahadah
We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.
– Chester Higgins Jr.
Leave no brother or sister behind the enemy line of poverty.
– Harriet Tubman
If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.
– African Proverb
If we do not stop oppression when it is a seed, it will be very hard to stop when it is a tree.
– ' Alik Shahadah
If the future doesn't come toward you, you have to go fetch it
– Zulu Proverb
Rites of passage play a central role in African socialization, demarking the different stages in an individuals development (gender and otherwise), as well as that person's relationship and role to the broader community. The major stage in African life is the transition from child to adult when they become fully institutionalized to the ethics of the group's culture. Rites of passage are for this reason critical in nation building and identity formation. (Shahadah)
The bonds between initiates usually last a lifetime. No matter the ritual, the underlying purpose remains the same; fundamentally dealing with transformation and guiding the person from one stage/ maturity level in life and development to the next from birth to death and beyond.
You will even see this applied in the social cyberspace with the rise of unqualified generation of self-made "Pseudo" scholars who speak without having undergone any rites of passage; adding to the confusion. Or those who set up organizations with beautiful names "The Pan-African Center for Insitutional development" but have gone through no community channels and have no blessings from respected community elders, no verification, no chain of approval beyond their ego. In Most of Africa you could not just stand up and speak you needed to have a chain of elders to verify your right to do so; a process to qualify one to hold a certain position was a critical quality control. It is within this context that we explore with our gift of hindsight, ancient rites as a holistic approach to a social cure for today’s wayward youth with an eye toward our societal future. Every aspect of our lives already has a custom, practice or ritual attached to it either consciously or subconsciously. From the way we wake up in the morning at a designated time, to the ways we approach dating, education and even business; the systematic approach or lack thereof determines our destiny as individuals and as a nation.
Nearly all African cultures believe that the infant has come from the spirit world with important information from that world and is bringing unique talents and gifts; indeed, a unique purpose, mission, message or project to offer to the community and thus a reason for celebration. Therefore, the Rite of Birth is the first of the 5 major rites and involves initiating the infant into the world through a ritual and naming ceremony. It is the responsibility of the family and community to discover through consultation with elders and/or diviners to determine this mission. This can be accomplished through rituals, birth charts etc. It is important to clearly determine the new community member’s mission in order to successfully guide him/her along their life path. Naming of the infant is seen as an important part of the birthing rite, as it is believed that names have a spiritual vibration which affects the person as an infant, into adult life and beyond. The infants name is given as a reflection of its personality or life mission. When an infant’s name reflects his/her life purpose, it serves as a powerful tool and reminder of his/her life’s work as whenever their name is called, it is a steady reminder of their mission.
Only then will the rejoicing start. In fact, and more important, the child does not officially start existing until he or she has been named as part of his or her birth rite of passage, that is, the naming ceremony. Among the Akamba people, a child is named after 3 days. A goat is then slaughtered as a token of appreciation for the ancestors who are responsible for human fertility. Among the Akan, a girl or boy is named on the eighth day after being physically born. Among the Yoruba, the child is named on the eighth day as well. For the Hutu, it is on the seventh day that naming ceremony takes place. Until then, both mother and baby are expected to remain alone in the home. Regardless of when the naming ceremony takes place, what is underscored is that existence is first and foremost a social experience. Although one may be born in the physical realm, one's existence starts only when one has been acknowledged as a member of a community. Through the naming ceremony, a new human comes into being as it becomes integrated into a community. Only at that point is it considered to exist. Thus, the fundamental assertion undergirding the naming ceremony is that existence is a corporate experience, not an individual one. The names given to the child further assign him or her a place in the family, the community, and the universe. This is why all community members take part in the naming of the child, because the child belongs to the whole community and because all have a stake in its proper insertion in the society.
Among the Edo people, the naming ceremony takes place on the seventh day after a child is born. In the morning, close relatives and elders assemble to pray for the newborn and its parents: they pray that they will be blessed with prosperity, good health, and a long life. The elders usually after having engaged in divination, offer a name to the baby's father. Divination helps determine which ancestor may be coming back through the child. Later on, in the evening, others in the community join to officially welcome the newborn. Specific ritual food and drinks will be used, such as kola nuts, honey, sugar, and alligator pepper for prayers; and gin and palm wine for prayers and libation. A coconut full of water will be broken and shown to the women as a symbolic representation of the mystery of life. Yams will be cooked and shared by the women. All those in attendance will give a name to the child and partake in a meal. In Africa, names are always meaningful and are believed to be an essential part of one's spiritual and social identity. Names are therefore sacred. In some communities, boys may be circumcised as part of the rituals associated with the naming ceremony. Such is the case among the Ewe people, who circumcise males on the seventh day after their birth. Ewe females have their ears pierced on that day.
Muslim women, a large portion of the African continent, tend to prefer all-female attendants at the birth, whether they be doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, or female relatives. However, it is permissible in Islam for male doctors to attend to a pregnant woman. There is no Islamic teaching that prohibits fathers from attending the birth of their child; this is left up to personal choice. The practice of regular prayer is the most fundamental practice in Islam. Muslim prayer, which is performed five times a day, can be performed almost anywhere -- either individually or in congregation. The time of prayer is announced by the Call to Prayer (adhan) which is called from the Muslim place of worship (mosque/masjed). These beautiful words which call the Muslim community to prayer five times a day are also the first words the Muslim baby will hear. The father or a family elder will whisper these words in the baby's ear shortly after its birth. Similar to other African cultures, Islam prescribes male circumcision, though with the sole purpose of facilitating cleanliness. The male child may be circumcised at any time which is convenient without ceremony; however parents usually have their son circumcised before his trip home from the hospital. The name for this event ('Aqeeqah) comes from the Arabic word 'aq, which means "cut." To celebrate a child's birth, it is recommended that a father slaughter one or two animals (sheep or goats). One third of the meat is given away to the poor, and the rest shared in a community meal. Relatives, friends, and neighbors are thus invited to share in celebrating the happy event. This is traditionally done the seventh day after the child's birth, but may be postponed to later. It is traditional, but not required, for parents to shave the hair of their newborn child on the seventh day after birth. The hair is weighed, and an equivalent amount in silver or gold is donated to the poor. One of the very first duties that parents have toward a new child, besides physical care and love, is to give the child a meaningful Muslim name. Muslim children are usually named within seven days of their birth. Of course new mothers traditionally get many happy visitors. Among Muslims, visiting and assisting the indisposed is a basic form of worship to bring one closer to God. For this reason, the new Muslim mother will often have many female visitors. It is common for close family members to visit right away, and for other visitors to wait until a week or more after birth in order to protect the child from exposure to illnesses. The new mother is in convalescence for a period of 40 days, during which friends and relatives will often provide the family with meals.
Children are taught the necessary skills for adulthood including among other things; problem solving, rules and taboos of the society, social responsibility, what is considered appropriate behavior for women and men and can receive further clarification of his or her purpose or life mission. Oftentimes, successful completion of the rite of adulthood is publically celebrated with a "coming out ceremony" or reintroduction to society.
They must die to their child self in order to be reborn into an adult self, one characterized by greater knowledge of the world, deeper consciousness, insight and wisdom. The notions of symbolic death and resurrection are central to the initiation process. Also, those undergoing initiation must take a vow of secrecy. Initiation rites vary from community to community. However, they follow a general pattern. The first step is the separation of a group of adolescent novices from their usual surroundings to be secluded in an isolated place away from the community. There, they will be tested and taught by elders. The testing usually involves demonstrating physical endurance, mental strength, and intelligence. It is often the time when males are circumcised and females excised. They must undergo the whole operation without showing any sign of fear and without expressing any discomfort. Failure to demonstrate fortitude would bring shame and dishonor to them and their family.
After the period of seclusion is over, the initiates are reincorporated into their community, and this marks the time of their rebirth. Their hair may be shaved off, their old clothes may be thrown away, and they may receive new names, all symbolic gestures indicating that they have become new, mature individuals. The reunion of new initiates with their family and community is a collective festive time. All rejoice now that the new initiates are ready to assume their new place in the community.
One of the responsibilities and prerogatives associated with the completion of initiation is marriage. Initiation, in fact, prepares the young adults for marriage. Indeed, in most African societies, one can get married only after having been initiated. This is often the time that young people receive information and instruction regarding marriage, sex, family life, and procreation. Among the Masai, for instance, the Eunoto ceremony, which lasts for a whole week, is the rite of passage that marks the transition from childhood into adulthood for the males. It is an elaborate ceremony that marks the end of a relatively carefree life and the beginning of greater responsibilities. The initiates are then expected to watch over the community's cattle (which are highly regarded as God's unique gift to the Masai), participate in cattle raids, and kill a lion. At the end of the Eunoto ceremony, the young man's hair is shaved, thus formally indicating the passage to manhood. In addition to having their hair shaved, they also have their skin painted with ochre in preparation for marriage. They then marry and start families. Those who have sleep with circumcised women are denied this rite of passage, as in Masai culture this is taboo.
In Hamar and Karo societies, a youth does not enter manhood until he performs the ceremony known as the "Jumping of the Bull". Prior to the actual bull jumping, a secret ceremony takes place where, squatting on an unblemished cowhide, the new initiate slips a Boku through eight iron bracelets, representing the physical act of conception and symbolizing his initiation rebirth. Supporting the bracelets are the whips of the former initiates, which will be given to the new initiate for herding in his adult years. In preparation for the bull jumping ceremony, recent initiates receive a calabash of ritual coffee, skin is smeared with a mixture of butterfat and charcoal applied by the ritual master. The initiates, who encourage those about to jump, round up the animals and force them to stand in a line, holding them in position by their horns and tails. The long switches the men carry are used to ritually whip the female relatives of the new initiates; the women beg to be beaten as a sign of their devotion to the young men who are about to leave their family homes. Taking a running jump to launch himself onto the back of the first bull, the initiate attempts to run across the backs of twenty to forty cattle. The boy must take as few steps as possible without using his hands or falling off, for to do so would bring shame on him for the rest of his life. The initiate repeats his run four times. If he completes this test without faltering, he earns the right to be called a man.
Among the Twa, when a girl's first menses appear, which is considered a special blessing, the girl participates in a rite of passage known as Elima. Secluded in a house for at least a month with other girls who have also just started menstruating, the Twa girl is instructed by an adult woman about being a Twa woman. She is taught, among other things, the history of her people and how to be a good mother and a good wife. When the instruction is over, the girls come out dancing, and the whole community takes part in the Elima festivities. Having been properly instructed and trained, the girls are now eligible for marriage.
Ama Mazama | *Source: Encyclopedia of African Religion
See full article FGM
It is a much more ancient practice than Judaism and Islam, one that came to the Israelites from the Kemetians, the ancient Egyptians.
The oldest documentary evidence for male circumcision comes from ancient Egypt. Proof of circumcision rite abounds in the ancient Egyptian temple reliefs and paintings; tomb artwork from the 6th dynasty (2345-2181 BC) shows men with circumcised penises. In addition, one relief from this period shows the rite being performed on a standing adult male.
Traditionally, the Rite of Marriage represents not only the joining of two families and even communities; it also represents the joining of the two missions of the new couple. This means that in addition to performing marriage rites for the coming together of male and female to procreate, perpetuate life, and join families it is also an institution to help the husband and wife to fulfill their mission and objectives in life ensuring that they are working together towards the same end. A very high value is placed on marriage in African society and because the focus is on the collective, it is not uncommon that full social standing and adulthood can only be achieved by marriage and in some societies marriage is not recognized fully until the wife gives birth.
Marriage is widely acknowledged throughout the African continent as one of the most critical moments in a person's life. This is the case because marriage is intimately linked with procreation. In fact, the main, if not only, purpose of marriage is procreation. In most African societies, marriage is not deemed complete until a child has been born. Likewise, a man is not a full man or a woman a full woman until they have given birth to a child.
Marriage creates the context within which children are conceived and born, hence its critical significance. Getting married and having children is a social, moral, and ultimately spiritual obligation and privilege. Likewise, one's refusal or failure to get married and have children is largely incomprehensible and certainly quite reprehensible as far as the African community is concerned.
Marriage, from the standpoint of African religion, is never simply an affair between a man and a woman, but an event that involves at least two families. African families are normally quite large because they include several sub-units. The whole community has a stake in the marriage and will be involved.
Because marriage is a most serious affair, young men and women are thoroughly prepared for married life. Young men and women are taught about the responsibilities of married life and educated about sex and procreation. Many rites and rituals are performed as part of the wedding ceremony. Of particular significance are rituals meant to purify or bless the couple. Among the Yoruba people, for instance, the oldest woman in attendance will spray gin (which is closely associated with the ancestors) on the couple and other relatives to bless the new union. Among the Bemba people of Central Africa, a woman about to get married is given a clay pot by her father's sister. Because the main purpose of marriage is procreation, the clay pot stands for the womb that is expected to be filled and blessed with many pregnancies. A similar ritual can be observed among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, when the paternal aunt hands a clay pot full of water to the bride to bless her with a fertile marriage. Water is intimately associated with fertility in Africa. Among the Hutu, on the day of her wedding, a woman's body is smeared with milk and herbs to cleanse her from her previous life and make her pure. Among the Ndembu, the bride walks backward into her husband's house. An old woman who is instructed in matters related to sex and marriage accompanies her and presents her with beads, which symbolize children, to bless her with fertile marriage.
*Ama Mazama | Source: Encyclopedia of African Religion
Scarification | Tattoos | Piercing
Scarification, in African culture communicates gender, age, social status and many other messages to the community who knows what these powerful messages mean. Additionally, traditional scarification is believed to have healing powers, enhance beauty, and is an important part of ethnic identity and rites of passage to mark stages in the life process such as puberty and marriage. Scarification can be observed across the continent. Without scars a person was often considered ugly, antisocial, cowardly or poor. Men in Africa often wear scars received during initiation, or sometimes as a sign of bravery after having killed an enemy. Among the Barabaig of Tanzania, boys' heads have been cut so deeply that they sometimes show up on the skulls. Because scars are considered attractive, they are often cut in such a way as to emphasize the contour of the face or body. The Tiv of Nigeria, for instance, mark along the cheekbones with long, linear scars as an emphasis to the cheekbones. Though there are various reasons and meaning behind the marks, many African children receive their first markings during infancy and/or early childhood during their “outdooring” or naming ceremony.
Once complete, the child’s facial orifices are thoroughly cleansed and cleared as the odouti utters a prayer to the spirits of the ancestors asking for their protection for the child and shea butter is applied to the wounds as an anti-inflammatory and to promote healing. As a final ritual action, the odouti spits charcoal on the cuts to keep away evil spirits that may have been attracted by the flowing blood.
Additional marking for girls and boys traditionally happens between 7-12 years of age, though girls receive an additional series of vertical cuts on their backs at this time. In an attempt to further symbolize gender lines and differentiate them from boys, Betamarribe girls around the age of 15 receive incisions on the lower part of their abdomen near the navel, near the kidneys, and designs on the buttocks. After having all of these traditional scars, the girl is considered an adult and allowed to marry. Just before marriage Betamarribe women receive another set of scars on their shoulder blades and the pattern is enlarged once she becomes pregnant with her first child.
Among the Dinka in South Sudan, forehead scarification for boys only, happens around the age of 13. Youth demonstrate their bravery in front of their peers and elders by remaining stoic during the process. Anyone who cries or resists the process will lose face in the community. In order to mark important events, the Nuba girls of Southern Sudan undergo scarification, usually from their breasts to their navel. After times such as first menstruation or the birth of her first child additional scarring on her back, legs, arms and neck take place. Nuba men wear scars on their torsos and arms, usually as part of an initiation ritual. According to Sudanese artist Bahreddin Adam; “This is the way of all Sudanese—northerners and southerners, Muslim and Christian and animist." Members who choose not to scar can face discrimination because they are considered to have abandoned their traditions.
Among the Yoruba, the patterns on a woman's body are called kolo and are considered to be a test of a woman's bravery. By exhibiting her willingness to bear pain, a woman with kolo is asserting that she is strong enough to endure the pain of childbirth.
Young Ga'anda girls in Nigeria, beginning at age five receive their first scars and by the time they reach adulthood (around aged 15-16) will have received a series of eight patterns. The scar patterns, called hleeta, signify that Ga'anda women are considered suitable to marry. Forehead scars are given when the girl's future husband pays her parents her brideprice in addition to an elaborate pattern of dots which form lines, curves, and diamonds on her shoulders, arms, belly, legs, back of neck, back, and buttocks. The Ga'anda, like a number of other African ethnic groups including the Betamarribe (once known as “the naked people”), are abandoning scarification rituals thanks to disapproval from authorities, a declining interest in arranged marriages, and adoption of western styles of dress which obscure their elaborate markings. So the intricate markings that once signaled that men and women had reached marriageable age are rarely seen today.
In Zanzibar and Pema, henna is used to decorate the soles of the feet, ankles, palms and nails in order to make a woman look more attractive before her marriage ceremony. The more complex the design, the more attractive she is considered. For the next week, she is adorned in her finest and most current cloth and adorned in jewels and gold, this period is called “giving henna it's deserved rights”. Afterwards The Zanzibar bride is sent to her somo (teacher) where she is taught how to please her husband and is decorated with more elaborate henna designs. Men are restricted from seeing the bride during this period. According to Swahili customs, it is taboo for unmarried girls to decorate themselves with henna as married women do. This is so she does not tempt a main considered to be the domain of the elders as this is disapproved by society.
Though taboo in western culture; extreme piercing, stretching and even scarification and teeth filing are becoming increasingly popular among the younger generations. Subtle tattoos and ear piercing are more commonplace with some African American babies having their ears pierced as young as 6 weeks old! Unlike in Africa, these markings serve a solely aesthetic role and in many cases serve as a means to dis-identify from the majority group. In Africa, these practices are usually done for inclusion, not exclusion.
People participation is the highest evolved form of governance, but it has one stringent condition: That the people be full educated and informed, and mature to be productive participants. In traditional African context some sort of rites of Passage existed to assess people's viability to contribute to different areas of the society.
Elders are responsible for continually contemplating the good and the right. Because of their Eldership status, they are not-- or should not be—driven by personal interests or individual rewards. They cannot be tempted or influenced by appeals to favoritism or personal desires. The status of Eldership places them above the needs of manipulating, of “getting over” or “what's in it for me personally?” Although male and Female Elders have distinct responsibilities in traditional life, in general, as Elders, they share in the responsibility of correcting imbalances, maintaining peace, and revitalizing community life. Their singular goal is to guide and guarantee the cooperative good and collective advancement. The judgments and decisions of the Elders are always consistent with their community's cultural integrity and directed toward Truth and Justice.
Elders were and are the guardians of the culture, traditions, and history of the people. Integrity, generosity, wisdom, articulateness, subtlety, patience, tactfulness, gratefulness, and being listened to and respected by others are all qualities of an Elder. Understandably, with Eldership, one's status and value in the community rises. Although the primary work of the Elder is to advise, guide, and oversee the living in community, their fundamental value and purpose lies in teaching the young what it means to be human. The Elder knows the traditions, history, values, beliefs and cultural laws that are inviolate. Accordingly, the experience and wisdom of the Elder is readily sought and freely shared with others. Elders are charged with the task of understanding both the material and spiritual requisites of life. In fact, to have Elders live with you, and for you to have available their daily guidance, is considered a great blessing and advantage. It is thought to be an honor to even be in the presence of an Elder. They serve as a link between the past and the present while guaranteeing that our way of life is extended into the future.
As Elders, both men and women devote themselves to the higher responsibility of utilizing the collective to guide and direct the permanent ascension of the community and to channel it's vital life force (spirit). The utilization and understanding of the natural spiritual power of the community is, in fact, perceived as the “wisdom of Eldership”. This is an all-consuming task. To do this, Elders are generally not involved in the survival struggles of life. They devote themselves to the full-time pursuit of wisdom—the understanding and application of high values and traditions of the community and the spiritual meaning of being human. In effect, the Elders “work” was and is to synthesize wisdom from long life experiences, to connect the visible (material) and invisible (spiritual) realms, and to formulate all into a legacy of the good life for future generations.
Elders, like young people, are considered to be a full part of African communities. Although they may be physically weak, they are considered in Bậntu and Akan societies, for example, to be a powerful social force. They are spiritually strong and wise enough to maintain the cohesion of the community, but they are also able to build the moral foundation of the community's youth and the generations to come.
Wade W. Nobles and Mwalimu J. Shujaa *Source: Encyclopedia of African Religion
The final of the initiation rites concerns the soul passing into another continuous phase of existence, the spirit world, and is an extension of the elder distinction because the status that a person has in life is the same status that they bring with them when they pass on. In African societies there is little distinction between the sacred and the secular. The spirit is a part of the All and therefore when a person dies it is believed that communication and ties with the living continues. Because African philosophy from one culture to another agrees that the spirit of the deceased is still with the living community, distinction must be made in the status of the various spirits, as there are distinctions made in the status of the living. So we see a notable difference between an old person who dies and is seen as nothing more than a dead relative; without honor and will not be remembered as a great person nor is someone who should be followed or emulated vs. a respected elder who passes and is a revered and respected ancestor given the highest honor. This group of ancestor wields great power and is often called upon in matters of trouble or uncertainty to help influence a favorable outcome. So a true ancestor is a respected member of the African community who continues to serve as an extension of the family and community, often acting as a go-between between earthly and spiritual realms.
African societies present hundreds of myths about the origin of death. There are no myths in Africa though, about how death might be overcome and removed from the world. However death is thought to have originated, every time a person dies, his or her death is due to a cause. The cause of death is significant. Death can be caused by lightening, trees, poison, drowning, warfare, and various forms of accidents. When death is caused by sickness, there are two broad types: normal and unclean. The cause of death will determine the rites and rituals that are to be performed.
Death in many African cultures, marks the beginning of a new mode of existence characterized by a higher level of spirituality. It is also the time of the ultimate test: whether one will become an ancestor. This, of course, largely depends on how one conducted oneself while alive, but it also depends on the performance of the necessary funerary rituals. It is usually the children's responsibility to perform such rituals, hence the imperative necessity to get married and bear children.
Among the Mende people, upon dying, and to access the ancestral world, a person must embark on a most critical journey that involves the successful crossing of a river. To assist the recently deceased individual, the living must perform certain rituals, known as tindyamei. Of particular relevance here is the sacrificing and offering of a chicken at the gravesite 4 days after burial for a man, 3 days for a woman.
In addition to performing the appropriate burial rituals, certain taboos must also be observed so as not to displease the dead person. Among the Hutu, close relatives of a newly deceased person may not engage in work or sexual intercourse during the period of mourning. When mourning is over, the family organizes a ritual feast, and all activities resume normally. Likewise, a Luo man who just lost his wife must wait until he can sleep in their conjugal room or be around other women. It is not until he has dreamed of making love with his wife, which may take quite a long time (sometimes several years), that he is allowed to use the conjugal bedroom again and live a normal life. Until then, he must sleep in another room and sometimes even outside on the veranda.
An elder on the father's side will announce the child's names. Gifts are then presented to the newborn, whose names are shared with every member of the community. Everyone, in honor of the child, will drink from one of the cups where water and nsa have been mixed and start sharing a meal.
When it comes to elders, in the case of the Akan, an individual becomes an elder by first being selected by his or her matrikin. The process involves the pouring of a libation by the older members of the lineage for the candidate who will become the Ebusua pinyin (head of the lineage). The elder, once chosen, joins other lineage heads and officials to sit on a council advisory to the ohene (king). Elders are referred to as nana. It is important to note, however, that not everyone who bears the title of nana is an elder, but every elder is a nana. When Akan elders meet, prayers in the form of libations are almost invariably said before any proceedings take place. It is believed that whenever two or more elders convene (such an occurrence is referred to as Nananom mpanyifo), the ancestors (abosom) are present. The person conducting the libation asks for the ancestors' continued blessings and for protection, prosperity, and happiness for the entire community. The ancestors are offered the reasons for which the meeting has been called and request success for the endeavor.
Bondo, sometimes used interchangeably with Sande, is a society exclusively for females in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and the borders of the ivory coast. Bondo/Sande is an organization as well as a body of knowledge. A woman is initiated into the society and belongs to a chapter in her specific region. The expression “Where there are women, there is Bondo/Sande” denotes the devotion of women to the society. Initiation into Bondo/Sande is voluntary in contemporary times and may be necessary to become a successful female politician; but in earlier periods in West Africa, it would have been unthinkable for a woman not to be initiated into a Bondo/Sande society.
The transformation process begins in a section of the forest consecrated as the sacred forest. The campus is surrounded by a fence to ensure privacy. New imitates enter and remain in the sacred forest for a period that can range from a few months to 1 year. The location is always near a river. Water, trees, stones, the sacred forest and other elements of nature are interconnected with the ritual of initiation. Water, for example, is regarded as the origin of life. The river is regarded as the place of crossing from the village to the forest and vice versa. Crossing the river relates to all sorts of crossings; in death, for example, the deceased is said to cross the river to the otherworld, or in the resurrection of the masked spirit of a-Nowo, who is fetched from beyond the water. A zigzag line, the hieroglyph for water all over Africa, is written on the forehead of the Nöwo mask. Initiates paint their faces, and in some rural areas, they paint their entire bodies white with hojo (white clay, kaolin or porcelain clay found in the riverbed and riverside). Hojo is the highest ideals of beauty, perfection and goodness. For Sande/Bondo, white is significant because the color is linked with the spirit world and with the secret parts of human society, where people strive for the highest spiritual and moral ideals. However, black indicates the metaphysical process of refinement and acculturation.
A comprehensive education is a critical component of the Bondo/Sande initiation process. There are four important leaders in the institution. First there is a chief official who represents spirits of female ancestors. She has the ability to transform into a spirit being. When she dances on special occasions, her identity is concealed by a mask and a special dress. Below the chief are an assistant leader, a mother, and a supervisor. The supervisor is responsible for cooking, washing, and general domestic affairs. This team of women teaches young initiates myths, ethics, herbal medicine, health and hygiene, preparation of cosmetics, spinning, dancing, singing and storytelling. In addition, they teach how to be wives and mothers and other duties necessary to be fully functioning members in an adult society. The graduation known as the “Pouring Out Ceremony” lasts for 2 days.
Willie Cannon-Brown | *Source: Encyclopedia of African Religion
The Xhosa of South African, culturally have a strong emphasis on traditional practices and customs inherited from their forefathers. Each person within the Xhosa culture has his or her place which is recognised by the entire community. Starting from birth, a Xhosa person goes through graduation stages which seek to recognise his growth and hence assign him a recognisable place in the community. This results in a number of stages that one must go through, each one of which is marked by a specific ritual aimed at introducing the individual to their counterparts and hence to the ancestors. Starting from “imbheleko” which is a ritual performed to introduce a new born to the ancestors to “Umphumo”; from “Indodana” (young elder) to “Ixhego” (elder). These rituals and ceremonies are still practiced today, but many urbanised Xhosa people do not follow the rituals rigidly. The “Ulwaluko” and “Intonjane” are also traditions which separated this tribe from the rest of the Nguni tribes. These are performed to recognise the transition from boyhood to manhood and from girl to woman respectively. Zulus once performed the ritual but King Shaka stopped it because of war in the 1810s. In 2009 it was reintroduced by King Goodwill Zwelithini Zulu not a custom, but as a medical procedure to curb HIV infections and other STI's. This topic has caused my arguments and fights among Xhosa and Zulus. That is because either side sees itself as superior to the other because it practices or forsakes certain customs.
All these rituals are symbolic to one's development. Before these are performed, the individual gets to spend time with elders in the community in a bid to teach them of the “Dos” and “Don’ts” in preparation for the next stage. The "Iziduko" (clan) for instance—which matters most to the Xhosa identity (even more than names and surnames) are transferred from one to the other through word of mouth. Knowing your “Isiduko” is vital to the Xhosas and it is considered a shame and “Uburhanuka” (lack-of-identity) if one doesn’t know one's clan. This is considered so important that when two strangers meet for the first time, the first identity that gets shared is “Isiduko”. It is so important that two people with the same surname but different clan are considered total strangers but the same two people from the same clan but different surnames are regarded as close relatives. This forms the roots of "Ubuntu" (neighbouring) - a behaviour synonymous to this tribe as extending a helping hand to a complete stranger when in need. Ubuntu goes further than just helping one another - it is so deep that it even extends to looking after and reprimanding your neighbour's child when in the wrong. Hence the saying "it takes a village to raise a child".
One traditional ritual that is still regularly practiced is the manhood ritual, a secret rite that marks the transition from boyhood to manhood (Ulwaluko). After ritual circumcision, the initiates (abakhwetha) live in isolation for up to several weeks, often in the mountains. During the process of healing they smear white clay on their bodies and observe numerous taboos.
In modern times the practice has caused controversy, with over 300 circumcision- and initiation-related deaths since 1994, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases includingHIV via the practice of circumcising initiates with the same blade.
Girls are also initiated into womanhood (Intonjane). They too are secluded, though for a shorter period. FGM or FGC is not practised.
Other rites include the seclusion of mothers for ten days after giving birth, and the burial of the afterbirth and umbilical cord near the village. This is reflected in the traditional greetingInkaba yakho iphi?, literally "Where is Your Navel?" The answer "tells someone where you live, what your clan affiliation is, and what your social status is and contains a wealth of cultural information. Most importantly, it determines where you belong"
The Jola, Dyola, Diola, or Yola (people) reside primarily on the Atlantic coast between the southern banks of the Gambia River, the Casamance region of Southern Senegal, and the northern part of Guinea-Bissau. Diola society has long been characterized by regional diversity. The ancient ritual of Bukut (boy's initiation) takes place every 20-25 years for an entire generation of men between the ages of 12 and 35. Many men living abroad return to their local regions to participate in the ritual of Bukut. Like poro societies in West Africa, bukut takes place in the sacred forest. Elders and spiritual leaders teach the initiates ancestral secret knowledge as well as practical knowledge while secluded for a period of time in the sacred forest.
Bukut is a village (community) event that includes public celebrations such as singing, dancing, feasting, and shooting ancient trade muskets or homemade cannons; these acts of celebration are performed by those who have been initiated as well as by the neophytes. Women also play a major role in the initiation preparatory process on the village level; for example, mothers prepare food and compose songs for the neophytes, and the senior women in the compound greets the dancers at the ceremonial visit called the buyeet. In traditional thought, bukut is transformative; all males were regarded as children until they completed the bukut ritual, in fact, in Jola culture an uninitiated adult does not have the right to participate in consultations when important decisions must be taken for the greater good of the village or the community. The process gets underway with neophytes being cleansed in mystical baths prepared by Elders. After a performance of invulnerability by initiated men from the village, the initiates with shaved heads and bare torsos go into the sacred forest. Mothers, sisters and aunts accompany them to the edge of the forest. In the Jola cosmogony there are forces of good and forces of evil, the sacred wood tries to protect each Diola against the evil forces. Once in the sacred forest, secret rituals are performed, physical and mental tests are endured to harden them and to teach interpersonal skills such as loyalty, honor, work ethic and sense of solidarity. Circumcision is also practiced as a part of bukut. In ancient times this was performed in the sacred forest, though now many Jola are circumcised in hospitals/clinics. According to Abba Diatta, an Elder and former politician from the capital Ziguinchor, whose own initiation in 1951 lasted 3 months “This social organization prepares the initiates to become whole beings, ready to assume their responsibilities. We teach the young how to speak without speaking, how they must respect their parents and behave well with others.” When they emerge from the woods they will have lost their indolence and the irresponsibility of children and will be united as men appearing in a new style of dress. At the close of the ritual, the newly initiated men also adorn elaborate masks filled with symbolism as part of the ceremonial process.
Recently, at the urging of the younger generation who threatened to go elsewhere to be initiated, 16 villages revived initiation rites after not having them since 1968. The delay is attributed to the growth of Christianity and Islam. Out of respect for tradition, the simmering conflict in the Casamance between the army and separatist rebels which goes back to 1982 and has caused many deaths was momentarily forgotten.
*Sources: Encyclopedia of African Religion and blog post from Bantaba in Cyberspace
Among the Masai, the Eunoto ceremony, which lasts for a whole week, is the rite of passage that marks the transition from childhood into adulthood for the males. It is an elaborate ceremony that marks the end of a relatively carefree life and the beginning of greater responsibilities. The initiates are then expected to watch over the community's cattle (which are highly regarded as God's unique gift to the Masai), participate in cattle raids, and kill a lion with their bare hands. At the end of the Eunoto ceremony, the young man's hair is shaved, thus formally indicating the passage to manhood. In addition to having their hair shaved, they also have their skin painted with ochre in preparation for marriage. They then marry and start families.
Once the initial cut is healed, it is replaced with a larger peg and as stretching takes place is replaced with increasingly larger pegs. Once the hole is large enough, the first clay or wooden plate (approx 4 cm across) is inserted. Over a year, plates become progressively larger. Women choose how far to stretch, but final plates can measure from 8 to more than 20 centimeters with some lower teeth being removed to accommodate them. It is traditional for only Mursi men to make wooden plates to be worn by unmarried women about 6-12 months prior to being ready for marriage. (The plates also distinguish the women from neighboring community women).
The plates are not necessary to be worn at all times, and it is not uncommon to see women without them, however unmarried girls wear them in public and those that don't are considered lazy or someone who does things in a hasty or clumsy manner and her bride price may be considerably lower. Wearing a lip plate defines a woman as mature, fertile and ready for marriage. Once married, the plates remind her of her ties to her culture and her husband. If her husband dies, the plate must be thrown away. Even if a woman is taken in by one of her deceased husband's brother's, it is unlikely that she will wear a lip-plate unless she is very young and without children. Similarly, if a close relative dies, such as a brother, a woman will not wear her lip-plate for many months or until her friends go to her to discuss and talk about the death and tell her that it is time that she stop mourning. Only when her friends invite her to the donga can she adorn herself again. Today, the Mursi battle a dilemma as young girls are beginning to choose not to stretch. This is viewed distastefully and may make it difficult to find a Mursi husband. The Mursi woman who does not have a stretched lip is said to be one who will rush to set down her husband's garchu (basket used for carrying sorghum porridge), or kedem (gourd with either coffee, sour milk, or boiled leaves) because she feels uncomfortable and self-conscious around men. In short, she lacks the grace associated with womanhood, namely to be calm, quiet, hard working, and above all, proud.
When a child is born among the Yoruba people, a special ceremony called The First Step Into the World is performed 3 days after birth. The purpose of this ceremony is to determine with the assistance of a babalawo (a priest of Ifa) what sort of person the child will be and to appoint an orisha (divinity) or guardian spirit. Once the father of the child has acknowledged it, the babalawo is consulted to determine which of the orishas will be the child's protector, as well as what is forbidden or taboo to the child. The naming ceremony, called I-komo-jade, a child's first outing or "outdooring" is performed on the seventh day after the birth for girls and on the ninth day for boys. A babalawo performs a purification ceremony called the Iwenumo, which is preceded by sacrifices offered to the deity who protects the child. During the Iwenumo, the babalawo throws consecrated water on the roof of the dwelling. The mother with the child in her arms runs out of the dwelling three times to catch the water falling from the roof. As she does this, the babalawo pronounces the name of the child. A fire that has been lit inside the house is ceremonially extinguished, and the ashes from it are carried outside. Following this, the members of the family give various names to the child while offering it gifts and best wishes.
Among the Yoruba people, during the marriage ceremony, the oldest woman in attendance will spray gin (which is closely associated with the ancestors) on the couple and other relatives to bless the new union.
Today, it is performed only for girls. It involves separation from other people for a period to mark the changing status from youth to adulthood. This is followed by "reincorporation," characterized by ritual killing of animals, dancing, and feasting. After the ceremony, the girl is declared ready for marriage. The courting days then begin. The girl may take the first step by sending a "love letter" to a young man who appeals to her. Zulu love letters are made of beads. Different colors have different meanings, and certain combinations carry particular messages.
Dating occurs when a young man visits or writes a letter to a woman telling her how much he loves her. Once a woman decides that she loves this man, she can tell him so. It is only after they have both agreed that they love each other that they may be seen together in public. Parents should become aware of the relationship only when the man informs them that he wants to marry their daughter.
Among the Zulu people, a woman's purity is sacred and reason for celebration. Every September, over twenty thousand Zulu virgins gather at the Zulu King's Enyokeni Traditional Residence for the Zulu Reed Dance, a very colourful and meaningful ceremony. Traditionally, females gathered at the Reed Ceremony (Umkhosi woMhlanga) and men at the First Fruits Ceremony (Umkhosiwokweshwama). Female regiments during the reign of early kings were classified in age groups. The Zulu Reed dance is an educational experience and opportunity for young maidens to learn how to behave in front of the King. This is done while delivering reed sticks and dancing. Maidens learn and understand the songs while the young princesses lead the virgins. Traditional attire includes beadwork to symbolize African beauty at its best. At this stage the maidens are taught by senior females how to behave themselves and be proud of their virginity and naked bodies. That allows maidens to expect respect from their suitors who intend approaching them during the ceremony.
The second phase is educating the young maidens 'amatshitshi' by their older sisters 'amaqhikiza' on how to behave in married life. Young maidens are encouraged not to argue or respond immediately but to wish the suitor well on his journey back. After protracted discussions the older sisters then approach the mother of the impressed maiden about the impending love relationship. If the father accepts the suitor the two families meet and gifts are exchanged as a sign of a cordial relationship. After this the young maiden 'itshitshi' takes the next step of being 'iqhikiza' a lady in charge of the young maidens. By then they are experienced chief maidens who act as advisors to the younger maidens---and are ready for married life. The Zulu Reed Dance plays a significant part of Zulu heritage in reflecting diverse African customs. This ceremony is still close to the heart of many traditional leaders and citizens. It portrays and instills a sense of pride, belonging and identity among the youth. This ceremony has been tirelessly celebrated by countless generations in early September. Thousands of maidens converge on King Zwelithini kaBhekizulu's palace to dance to the delight of the King, loyal subjects and guests. Only virgins are permitted to take part in this ritual. Each maiden is to carry a stick from the river and present it to the King in a spectacular procession at the Enyokeni Palace. The girls converge in groups from the Zululand regions to the Kings Palace the day before the ceremony. The activity promotes purity among the virgin girls and respect for women. The Zulu Reed Dance ceremony is the key element of keeping young girls virgins until they are ready to get married. The day of the ceremony the girls start walking to the main hut of the King. As the King appears to watch the procession of girls he is praised by his poets or praise singers (isimbongi). The girls collect a reed from a huge pile and proceed in a very long procession. They are led by the senior princess. As they pass the King they put their reed down and go back. While this is happening the men sing their songs and engage in mock fighting. After the festivities the King delivers a speech. This speech is a very direct and forthright message on the expected mores and traditions of the nation. The King is very direct and nothing is left to the imagination. He is a great proponent of celibacy until marriage. Afterwards, the maidens (over 20, 000 of them) join in unison ululating and singing the Kings praises in a joyous mood. As a cultural gesture, the group of maidens then get a name from the King to distinguish themselves from other women.
Today we have too many scholars and intellectuals coming out of the woodwork. They have opinions on major issues under the illusion of freedom of speech. They are an authority after having 4000 fans on Facebook or 20,000 hits on YouTube. Verified by people who know even less than they do.
Freedom of personal opinion in private spaces is one thing but when you assume a public platform and become an “authority” that is a different thing.
Even in the Islamic tradition and the Jewish theology and Christianity there is a system of ordination. In the Vodon religion, you do not just say you are this and call an audience. In Islam there is a chain of scholars going back 1000s of years. So all statements sit on the quality of your chain of scholastic instruction. Long before you lead you must follow, you must sit with patience and be mentored. Capoeira is followed in the same manner; Djebe drumming again follows the same tradition. But when it comes to the new era of social media and its plethora of unqualified paper and dummy organizations then the ancient system becomes neglected, bypassed by false prophets and charlatan. These are the gates of quality control which stood the test of time for good reason.
In Ancient Africa, as with much of the world--like Greece, no one spoke with any authority on any subject unless they could show you a chain of greater people who trained them. This is an Ancient African tradition--especially found in the griot tradition of Mali. If you want to learn the Kora you have to start with a master, you have to learn all the traditional pieces first. Long after that, after you have been verified by the elders you can start teaching and composing. Same in Martial arts you always have a Sensei. You cannot call yourself a master without being verified by an institution, just like you cannot be a medical doctor without some accreditation.
Now the logic of this is 10000 years old. These are proven traditions the world over. They cannot be skipped. Even the concept of a PhD or education is bases on this principle of Rites of passage of your ability to be trusted with a certain level of knowledge and the rights to speak as an authority on that knowledge.
The issue with western so-called modernization in an African world is that in the west, the focus is shifted to the individual and eventually replaces the family or community as the fundamental unit of society, this is where re-focus is most necessary. Now in cases where African ideals have been forcefully removed from our conscious, it is understandable and even forgivable that we have forgotten. But now that we remember the importance and relevance of these rituals, it is our responsibility as members of the community to restore them to their proper place. So when we discuss growth, whether it be urban, industrial educational, or personal we must agree that it should be used to strengthen and enrich the future of the community, not replace it.
A return to basic ideals of what is tried and true in ancient as well as living African societies does not mean that we have to return to “living in grass huts and wearing loin cloth”. It is highly possible, indeed necessary, based on current states of being, to adapt these methods to the modern world and our current living situations, as a practical and systematic solution to current problems facing African youth and communities. Remembering who we are is the beginning; acting on that knowledge within our own spheres of reality is the logical next step in the circle of life.