5 most interesting African traditions practiced till this day.

From the Hamar people of Ethiopia all the way up to Sudan, Africa is the origin of unique tribes – in fact, there’s estimated to be about 3,000. With so many unique groups comes quite a few fascinating tribal traditions. Some we’ll never know about, but others we’ve been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of.

The truth remains that all these practices despite how funny or scary they look once served some purposes and still have major significance in these tribes. They made great warriors out of savage men. They grooms loyal wives and respectful children. They determined great leaders and at the same time, formed a basis of whom we are right now. And that is why we do not hesitate to still respect those who are not ashamed of their own culture. In fact, if you thought that all these practices were long blown by the win, here are 5 African tribes and their mind-blowing practices that are still being practices till this day.

1. Bull jumping in Ethiopia

Bull Jumper, Hamar Tribe, Ethiopia. Photo: Rod Waddington/Flickr

Different ethnic groups in Africa have different methods of initiating boys into manhood. For the Hamer community, it involves bull jumping. The three day long rite of passage is quite important to the initiates and their families. The timing of the ceremony is determined by the man’s parents and it happens after harvest.

The initiate is shaved to the middle of his head by a group of men known as the Maza. He is then rubbed with sand to wash away his sins and smeared with dung for strength. The strips from tree barks are then strapped round his chest. This serves as spiritual protection.

The initiate crosses over 15 castrated bulls that have been rubbed with dung to make their backs slippery. Failure to successfully walk over the bulls brings shame to the initiate and his family. The initiate would then have to wait till the following year. But if the initiate succeeds, he is set to get married to a girl his family chooses for him, have children and cattle. The initiate must leap over the backs of the bulls four times without fail. This day is considered the most important day in the life of a man.

In the course of the initiation, the female relatives of the boy, this includes his mother and sisters, are flogged with canes. This is to show their support. They beg the Mazas (the men that have undergone the bull leaping ritual) to flog them. Until their backs are bloodied that’s when the flogging stops. During the flogging, not a single weeping sound or cry is made.

2. Kidnapping your bride

Photo: African Styles and Culture (1)

If you take a trip to South Sudan and visit the Eastern part of the landlocked country in East Africa, you’ll likely come across the Latuka tribe. This tribe is mostly traditionalists who believe in nature and ancestral worship. Over the years, they have stayed true to their belief. They have defied all forms of religious penetration from the white missionaries down to the breeze of Islam which is major in North Africa. Another thing that’s interesting to note about the Latuka people is the fact that they promote a communal lifestyle in the tribe. They share what they have with one another and there’s no single person in authority, rather a group of elders.

The Lutaka people’s courting customs are still very different from the typical tradition you know. In Latuka , when a young man wants to marry a girl, he kidnaps her from her home. It is after this act that he goes to visit the girl’s father along with his elder male relatives to ask for the blessing to marry.

The father then has to respond with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If he says yes and blesses their marriage, he is expected to beat his prospective son-in-law to show consent. However, if he says ‘no’, the young man is at liberty to return the girl to her father’s house or marry her as he so wishes.

3. Spitting your blessings

Spitting at someone in most cultures around the world is seen as rude or uncivilised but not for the Maasai people, who live in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

For these people, spitting is a sign of respect. It is done to greet each other, to welcome or bid farewell to a friend, to clinch a bargain and to wish someone good luck. Spitting among the Maasai, who often lead a semi-nomadic life, is also seen as a form of blessing.

Maasai warriors will also spit in their hands before shaking the hand of an elder. Parents, friends, and family members spit on newborn babies in order to wish them good luck and long life.

It is documented that during Maasai weddings, a father blesses his daughter by spitting on her forehead and breasts.

4. Beating the suitor

The Fulani tribe live in many countries in West Africa and follow a tradition called Sharo. Sharo happens when two young men want to marry the same woman. To compete for her hand, they beat one another up. The men must suppress signs of pain and the one who takes the beating without showing signs of pain can take the wife.

The nomadic Fulani are known for their hardwork, discipline and courage. Because of this, it is believed that this process will help test the strength of the potential groom to prove his worth in terms of strength, resilience and endurance.

In ‘an act of bravery’ the groom is expected not to wince, cry or show he is in pain, while asking for more strokes.

The challenger will flog his opponent until he begs him to stop. A referee is provided to keep watch on the strokes so as to prevent serious and life-threatening injuries like blindness.

The winner of the flogging competition is a right to marry any girl they choose, or even four girls if he can prove his ability to handle all of them.

Despite the diffusion of the Fulani culture with Islam, the Sharo Festival’s importance has ensured its continuous practice over the centuries.

5. A ceremony where unmarried men drink a blood mixture

Ethiopia is a land of many cultures that have been preserved despite western civilization. Along the Lower Omo valley river in Southern Ethiopia resides one of these kinds: the Bodi Tribe. The Bodi people are neighbours to the Mursi Tribe. The Bodi people are agriculturalists who still engage in trade by barter system.

These pastoral people revere their cows. Their cows are so special to them that its blood together with fresh milk is a source of food for this people. Rather than kill the cows, they make a hole in one of its veins to get the blood out and close it back with clay.

At the start of each year [the month of June in the Gregorian calendar], they hold a “Ka’el ceremony” (ceremony of fat men) to mark the new year celebrations. The Ka’el ceremony is a competition for men who are not married which involves drinking the blood mixture. The 14 clans present a man who is single and they deem fit for the competition. Those who are contesting prepare for six months. During this period, he must not have sex and must not be seen outside his hut.

There is a procedure for drinking the first bowl of 2 litres at sunrise while the rest comes easy and is taken all day. It is not unusual to see some of these contestants vomit the mixture because two litres was more than they can drink.

There are many other interesting traditional ritual practices such as lip stretching of the Surma and Mursi tribes, Healing dance if the San people of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana an Angola, the red ochre sunblock and mosquito repellent of the Himba tribe in Northern Namibia. The 5 we have highlighted are but just a handful amongst many, which we thought were the most interesting. If you know of other traditional practices that are interesting and worth sharing, please comment below and educate us.

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