Photo Credit: Bidhaar

Here are 5 surprising elements about African cultures and traditions you need to know

When it comes to food, clothing, and even sometimes languages, there are certain similarities among Africans that cannot be ruled out. 

However, some African cultures are innate and unique to borders and nationalities, with traditions and practices that truly make Africa special and stand out. 

Though a percentage of Africans have modernized and allowed contemporary Western influences to white-wash their cultures, there are groups of people who have continued to stay true to who they are.

In recognition of cultures that have stood the test of time, here are some surprising African traditions and cultures you need to know.

1. Khweta ceremony

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This tradition is unique to the Transkei, an ancient tribe of Southern Africa. It is a special ceremony that celebrates the transition from boyhood to manhood. 

It is mandatory for all young boys to participate in the ceremony to demonstrate their maturity as men. During the ceremony, boys of all ages are made to stay in a location called the circumcision lodge. There, they undergo tests with the supervision of a master and are circumcised during this time.

The young boys wear white sheepskin to ward off evil spirits after the days of seclusion. Their bodies are also painted with sandstone and they engage in special dances, moving like bulls, with their head in the air. As part of the ritual, they are not allowed to go near girls.

On completion of the ceremony, all the tools used for the ceremony are burnt. The boys head to the river for a cleansing bath, which they do while being flogged. They are not to look back while this happens.

Finally, the white paint is washed off and replaced with a red one, which they wear for three months. After that, they are declared men and are allowed to get married.

2. Spitting blessing

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From their vigorous jumping dance to their clothing style, the Maasai nomadic tribe of Kenya have traditions that continue to surprise and impress many around the world. Spitting is a sign of respect in the Maasai culture.

The tribesmen spit in their hands before shaking hands; this is a sign of blessing and is viewed as a good omen. Not just anyone receives spit on the hand – it is reserved for revered persons, and shows the utmost respect.

Apart from greetings, newborns are spat on for blessings by the family and well-wishers. Babies that do not receive any spits are said to grow up unhappy. Words are also spoken over the babies to invoke good things and give them a happy life.

Brides also receive congratulatory spits. In fact, their fathers spit on their foreheads and breast to wish them good fertility.

3. Wife Stealing Festival

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The Wodaabe tribe is a Fulani tribe in Niger. The males of the tribe are quite confident that they are the most handsome men and carry a mirror always.

Their marriages are usually arranged when they are born, although one is free to have as many sexual partners before they get married – marriage is not the end for this tribe.

The tribe celebrates a festival called Gerewol, which aims at giving the opportunity for men to impress the wives of their compatriots. Thus, the tribesmen dress themselves up in the most elaborate makeup, to do just that. 

Three of the tribe’s most beautiful women are chosen to judge as the men show off through a dance, moving in circles. The rest of the women eye and select which man they would wish to marry next. For the polygamous tribe, this is not frowned upon.

A man is allowed to keep a woman even if she’s already married, as long as her husband does not catch him stealing her by the end of the ceremony.  Some men make their wives sit it out, to be on the safer side, because they do not want them to be stolen.

4. Bull jumping

Photo Credit: Exploring Africa

Bull Jumping is an old rite of passage for the young men in the Hamer tribe– a community that lives in the lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia.

The day of the occasion sees a lot of celebration, with about 100 and 300 people in attendance. The women of the tribe dance in their traditional dresses, play horns and wear bells on their legs.

This ritual is performed to show a boy’s manliness and maturity. It involves the tedious task of running on the back of seven or 10 bulls four times without falling down. In families, the rite happens in succession; the eldest has to go before the youngest – it is the duty of the father, or in the absence of the father, the uncle of the boy to decide when he is ready for the rite.

When a boy is deemed ready by his father or uncle, he is given a short stick (boko) and has to travel to the houses of all his relatives to tell them the news and invite them to the ceremony. He gives the family members a coil of rope to show the number of days leading up to the feast because there are no calendars.

On the day of the ceremony, elders of the tribe who have been through the ritual but are still unmarried, gather castrated male cattle and smear them with dung to make them slippery.  The boys also have to be completely naked, their hair partly shaven before jumping over the cattle.

Their bodies are rubbed with sand to wash away their sins and get rid of bad luck – they are also smeared with dung for strength. The boy finally jumps on the back of the bull and steps on each bull’s back before jumping back down. His sprightliness, fearlessness, and strength prove that he is a man. In the case where a boy falls down in his attempts, he has to try again the next year.

From there on, he can get married to a woman selected by his father.

5. Aunt’s potency and virginity test

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The Aunties potency and virginity test in Banyankole, Southwestern Uganda, has a great responsibility towards the bride and groom. One, to confirm if the groom is potent, and second, to check if the bride is still a virgin before marriage.

Sometimes, the auntie has to have sex with the groom to really make the first confirmation. In other places, the aunty will watch the couple have sex for the test. A woman’s virginity is a big deal in these communities and is well preserved from the time the girl is getting to her teenage years. The girls are married off before sexual maturity, right after their first menstruation, in order to prevent teenage pregnancies before marriage.

Article by: Face2Face Africa – written by Dollita Okine

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