Fascinating African Traditions

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The African continent is an incredibly fascinating, strange and intriguing space, home to a burgeoning abundance of diverse cultures, rituals, traditions and ceremonies. Many of us will never experience these interesting rites of passage, but it’s wonderful to learn about them, all the same.

Southern Africa

Khweta ceremony: A rite of passage from a young boy becoming a man. When they are of age, boys are sent to spend several days or weeks in a circumcision lodge during winter, where they’re put through rigorous and often dangerous tests and rituals, such as continuous dancing until exhaustion, and circumcision.

Lobola: Putting a price on the bride is an ancient and controversial southern African tradition in which the families of a bride and groom negotiate how much the groom must pay for the bride. All negotiations must be done in writing — never by phone or in person. The two families cannot even speak until negotiations are complete

Sudan

Kidnapping: In the Sudanese Latuka tribe, when a man wants to marry a woman, he kidnaps her. Elderly members of his family go and ask the girl’s father for her hand in marriage, and if dad agrees, he beats the suitor as a sign of his acceptance of the union. If the father disagrees, however, the man might forcefully marry the woman anyway.

Kenya and Tanzania

Spitting blessings: Members of the Maasai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania spit as a way of blessing. Men spit on newborns and say they are bad, in the belief that if they praise a baby, it will be cursed. Maasai warriors will also spit in their hands before shaking the hand of an elder.

Living with cattle: Living with animals, the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania have strict policies against killing wild animals. They keep cattle and livestock, but leave wild animals untouched. In fact, each clan is associated with a specific wild species, which they often keep close to them and treat as a clan member.

Wealth measured by cows: In the Pokot tribe in Kenya, wealth is measured by how many cows a family has. Most Pokot people are either ‘corn people’ or ‘cow people’ – meaning that’s what they cultivate on their land – but all Pokot people measure their wealth by cows. The number of women a man can marry is determined by how many cows he has.

Southwestern Congo

Grieving is banned: Women can’t grieve elders in the Southwestern Congo. The Suku tribe honours ancestors and elders when they die, with a ceremony held in the clearing of a forest. Here, gifts and offerings are brought, but outsiders and all women are forbidden to attend. 

Ethiopia

Bull Jumping: In order to prove their manhood in the Ethiopian Hamer tribe, young boys must run, jump and land on the back of a bull before then attempting to run across the backs of several bulls. They do this multiple times, and usually in the nude.

Northern Angola

Living with uncles: When male children reach the age of five or six years in the Northern Angolan Songo tribe, they are sent to live with their uncles on their mother’s side. This is because chiefs inherit their position through matrilineal lines.

Northern Namibia

Covering skin: The Himba people of northern Namibia cover their skin with a mixture of butter fat and ochre – a natural earth pigment containing iron oxide – to protect themselves from the sun. For that reason, the Himba people often appear to have a red skin tone.

Algeria

Men wear veils: The Ahaggaren Tuaregs of Algeria are part of a larger group of Berber-speaking Tuaregs. In their culture, the men wear veils almost all the time. However, they can take their veils off when inside family camps or while traveling.

Ivory Coast

Living with their mothers: In the Gio tribe in Ivory Coast, each wife has her own small house that she lives in with her children until they are old enough to move out. The children never live with their fathers.

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