As many as 3000 tribes come together to make the African continent. Each tribe has its own unique tradition that separates it from the rest. But some are so mesmerizingly beautiful, while others are as bizarre as they come. Colorful attires for traditional rites or stark naked, the result is the same. Bonding, connecting – whatever you call it there is some social purpose to it. You may find yourself among a woodland or desert tribe doing one of their cultural whatsit; this might prepare you for the ride. You may even find yourself in some that have never been captured – who knows? I bet you, some may persist for a long long time. Let’s be on our journey to some of Africa’s tribal traditions.
Spitting your Blessings
Spitting blessings – yes. You heard it right. The Maasai tribe of Kenya and Northern Tanzania spit as a way of blessing. If you ever visit Kenya on a tourist trip, you are likely to come across them as they reside close to those natural conservation parks. These guys literally spit on newborn babies – if they praise a baby, it will be cursed. So they believe. You are shocked too right? Don’t be because it’s the sign of good luck. It is all just blessings. Friends will spit on their palms before shaking and a father will spit on his daughter’s forehead to wish her a blessed union.
The Courtship dance of the Wodaabe
It would be normal if the women or girls were dancing. But it is not so here. Like birds men stand in colorful attires, beaming broadly and making seductive eye gestures to woo a bride. There is singing and dancing in gleaming faces that have been previously painted to traditional hue. The Guérewol is an annual rite and competition held in Niger by the Wodaabe tribe. At least it’s good for males and females to exchange roles once in a while. However, it is not just an exchange of roles. Men are able to steal each other’s wives – it becomes socially recognized if he achieves it undetected.
The Bull Jumping of the Hamar
While the cowboys of Texas have their bull riding, the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia jump bulls. It’s all about rites of passage and initiation into adulthood that lasts 3 days. The initiate must walk over 15 castrated. Sound easy? Well that’s not all. The bulls have been previously rubbed with dung to make it slippery and the task much harder. If he fails, he can only try again after one year. Well, success means he’s ready to marry a girl of his parent’s choosing, raise his one children and cattle. So, you see, its serious business. It’s important for all boys to partake and succeed because the dignity of the boy and his family are at stake.
The Wedding Ceremony of the Ndebele
The Ndebele wedding ceremony of Southern Africa is one of, if not the most colorful of African traditions. Here, the groom’s mother creates a Jocolo (an apron made of goatskin and decorated with resplendent and flamboyant beads) for the bride. On the D-day all the married women put on their Jocolo at the ceremony; a representative of a mother surrounded by children. In addition, the groom gets to perform a ceremony in honor of his new wife – thanking and giving credit for all she has done for him in their time together.
Sharo drill of the Fulani
The Fulani are a nomad tribe in much part of West and Northern Africa. This practice is observed before getting married – especially if two men are interested in the same woman. There are usual preparations before the man is put through the ordeal. Here, the men are beaten by older members of the clan and the man that shows no sign of pain wins the woman. Sometimes sticks used in herding their cattle are used to flog them. For respect and for face, he tries to bear the pain of the beating and earn himself a wife.
Red Sun Block
The Himba people of northern Namibia appear to have a reddish tint in their skin and hair. Thanks to otjize – a homemade paste of butter fat and red ochre – a natural earth pigment containing iron oxide. There doesn’t seem to be a particular use but some claim the skin-cake protects them from the sun. It even acts as an insect repellant – but it’s just aesthetic, they claim.
Trance Dance of the San
Of all the tribal traditions, this one is appears to be the most magical. Dancing to the San people of South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Namibia is sacred. During the trance dance, the community comes together for several hours or even the whole night to chant and hyperventilate. The healers and elders lead this sacred rite also known as the healing dance. While the healers dance around the fire, the community continue to chant and hum until they create a trance-like state. In this state, they are able to access the spirit realm and are often able to walk over fire. Its more than just curing physical illness, they attempt to expel “star sickness” – a force that causes jealousy, anger and strife within the community.