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In several African societies, to come of age, one should undergo different rituals and traditions. Unlike in the western cultures where the transition between…
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Summary Essentially, the phrase “coming of age” simply refers to an individual’s transition from childhood to adulthood. In several African societies, to come of age, one should undergo different rituals and traditions. Unlike in the western cultures where the transition between adulthood and child hood is usually hazy and imprecise, the African transition from childhood to adulthood usually marks an important step in a person’s life. Basically, for Africans, coming of age is accompanied by other factors such as change in their roles, status, and responsibilities among others. As such, one is only officially considered a man or woman after going through the initiation process.
Generally, the African initiation into adulthood consist of three main stages. First, the children are secluded and separated from the society. Secondly, they undergo a period of change and transformation. Lastly, the transformed adults are reincorporated in to the community. During this transition period, most candidates are subjected to painful tests and ordeals. For most African communities, pain is essential for personhood development. Some of the tests include body scarification and circumcision. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a huge percentage of girls and women who have undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC) are from Africa.
According to the WHO, there are three classifications of FGC. These classifications include clitoridectomy, excision, and infibulation. There are various short term and long term health risks associated with FGC. These risks include hemorrhage, severe pain, infection and urinary problems among others. In addition, FGC has been blamed for a huge percentage of child mortality rates. Therefore, even though most African initiation practices are painful, FGC tends to engulf them all due to its severity and inhumane nature. As such, there have been calls to outlaw this practice in many African countries. However, despite the fact that many communities have ceased to practice FGC, a few still secretly carry out the practice.
In spite of the numerous disadvantages possessed by the practice of FGC, many African girls and women still view the practice as an important transition from childhood to adulthood. This is due to the existence of societal pressures which demand that for one to be considered a full woman, initiation was a must. As such, although most parents have an urge to stop the practice, they have the fear that their children would be denied the rights and responsibilities necessary to thrive in the society. Nonetheless, with the ever increasing modernization and the persistent education on the dangers of FGC by the church and schools, the practice has significantly reduced in most African nations. Further, most African communities have embarked on circumcising the women symbolically rather than physically.
Equally important, in traditional South African cultures, the initiation cycles consists of three main stages. The first stage occurs during the birth of the new born. There are various rituals and taboos that the women have to follow and conform by respectively. During birth, magic spells are casted and offerings are made to ancestors as a way to appease them. In addition, a woman is only fully initiated into womanhood after delivery. The second stage is undergoing the rites of passage. Generally, the boys are initiated by learning the different secrets of the tribe and gaining instructions on how to live responsibly. There are initiation schools which are responsible of instilling ethics and morals to the young adolescents. The initiation phase can last from a few days to several months according to the tribe. In some communities, circumcision is done to show initiation. Lastly, death marks the end of a person’s dwelling in the world and the beginning of life in the spirit world. As such, when a person dies, rituals are performed to incorporate the person’s spirit into ancestry.
Hipple, Annika. “Coming-of-Age Rituals in Africa: Tradition & Change.” Prudence International Magazine. 2008. Print.
Nel, Johan. “Initiation cycles of traditional South African cultures.” South African encyclopedia. N.d. Print. Read More
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