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10 Incredible African Tribal Traditions

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Africa has over 3000 tribes. With this comes different cultures and practices. And while that is normal, some African tribal traditions are not understood by many. In fact, some opine that they’ve been surpassed by time. We’ve scanned the continent and now present some of the African tribal traditions that’ll surprise you.

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1. Woodabe Courtship

The Woodabe are nomads and move from Northern Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Nigeria. In this African tribal tradition, young men try and get a woman to marry in a ceremony known as Gerewol. During this season, the men paint their faces, wear ornaments, dance and sing. 

A lot of value is placed on having white teeth and good eyes, which is why they showcase them more to attract a woman. It’s a signal of their sexual strength.

2. Mursi and the Lip Plate

Ethiopia’s Jinka women wear a plate on their lips. This is one of those practices that many would struggle to get their heads around. Once a girl gets to the age of 16, her mother or another woman from the tribe cuts her lower lip. After, wood is placed on the wound until it heels. The healing takes around three months. 

Afterwards, a lip plate is inserted into the hole created and stretches the lip outward. The lip plate demonstrates the marriageability and fertility of a woman. The Jinka tribe is the last people to practice this African tribal tradition. 

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3. Bull Jumping Practised by Hamaar

Boys in the Ethiopian Hamaar culture go through a rather athletic initiation ritual before they receive a go-ahead to marry. They must jump on the backs of the bulls naked to prove their manhood. If a boy fails, he’ll wait for one year to get a chance again. Of course, it brings shame to himself and his family and there might be consequences.

4. Himba Tribe Applying Red Ochre

The Himba tribe is an African tribe in Namibia. They have red skin and hair because of applying a butter paste, red ochre, and fat. Women use this mixture when they’re mature enough to look after themselves. This practice is done for beautification, although some claim it’s done to protect their skin against the sun.

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5. Maasai Spitting

The Maasai tribe of Kenya use spitting as a way of greeting each other. It also signals respect. A newborn is spat on as a wish to have a long life. A father spits on his daughter’s forehead during a marriage ceremony to wish them a good union. 

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6. Ndebele’s Wedding Dresses

 

A woman’s wedding day is one of the biggest days of her life. This is why they are given special treatment. This certainly happens to Ndebele women. The bride’s mother makes a Jocolo – a goatskin apron with colorful beads. This garment is won by married women who attend the ceremony, and the groom honors his wife to show appreciation for what she’s done.

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7. Lobola 

The Lobola is one of the most popular African tribal traditions. It’s practiced in the Southern region of Africa, largely in South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. The groom’s family pays the dowry in cattle or money as a sign of unity between both families. 

The parents of the bride and groom aren’t part of the negotiations. Uncles, aunties, and other relatives step in. Lobola can be extravagant, as seen when South African celebrities do it. 

8. Ulwaluko, South Africa

The Xhosa practices the Ulwaluko. Young men, referred to as the abakhwetha, are circumcised and sent to the bushes. They live away from the community for a couple of months in shelters built by the community. After successfully completing this rite of passage, they earn the right to be called men. To demonstrate that, they receive new blankets.

9. Chewa Tribe 

Members of the Chewa Tribe. Image Source: Medium licensed under CC BY 2.0

The one thing the Chewa tribe found in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi is that they have allowed their women to receive inheritance. They inherit property from their mothers, which sounds like they are treated equally to the men. 

Well, that’s not necessarily the case. Men still hold power. They are part of the Nyau brotherhood, through which they summon spirits during important occasions like harvest, weddings, and funerals. 

10. The Healing Dance of the San 

 The San are in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. At the heart of this African tribal tradition is the trance dance. It’s performed at night when the entire community communed together. The dance is performed until they come to a trance state. This allowed them to tap into the spirit world to seek healing and cast away bad energy – jealousy and anger. 

Which of the above African culture intrigues you? While some people might question these practices, it’s refreshing to see members of these tribes taking pride in their own culture. 

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