3 interesting coming-of-age rituals for young girls in Africa

Young girls ready to undergo the rite of passage (hubafrique)
  • Various cultures all over the world have certain practices to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood.
  • In many African communities, the popular practice for females used to be circumcision. This has since been criminalized in many countries.
  • Business Insider SSA takes a look at some of these coming-of-age rituals for young girls that existed (and in some cases still exist) in Africa.

After exploring the three brutal rites boys go through to become men in Africa, we are taking a look at the following interesting coming-of-age rituals for young girls:

  • Elima (Twa)

Twa people, also called Batwa, are scattered across equatorial Africa. They can be found around Congo (Kinshasa), Rwanda, and Burundi.

Twa girls go through a rite of passage called 'Elima.' This happens when a girl’s first menses appears.

Once this special blessing occurs, the young is taken to a house where she stays secluded with other menstruating girls for at least a month.

During their stay, an older woman teaches the young girls about their history, how to be good wives, mothers and all it takes to be a Twa woman.

Once the girls are done learning, they come out dancing, eligible for marriage. The whole community then partakes in the rest of the Elima festivities.

  • Nugbeto (Anlo-Ewe)

The Anlo-Ewe people are a subgroup of the Ewe people who live in southern Togo, southern Benin, southwest Nigeria, and south-eastern parts of the Volta Region of Ghana.

Here, the traditional puberty rites for females is known as Nugbeto. The rites involve learning about sex, birth control, motherhood, what it takes to maintain a good marriage and other aspects of womanhood from very respected women.

The lessons are followed by a durbar (festival) where the rest of the community welcomes the newly initiated women into the society.

These new 'women' are adorned with very beautiful beads as they are shown off to single young men who select their prospective wives.

After the festival, the newly initiated women are showered with gifts like cash, jewelry, clothes and cooking utensils.

Note - These girls are expected to remain pure and avoid pregnancy before the initiation ceremony as this is considered as an abomination.

  • Iria ritual (Niger Delta states)

Various tribes in Niger Delta states practice the iria ritual. It is usually done to young girls between 14 and 16 to prepare them for marriage.

In some places, they are required to stand bare-breast for the crowd to inspect them and check to see that their virginity is intact.

These girls also visit the fattening room where they are fed with foods like pounded yam mixed with pounded plantain and taught how to dance half-naked at the market square.

They also learnt certain songs. These songs are sung on the final day when the girls traveled together down to the river while the Osokolo (senior male of the tribe) beat the women with a stick to ward off water spirits.

They were held in these rooms for 1-6 months. The girls were fattened up because "bigger" brides were considered more beautiful. They were also seen as more fertile.

At the end of their stay in the fattening room, their bodies are painted in different colours for the dance.

Fun fact - This ceremony is still being held in certain parts of Nigeria.

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