Monday, July 21, 2008

"From boys to men"...hhmmm??? or not



At any one moment; living in Africa is a really interesting mix of dichotomies and contradictions. South Africa, being one of the most cosmopolitan, modern and integrated countries, is most definitely a case in point. Someone can live in a million dollar mansion, have a doctorate degree, but still go through ancient traditional rights of passage and ceremonies.



Last week, I was asked to record a ceremony celebrating my nephew's return from initiation. This initiation (ukuya eNgomeni) from being a boy to being a man is a complex and involved process. Him and his fellow initiates (Amasokana) were away for 3 months in the blistering cold going through whatever it was they are taught in the bush (women and non-initiated men are forbidden from knowing what goes on there). So, while recording this I started wondering...what does it really mean to be a man in Africa..coz one thing I know...he sure didn't seem any different from when he went to when he came back... Here are a few pictures I took using the camcorder so the quality is not that great...but hope you find this interesting...



The initiates on their return. My nephew is the short one in the middle (can't really see his face coz of the sun...sorry about that)



This is my cousin- his mother, preparing Pap (a staple food of ours). She has not seen her son in three months. During this 3 month wait she is never told about his well being while he is away. If for instance, he had died, she would have only found out on this day that he did not make it through the initiation process.



The initiates are put in a kind-of open grass house on the day of their return. The blankets are traditional Ndebele colours. My family is of the Ndebele people, and we have a lot of colours and beaded work in our clothing.



The initiates, singing and dancing later on in the day.



I don't know these guys, but I thought to take a picture of the full traditional outfits (note the beads and colours). The women take pride in knowing that their husbands and sons have gone through this ceremony. I for one, for some strange reason, also have it in me that a man who has gone through the process has one up on the one who hasn't...what that one up is, I DO NOT KNOW. Strange.



His paternal aunt on the day of the ceremony.



All the initiates at the end of the day. Ready to go out into the world as men!

I really appreciate tradition and culture (I have certainly been through my fair share of tradition and ceremony)...but am also in a space where I ask myself where are we loosing its essence and purity. I don't know what it takes to be man, or what being a man really is, but I really wonder what it is that they teach them up there in the mountain, bush or where ever it is that they go. For all I know, they are taught to roll up a great spliff and chill for three months or they are taught what it takes to build a nation and be responsible for your home, family, community, country and world. The way some of my more affluent brothers have come back from initiation and treated their women, children, mothers, communities, country etc, makes me wonder if the memo on what is meant to be taught there got lost somewhere in the process of colonisation; modernisation and erosion of our sense of pride and self....but hey this entry was not mean to be political or serious...just wanted to ask the question...WHAT DOES IT REALLY TAKE TO BE A MAN IN MODERN AFRICA?

7 comments:

Andriy said...

Wow, Mmabs! Thank you for the fascinating story! The most interesting point for me is the role of traditional rites in modern society, that you speak about.

And idea of them having a huge spliff in the bush is intriguing as well :)

jorge said...

This was - as you'd say Mmabs - excellent!
Thanx for sharing your beautiful story, it made my day!

I want to go to that bush too!

vasilis said...

I don't know what it takes to become a man in South Africa or elsewhere, but I DO know that this was a great story! Thnx Mmabs... Give us more pleaaaaaaase!

mmabs said...

wow thanks guys. hahahaha, G, about you wanting to go the bush... we can arrange! haha. :)

Χ.Ζ. said...

one more ticket for me please...

zingisa said...

quite a colourful story...

kalumbu said...

finally it was done. when i saw the footage i didnt know it will come out this way. lets cut the material into a doccie. i will get omebody to cut it cause iam swamped but the idea is there. nice one its colourful and i like the presentation of it.