The initiates took part in lebollo, a ritual that sees girls spending months away from their families with two “basuwe” (traditional teachers).
Lebollo is a tradition for Sotho girls undergoing initiation which includes seclusion.
A well-known custom in Africa is the initiation of women where they are guided through the transition from childhood to adulthood. South Africa is home to many different cultures, each with their own traditional practices. These traditions also vary from clan to clan within an ethnic group or culture.
The ritual is meant to help them understand their customs and traditions better and also prepares them for married life, it teaches young women to be good wives.
Basuwe teach them all about Sesotho culture, including traditional songs and dances and how to behave in society. It instils good morals and teaches them to be responsible citizens, however their lives could be lost if a teacher does not have a calling into this.
The girls at the initiation school have to be placed in a certain area, sleep in a certain manner, wear certain clothes and use certain soils as masks on their skin.
In Sotho culture “phepa”, a white soil is used by girls on their bodies and “pilo”, a black soil is used as a mask for identification of different clans. These clans are called Bataung, Bahlankoana, Bakoena, Bafokeng, Basiea and Baphuting. The dress code is also important in the traditional practice. A “lehlakana” is a weed which grows on the river banks and is used to dress up the initiates, there is also the “kgolokwana”, which is a skirt. The initiates faces must also be covered with a veil and they will also wear a “stiya”, which is made from a softened cow hide. The girls will also be seen holding a “mare” wooden sticks that are supposed to protect them from evil spirits.
The maximum time spent by these initiates at the “mountains” is three months and the best season for the practice is the middle of summer. The practice, however, should not be confused with forms of female genital mutilation. For instance, the inner folds of the vagina are enlarged for a more pleasurable love making experience. This is a good custom that women should go appreciate since it teaches young women good behaviour and enhances their sexual experience in marriage.
Although some people have reservations about the practice, prospective initiates continue flooding to initiation schools to embark on this guided journey towards womanhood.
Author: Refiloe Nthama
Photo credit: The Initiation School