Africa is the origin of countless tribes, with an estimated 3,000, ranging from the San people of South Africa to the Berbers in Morocco.
With so many distinct groupings also come to a variety of intriguing tribal customs. Some of them we’ll never learn about, while we were fortunate enough to catch a peek at others.
These seven tribal customs are only a small portion of what makes Africans so entrancingly diverse.
1. The Wodaabe courting dance
Tribe of the Wodaabe during Guérewol
Birds carry it out. It’s done by bees. Of course, we’re referring to a courtship dance. The Wodaabe tribe of Niger takes a cue from nature when it comes to their mating rituals.
Young men dress up in extravagant decorations and traditional face paint for the Guérewol, an annual ritual and competition, and line up to dance and sing.
The objective was to attract one of the judges, a young woman who was suitable for marriage.
Men frequently roll their eyes and flash their teeth to display their sex appeal in this tribe since the ideal of masculine attractiveness revolves around sparkling eyes and teeth.
2. The Mursi lip plates
A member of the Mursi tribe wearing a lip plate. Image source: Rhino Africa Image Library
One of the remaining tribes in Africa where it is common practice for women to wear huge ceramic or wooden plates in their lower lips is the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia.
A Mursi girl’s bottom lip is cut by her mother or another elderly lady in the community when she is 15 or 16 years old.
A wooden plug keeps the wound open for roughly three months as it heals.
Members of the Mursi are quite egalitarian; girls never have to get their lips pierced; it’s entirely their decision. (Of course, peer pressure is greatest around age 16, regardless of culture, which is why many girls choose the lip plate.)
3. The Hamar bull leaping
The predominantly pastoral Hamar tribe in Ethiopia, also known as the Hamer tribe, values and respects their cattle and has a fairly… athletic initiation process.
This custom is all about the art of bull leaping, so forget cow tipping. All boys must participate in the three-day bull leaping ceremony, which is crucial to maintaining the honor of the initiate and his family.
15 castrated bulls whose backs have been smeared with excrement to make them slick must be crossed by the novice (and the task that much tougher).
He’ll have to wait a full year to try again if he fails. And if he is successful? It indicates that he is prepared to wed a woman of his parents’ choosing, have children of his own, and keep a herd of cattle.
4. The Himba’s red ochre
The ladies of this well-known tribe in Namibia are renowned for having stunning complexion and hair with red undertones.
What is the cause of the deep color? Otjize is a handcrafted red ochre, butter, and fat paste. As soon as they are mature enough to take care of their own hygiene, girls in the tribe begin using otjize.
Long-standing rumors about the practice’s true origins have led many to assert that it serves as sun protection or a bug deterrent.
The Himba tribe, however, claims that it is done only for aesthetic reasons. They essentially put on traditional makeup every morning in the same manner that we would apply mascara and lipstick.
Also Read: The Himba People of Namibia
5. The Kenyan Maasai Maasai warriors’ spitting
Spitting is regarded by the Maasai people of Kenya and Northern Tanzania as a blessing and a show of respect.
Tribespeople use spitting to greet or bid farewell to friends, seal a deal, or wish someone luck.
Before shaking hands, two pals will spit in their palms to greet one another. To wish a newborn a long life and good fortune, family members will spit on the infant after he or she is born.
A father will often spit on his daughter’s forehead on her wedding day to wish her a happy marriage.
6. The San San people of Botswana’s therapeutic dance
This is possibly the most amazing tribal custom there is. Dance is revered as a spiritual force by the San people of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Angola.
The trance dance is one of their most important tribal customs (also known as the healing dance).
For many hours or possibly the entire night, the entire community congregates around a fire, guided by healers and elders.
To create a potent trance-like condition, the healers dance around the fire, chant, and breathe rapidly.
They are permitted entrance to the spirit world while in this state (and are often able to walk over fire).
The San healers aim to drive out a force they refer to as “star sickness,” which they say is responsible for jealously, rage, and disputes, in addition to curing the community’s physical diseases.
7. The Ndebele wedding ceremony
The bride is the focal point of the Ndebele wedding ceremony, and she looks better than most western brides in white clothes.
This is mostly because of her prospective mother-in-law and the most attractive tribal customs. For the bride, the mother of the groom crafts a Jocolo, a goatskin apron embellished with stunning, vibrant beads.
All married ladies don the Jocolo, which symbolizes a mother with children, during the wedding ceremony.
The groom conducts a ceremony in honor of his future bride on the day of their wedding, thanking and praising her for all that she has done for him during their relationship.