Initiation rites

Saturday 29 November 2008 by Florence

The period of initiation is crucial in the traditional African society even if they take place on various ways depending of the tribe. Some have rites of passage for boys, others for girls and still others for both sexes. These are rites to render them adults with rights but conscious of their responsibilities. These also give them a certain amount of social and moral values.

The members are classified into age’s groups and go through different societies, the first one being marked for the boys by circumcision. Every step includes a period of isolation and seclusion away from the village. Masked men teach them adult behaviour and lead them through a sequence of trials.

But most of the masks involved in initiations belonged to secret brotherhoods, so their appearances are not restricted to the initiation of adolescents. They also allow officials to attain higher ranks within the brotherhood. Les masques yangaleya des Ligbi de Côte d’Ivoire figurent parmi les plus populaires de la société do et sont exhibés lors des funérailles d’importants chefs religieux. Les traits anthropomorphes des masques sont associés au puissant bec du calao, admiré en raison des qualités qui lui sont attribuées dont un comportement et une vie familiale exemplaires. Chez les Gourounsi du Burkina Faso, les masques à représentation zoomorphes ne peuvent être portés que par des jeunes gens initiés tout comme les Bamana du Mali chez qui le grade le plus élevé est le grade koré, dont l’obtention suppose l’acquisition de nombreuses connaissances d’ordre spirituel. Ces connaissances sont censées permettre aux hommes d’entrer en relation avec les puissances divines. Pour parvenir à ce niveau, les membres de la société doivent se soumettre à des rites longs et douloureux.

The yangaleya masks of the Ligbi from the Ivory Coast are some of the most important of the do society and appear at the funerals of important religious chiefs. The anthropomorphic figures of the masks are associated with the powerful beak of the calao which is admired for its qualities such as exemplary behaviour and family life. Among the Gurunsi from Burkina Faso zoomorphic masks can only be worn by initiated young people, this also applies to the Bamana from Mali whose higher rank is the kore, this rank is only obtained by the acquisition of sufficient spiritual knowledge. This knowledge is supposed to allow men to enter a relationship with spiritual order. To reach this level, members of the society must be submitted to long and painful rites.

Among girls the initiation is submitted by circumcision and acquisition of values that are needed to become a spouse and a mother. Masks have a less important role except in Liberia and Sierra Leone such as the Mende where the female society sande use masks for its initiation rites.


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