Puberty rites in Ghana are some of the deep-rooted cultural activities that many of our communities take part in. Of course there have been influences of education, modernization, and missionary counter-teachings, but still, these practices have not faded. It is no wonder many people across the globe flock to our country, on yearly basis, to witness these magnificent initiation events.
What is puberty rites in Ghana
Puberty ceremony presents an opportunity for an adolescent young boy or girl to be fully recognized as an adult in our society. This stage, which is typically characterized by physical growth and maturity as well as emotional changes in youngsters, is regarded critical in our communities. This is the time they need to be intensively reminded of the cultural values and be taught their roles as young adults.
Basically, it is through these puberty rites in Africa that girls are given highlights of the traditional ideals of womanhood. They are given the rights to marry, but still, have to be shaped to become good wives. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to step up and be responsible for their families. In general, they are prepared in matters of marriage, childbearing, sexual life and family responsibilities.
Interestingly, male puberty rites in Ghana are not as common as their female counterparts. For example, certain communities such as Akan and Krobo, from southern and eastern regions, it is only girls who undergo these ceremonies. However, puberty rites in northern Ghana include both girls and boys.
Well, these rites are not that regular for boys because, unlike girls, the lads are taught from a very young age how to be brave and responsible. For instance, Sisaala tribe in the upper west region of our country, boys always walk in the company of men. They are taught every aspect of manhood responsibility except for sex- which comes later on when they are fully matured. All in all, the significance of puberty rites among these communities is still acknowledged.
Even though the teachings are more or less the same, puberty rites in different cultures are conducted in their own unique styles. The dress code, rituals and period for the ceremonies all differ from one community to another.
Generally, many of them used to last for months, but due to interference from the modern generation, they gradually shrank to just a few days. Technological advancement has also played a huge role in the practices, for instance, in Krobo tribe marks used to be made on the back of the hands of the participants. This has been replaced with photography.
Examples of puberty rites in Ghana
A country that is comprised of quite a number of ethnic tribes and clans, there are various types of puberty rites in Ghana that are fascinating. The Ga-Dangme people, particularly the Krobo tribe is one of the popular communities with a captivating ceremony known as Dipo. Dipo puberty rites are usually held between the month of February and May. On the other hand, puberty rites among the ewe are referred to as Nugbet while Bragoro or Brapue is among the Akan. They are all very popular, judging from the fact that puberty rites from Ghana are part of tourist attraction.
Onlookers-many of them being tourist-never want to miss the rituals and traditional dances. They travel to Krobo towns every year to feast their eyes. The bead industry consequently, thrives during these times.
How puberty rites are performed in Ghana
The fascinating aspects mainly lie in the chronological order of the puberty rites and rituals. One activity leads to another in a very organized way until the climax of the rite, before coming to an end with congratulatory remarks to the participants. Here are some of the communities with their versions of the puberty rites.
Puberty rites among the Akan
The Bragoro which is also referred to as Brapue is conducted after a girl’s first menstruation. Typically, it’s the girl’s mother who announces the news as she prepares for the ceremony. A girl who is set to be initiated is called Sakyima or Brani.
Before the rite takes place there is some spiritual and material preparation that has to be conducted. The spiritual arrangement of the event involves finding out if the girl’s soul, locally known as ‘kra’ conforms with the activities of the events. As for material preparation, it usually requires things like food items, money, chicken among others.
While still in the preparation mode, the girl to be initiated is presented to the ‘queen-mother’ who simply carries out an inspection to check if she is pregnant or not. Virginity is regarded as purity in the community and hence it is highly valued.
Girls who happened to be ‘impure’ before initiation used to be cast out alongside the man who impregnated her. But then again, things have so far changed as special rituals are now conducted to make a girl ‘pure’ again-even after losing virginity.
The day the ceremony finally takes place, an announcement is made very early in the morning by the mother. She beats an old pan or a metal part of a hoe to announce it. It usually never takes long for people to assemble. Puberty ceremony songs or rather ‘Brannwom' are played as people gather around.
The first rite for the ceremony is called ‘enstoolment’. It is conducted by an old woman who has a reputation for having many children in the village. The initiates take her bath, covers her head all the way to the waist but leaves her face exposed. She is placed on a stool three times; sitting and standing repeatedly. It is the third time that she sits still without standing. The stool is usually placed on a mat covered with a blanket or the traditional kente cloth.
A brass basin locally referred to as ‘Yaawa’ is filled with water that has ‘Odwen’ leaves while an egg is immersed in it. A dry ‘okro’ fruit is also placed just beside the initiate. All these items are symbolic and highly significant to the community.
A woman sits beside the ‘Yaawa’. She sprinkles water on the girl with ‘Odwen Ahaban’ or rather leaves of Odwen. It is believed that the sprinkling of water is meant to drive away the evil spirit that may make her barren and be protected. Being a celebration, there is a lot of jubilation and merrymaking as women sing and move around the girl.
Libation is then poured on the ground with palm wine to give thanks to the ancestors and gods for protecting the girl up to her puberty age. Gifts from friends, parents, and relatives are presented to her as the celebration continues. All the gifts are showcased around her.
After enstoolment, ‘ti-ya’ or rather hair cutting follows next. She is given a special haircut as it shaped into a unique style called ‘Dansinkran’-which is basically a traditional Asante women hairstyle. The father pays for this exercise and is regarded as capital for the initiate. The, as well as toenails, are also cut as she dresses in a white cloth with her breasts exposed. Beads are also wrapped around her on the neck, wrists, and ankles.
The next rite is the ritual bath. Ideally, it is supposed to be performed near a river or stream. But then again, in a situation where no river happens to be flowing within, water can be simply put in a ‘Yaawa’ for the same function.
Her head including her face is covered with a cloth as she gets carried to the stream or river. Once on the river banks, the woman in charge carefully removes her cloth and dips her in the water for three consecutive times as a special prayer is made to the ‘spirits of the water’ informing them of their presence and purpose.
The ’Brani’ is then seated on a stool as lime is squeezed so that the juice drips on her head. ‘Eto’ which is mashed yam, an egg and three leaves of ‘edwono' tree is thrown into the river. There are some communities that go ahead and burry parts of the finger and toes nails as well as pieces of hair at the river bank.
This whole exercise is done by four women and they use a new sponge, lime juice, and soap to bathe her. Once she is clean and ‘transformed' into a woman, she is dressed in a rich kente cloth with a pair of new ‘Ahenema' sandals to complement her new look. Her hairstyle is again reshaped nicely. She is then carried home like a queen under a colorful umbrella as ‘bragoro’ songs are melodiously sung.
When she gets home, she is then introduced into ‘Anoka’-mouth touching ceremony. The food items are basically elephant skin, banana, mashed yam, boiled eggs and roasted groundnuts. This is usually a dedication ceremony. Libation is first poured to honor the ancestors and then food items are put into her mouth for her to taste. Each food is followed by a prayer. For instance, when she tastes the elephant skin, the officiating woman prays and says ‘May the elephant give you her womb so that you bear many children’.
The initiate's head is then covered with a cloth as a boiled egg is put into her mouth. She has to swallow the egg as a whole without chewing or biting it. She has to do the same with the mashed yam. It is believed that if she bites or chews any of those items she may become barren!
Coming to the climax of the ceremony, there is one more activity. She holds the hands of two children, a boy, and a girl. According to the instructions given to her, she gently releases her grip on those children as they rush to a big bowl of eggs and mashed yams. As soon as the two touch the food, all other children on the sideline also rush and scramble for it.
The initiate is then blindfolded and asked to touch two of the children. It is believed that if she is able to touch a boy and girl, she will have children of both sexes.
The ceremony comes to an end with a feast for the initiate and her friends. There are festivity and merry-making in the air. Eventually, after it has officially ended, the Sunday of the initiation week is ‘Ndaase’, a thanksgiving day.
The newly transformed woman dresses in a rich kente cloth and is accompanied by her friends who are equally well-dressed to the homes of people made the whole ceremony a success.
Puberty rites among the Krobo
Puberty rites among the Ga, particularly the Krobo people, equally involves a series of performances just like the Akan community. Even though there are a number of differences in them, some activities are somehow similar. For instance, they also perform a ritual bath, special haircut as well as ‘mouth tasting’ ceremony. A series of libation is also poured to honor the gods.
It takes place in the month of February. Announcements are made for any parent with a daughter at puberty age to bring her forth and let them be ‘transformed’ into Krobo woman.
Advantages of puberty rites in Ghana
Well, the significance of puberty rites in Ghana can be easily noticed from how serious and religious the ceremonies are conducted. Everything is in order while respect and acknowledgment are still given to the gods.
The Importance of puberty rites can also be seen from how a girl acquires knowledge about ideal womanhood. Her cultural traditions such as dressing, dancing, and drumming are further instilled in her. She also brings honor not only to herself but her parents and family as well. As for men they are now given the right to marry and take care of their families.
In conclusion, puberty rites of passage in Ghana are not only part of Africa’s pride but they are meant to educate the youngsters on the responsibility that comes with their biological maturity. Self- respect is one of the values that is constantly taught for them to become the future leader.