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Culture Editorial

Seven Fascinating Tribal Traditions from Africa

Africa is home to a vast array of tribes, ranging from the San people of South Africa to the Berbers in Morocco, with an estimated 3,000 in total.

With such diversity comes a plethora of captivating tribal traditions. While we may never know all of them, we have been fortunate enough to witness some. The following seven traditions offer a mere glimpse into the rich and vibrant cultures of Africa.

  1. The Wodaabe courtship dance.



It’s not just birds and bees that perform courtship dances – humans do it too. In the Wodaabe tribe of Niger, the mating ritual takes inspiration from nature.


Each year, the tribe holds the Guérewol, a competition where young men dress in elaborate attire and traditional face paint and perform a dance and song routine in hopes of winning the favor of one of the judges – a young woman who is of marriageable age.

In this tribe, the male ideal of beauty is all about bright eyes and teeth, so the men often emphasize these features to showcase their attractiveness.

2. The lip plates of the Mursi

Moving on to another tribe, the Mursi of Africa’s Great Rift Valley have a distinctive tradition when it comes to beauty. The women of the tribe adorn themselves with lip plates, an unusual form of body modification. These plates are made of clay and worn in a pierced hole in the lower lip. The size of the plate is a symbol of the woman’s status and dowry, and the practice is said to have originated as a way to deter slave traders.”


In the Mursi tribe, a girl typically undergoes a unique rite of passage when she reaches 15 or 16 years of age. Her mother or another older woman in the community will cut her lower lip, which is then stretched open with a wooden plug for around three months until it fully heals.

Despite this practice, the Mursi people are relatively egalitarian, and girls are never coerced into having their lips pierced – it’s entirely up to them.

However, as with any culture, peer pressure can play a role, and some girls may choose to undergo the procedure at the age of 16 due to societal expectations and influence.

3. The red ochre of the Himba


The Himba tribe of Namibia is renowned for their distinctive beauty, characterized by their radiant red-tinged skin and hair. This striking coloration is achieved through a homemade mixture of butter, fat, and red ochre called otjize. As soon as young girls are able to care for their own hygiene, they begin to apply the paste to their skin and hair as a traditional beauty treatment.

There has been much speculation about the origins of otjize and the purpose behind its use. Some have suggested that the mixture acts as a form of sun protection or insect repellent in the harsh desert climate of Namibia. However, the Himba tribe maintains that otjize is primarily used for aesthetic reasons and is akin to a traditional form of make-up. Just as individuals in Western cultures might apply mascara or lipstick as part of their daily routine, the Himba women apply otjize to enhance their natural beauty.

The process of applying otjize is a significant part of the Himba women’s daily routine. Each morning, they mix the paste using a mortar and pestle before carefully applying it to their skin and hair. The application process is intricate and precise, with each woman developing her own unique style over time.

The use of otjize is also deeply rooted in the Himba tribe’s cultural traditions. It is seen as a symbol of identity and belonging, with the distinctive red coloration serving as a marker of Himba heritage. The practice is passed down from generation to generation, with mothers teaching their daughters how to mix and apply the paste.

Overall, otjize and the Himba tribe’s beauty traditions serve as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and traditions of Namibia. The practice of using otjize is not only an expression of beauty but also a reflection of the tribe’s values and way of life.


4. The bull jumping of the Hamar


The Hamar tribe of Ethiopia is primarily made up of pastoralists who hold their cattle in high regard. They have a unique and physically demanding initiation ritual known as bull jumping, which is a three-day rite of passage that all boys must partake in. This tradition is crucial for the dignity of both the initiate and his family and is considered a significant milestone in a boy’s life.

During the bull jumping ceremony, the initiate must walk over 15 castrated bulls, which have been rubbed in dung to make their backs slippery and the task that much more challenging. This feat requires significant physical strength, agility, and balance, and is not for the faint of heart. If the initiate fails to complete the bull jumping successfully, he will have to wait a whole year before trying again.

However, if the initiate successfully completes the bull jumping ceremony, it is a significant achievement and demonstrates his readiness to take on important responsibilities in the tribe. The successful completion of the bull jumping ceremony signifies that the boy is ready to marry a girl of his parents’ choosing, raise his own children, and tend to his cattle.

The bull jumping ceremony is a deeply ingrained tradition in the Hamar tribe, and it reflects their unique cultural values and way of life. The tribe’s reverence for cattle is evident in the bull jumping ceremony, as the initiation ritual involves using the animals as a physical test of strength and endurance. The ceremony is also significant for the family of the initiate, as it is a source of pride and a demonstration of their social status within the tribe.

In conclusion, the bull jumping ceremony is a physically demanding and culturally significant tradition that holds great meaning for the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia. This unique initiation ritual reflects the tribe’s respect for their cattle and their cultural values, and serves as a symbol of the initiate’s readiness to take on important responsibilities within the tribe.

5. The healing dance of the San

Some of the bushmen of Botswana

Among the many fascinating tribal traditions found in Africa, one of the most captivating is the trance dance of the San people. This group, also known as the Bushmen, inhabit regions of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola. For the San, dance is considered a sacred power that can bring healing and spiritual enlightenment.

The trance dance, also known as the healing dance, is an essential part of their culture. The dance is typically performed by the tribe’s healers and elders who lead the community in a ritual that can last for several hours or even the entire night. The San gather around a fire, and the healers dance, chant and hyperventilate until they enter a trance-like state.

In this state, the healers believe that they are granted access to the spirit world, allowing them to connect with their ancestors and seek guidance. The trance dance is a way for the San to heal not only physical illnesses but also to expel “star sickness.” According to their beliefs, this force can cause jealousy, anger, and arguments, and it must be removed for the community to thrive.

The San people have been performing the trance dance for generations, and it remains an important part of their cultural heritage. The dance is a symbol of their deep spiritual connection to the earth and the natural world. For the San, dance is not merely a form of entertainment or expression, but a way to tap into the divine power that guides and sustains their lives.

6. The spitting of the Maasai


The Maasai people of Kenya and Northern Tanzania have a unique way of showing respect and blessing others, and it involves spitting. This age-old tradition is deeply ingrained in the culture of the Maasai tribe, and it holds significant meaning for them. The act of spitting is not seen as rude or offensive, but rather as a sign of goodwill and respect.

For the Maasai people, spitting is a common gesture used to greet friends, family, and acquaintances. It’s a way of acknowledging someone’s presence and showing them that they are valued. When two friends meet, they spit in their palms before shaking hands, a gesture that signifies mutual respect and goodwill.

The tradition of spitting also extends to important life events, such as the birth of a child or a daughter’s wedding day. Family members will spit on a newborn baby to bless them with a long life and good fortune. On a daughter’s wedding day, her father will spit on her forehead as a way of wishing her a blessed union with her partner.

Spitting is also used as a way to seal a deal or clinch a bargain. When negotiating a price, Maasai tribespeople will spit on the ground to signify that the deal is done and that both parties are in agreement. In this way, spitting is an essential part of the Maasai culture and plays a vital role in their daily lives.

7. The wedding ceremony of the Ndebele


The Ndebele people, a South African tribe known for their vibrant geometric paintings, have a wedding ceremony that is truly unique. Unlike Western traditions where the focus is on the bride and groom equally, the Ndebele ceremony is all about the bride and her attire. The highlight of the ceremony is the Jocolo, a beautifully crafted apron made of goatskin and adorned with colourful beads.

What makes this tribal tradition even more special is that the Jocolo is made by the groom’s mother, who puts her heart and soul into creating a unique piece for her future daughter-in-law. The apron is symbolic of a mother surrounded by her children and represents the bride’s transition into married life and her new role as a mother.

During the wedding ceremony, all married women wear a Jocolo to show their support and solidarity for the bride. The colourful and intricate beadwork on the apron is a reflection of the bride’s personality and her journey towards becoming a wife and mother.

The groom also plays an important role in the Ndebele wedding ceremony. He performs a special ceremony to honour his new wife, thanking her for everything she has done for him and acknowledging her role as the backbone of their future family.

The Ndebele wedding ceremony is a beautiful and meaningful tribute to the bride, her mother-in-law, and the importance of family in their culture. It is a true celebration of love, unity, and tradition.



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As a news writer dedicated to promoting Africa, I have developed a unique perspective on the continent's people, cultures, and challenges. With a passion for journalism and a deep appreciation for Africa's diversity, I have contributed to numerous online publications, crafting articles that celebrate the continent's achievements and shed light on its issues. You can reach out to me via email: Whatapp: +233541258905