Number of girls going into initiation has gone down

Initiates in Bushbuckridge are welcomed back home./MANDLA KHOZA
Initiates in Bushbuckridge are welcomed back home./MANDLA KHOZA

Fewer women are going to initiation schools compared to the past, traditional masters have revealed.

In Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, young women have taken pride in going to initiation schools every winter season to be in isolation as they prepare for womanhood but some have defied the practice.

Maidens initiation master Makgolo Chiloane said Komaya Mapulana was set up years ago to groom young women into adult womanhood and preparing them for marriage life.

"We have fewer number of young women going to initiation now," Chiloane.

She added it was worse for girls living in towns and cities. While young women end up in urban areas to pursue tertiary education and jobs, Chiloane said in some instances the trend is unwittingly initiated by parents

"Parents go seek jobs in the cities where they set up new lives. Their children later follow them there and end up losing touch with customs."

Although many may defy traditions because of modernity, she said traditions were still largely practiced.

Chiloane said young women initiates go into "isolation to be taken out of their comfort zone and toughened".

"The initiation used to take three months but traditional leadership cut it to three weeks to prevent school disruptions. It takes place over the winter holidays because they are longer," she added.

Gabsile Mahlangu said that in the Ndebele tradition, girls go into Eqhudeni in the comfort of their own homes.

Mahlangu said she went into initiation in 2006 and learned a lot about her tradition and customs.

"Initiation is a sacred ceremony that played a huge role in my development as I entered womanhood. I'm still grounded because of that."

"You get an isolated room at your home where a tribal leader will come and groom you and teach you about your origin, customs and womanhood," said Mahlangu.

But Prisca Mboweni, 20, said she found no relevance in initiation.

"I do not want to go to initiation because I feel that my parents can still teach me about my tradition at home."

Mboweni said the initiation of women should be done voluntarily: "My sisters have gone there but I see nothing different in them except that they spent months in isolation to learn things they can learn at home."

Meanwhile, Goodenough Mashego, an initiation school master at Mapulaneng village, said the primary purpose of initiation is to teach young men perseverance.

"There is a difference between initiation and circumcision. Although many have opted for medical circumcision, they lack traditional education that young people who go into isolation experience.

"In the bushes or mountain where the boys will go and camp with elders, they learn ancient methods of doing things and historical education on tradition and customary practices," said Mashego.

Above all, young people are taught respect and problem-solving tactics that were used by kings and leaders to guide a man as a head of the family, he said. Mashego said the youth today have fallen into westernised practices that have left them confused and without knowledge of their traditions.

He said the purpose of the initiation is to instil discipline and a pattern of rooting an individual in their culture.

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