Female Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Zulu artist, South Africa. Reed dance. Photo by Sandra Klopper.


Among Venda, Swazi, Zulu, and related peoples of southern Africa, girls' religious, intellectual, and moral training and growing mastery of their environment occurs in three stages. During khomba (the first phase), girls learn the laws of the body, “the seat of social and reproductive functions;” the principles and practices of nurturing a family; and women's place in society. Next is tshikanda, during which late-adolescent girls and boys acquire “the logic of ‘the things which go together’”: human procreation, marriage and a household, and other fertile potentialities. Finally, in domba, young people learn broad community values, law, and the political principles that have long united vast nations of southern African peoples (Zahan 1979: 56). Beadwork and other material and body arts feature in women’s presentation of themselves, as do choreographies as shown in the accompanying photo (see Klopper 2001; Klopper et al. 2008).