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

Lunda peoples, Zambia, initiation. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Women and uninitiated boys are the audience for initiation rituals through which young men are taken “backstage” to learn the secrets of masking and other male pursuits. A special language or coded metaphors often allow the initiated to speak in front of women, supposedly without their comprehending. For their parts, women are an active audience during boys' initiation, when they may cook for the camp (while always remaining outside of it) or sing a counter-chorus to the music of the initiators. Women often offer festive celebration when their sons emerge from initiation. Great feasts are prepared, and both relief and joy are shown, for neither evil nor significant injury has befallen their boys. Instead, they are ready to assume adult rights and duties. Here a woman in a northwestern Zambian village has adorned herself with special face paint and a decorated coiffure in joyous anticipation of her son's return home, transformed by his weeks of education in an initiation camp (see Jordán 1998).