Separation

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

Chokwe peoples, Zambia, boy’s initiation. Photo by Manuel Jordán.

To dramatize one’s wish to leave behind who and what one has been, known, and done, an “initiand”—that is, a person undergoing ritual—often experiences symbolic “death.” Initiands are taken away from the comforts of home to a special camp or other location where they are cut off from everyday activities. Such places are usually created where people do not ordinarily go. A pathway leading to the camp may be marked with a special gateway as seen in this photo by Manuel Jordán taken as he studied—and participated—in boys’ initiation rituals in northwestern Zambia in the early 1990s. Casual passersby know that they may not enter, nor would they want to do so. Although their isolation is a fiction, since everyone is likely to know exactly where the initiands are, ritual drama requires creation of this place-out-of-place to enact their separation from earlier relationships and expectations. During initiation, education is often guided by ancestral and other spirits, and the ritual camp may serve as a model of their world, beyond our own.