Separation

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

Laka peoples, Chad, boy’s initiation. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Initiands separated from ordinary life shed their prior social identities, just like American army recruits going on to boot camp. Shave that head! Put on these fatigues! Rich kid or poor, you're all soldiers now. Like army recruits, African initiands may be physically challenged to dramatize their transition—not to hurt them, but to oblige them to endure the rigors of transformation. “No pain, no gain,” as boxers like to say. Endurance so learned will prove instrumental to meeting life’s hardest challenges. Once separated from their communities and isolated in their camps, initiands have no individuality at all, then, only group solidarity. Here in a photo from the late 1960s we see Laka boys in southwestern Chad who are “invisible” behind beaded veils. These have been made by their mothers, who have no trouble identifying their sons as they perform a public dance; but this is not the point, for in their collaborative theater of change, everyone accepts that initiands are as indistinguishable and “invisible” as the dead.