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True African Religion: What should you know about the “Diola” tribe and their mysterious initiation ritual?

01 February 2021, Seytoo
True African Religion: What should you know about the “Diola” tribe and their mysterious initiation ritual?

How does the initiation ritual work in the “Diola” land?

If there is one tradition that gives rise to many mysteries, it is the initiation rituals within the “Diola” tribe. This is something that comes to us from the south of Senegal... We are going to tell you about the initiation ritual among the “Diola” tribe because, unlike other tribes in Senegal, the “Diola” people keep this ritual well alive.

The initiation is a long ceremony which marks an important stage in the life of a “Diola” man. This very ancient ritual only affects men. Initially, it took place publicly, in the village square. The central moment of the ceremony was the circumcision, called “Kahat.” But to preserve and protect ancestral traditions, the ritual became secret and then took the name of “Bukut.”

How does such ritual work?

The preparation

The ceremony takes place in the village every ten or twenty years. The date is set by the Council of Elders, who consult the fetishes (remember that the “Diola” are one of the people who have kept animist beliefs the most, compared to the rest of Africa). All boys of the age to be initiated are prepared: they are given a drink, the preparation of which remains secret, which will make them invulnerable for the duration of the initiation. Shortly before the start of the ceremony, they visit the maternal family, receive gifts. Their hair is shaved, leaving them a single lock which will be shaved at the end of the initiation.

The departure.

The initiation takes place in what the “Diola” call the “Sacred Woods.” Access is strictly reserved for young boys who are initiated. On the day of their departure for the Sacred Woods, the young boys first go to the Mosque then near the sacred tree to pay respect to the fetishes. The whole village is celebrating: it is a moment of joy and joy for all the families. The village accompanies the young people to the entrance of the “Sacred Woods:” it is the moment of separation, mothers are both sad to leave their sons for a while, but they are so proud at the same time!

The “Sacred Woods” retreat.

During their retreat in the “Sacred Woods,” the young people are accompanied by the formerly initiated men and the witch doctors who will transmit to them what will make them men: the secrets, the morals and the principles of the animist religion. They are also subjected to severe physical tests. During the retreat, the women prepare meals for the initiation candidates every day. The large dishes are left at the entrance to the “Sacred Woods.” In the evening, the initiation candidates will look for the meal, without being seen by anyone.

In order to reassure the mothers, a furtive meeting is organized during the retreat. The initiation candidates put on a white garment that covers their entire body, including the head and face. They are aligned and a former initiated man shows the head of each boy, one by one: the mothers therefore see the faces of their children for 2 seconds: it is an intense moment… The crying, the drums, the dances animate this moment of jubilation.

The exit of the “Sacred Woods.”

At the end of this severe test, the newly initiated boys have the right to a week of rest. Then comes the day of the big party where they will meet the village and their family: it is impressive to see all the dishes that have been prepared!

But what really happened during the initiation?

Well you will never know! Indeed, what happened remains an absolute secret that insiders do not have the right to reveal to the uninitiated: whoever violates this law of silence would take the risk of being hit by the curse, as well as his family and, perhaps for several generations…
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