Rite of passage for fifteen young women

The principal of the school kisses one initiate goodbye. Photo: Selogile Leshage

In the quest to keep cultural practices alive, fifteen young women completed their six-week Sotho initiation rite (lebollo) at Matlwang village last Saturday.

The women, including traditional healers from Johannesburg and Ikageng, sang in jubilation at the celebration ceremony after entering the homestead on 24 November last year.
The women masked their faces with clay and danced, single file, in a circle. Some of them wore sunglasses to cover their eyes and hide their identities. Carrying small sticks, they sang, danced and ululated. They were joined in song by women who came to welcome them into womanhood.
Disebo Phoko, the principal of the school says she’s happy that everything went well, there were no fatalities and that she is helping the nation. The traditional teacher at the school, Malefu Rasego, known as ‘mosuwe’ says the initiates are taught to cook, sing, dance and take care of their husbands and household.

The initiates wait for the next command from their principal.
Photo: Selogile Leshage

Disebo added that women should know that a man is the head of the family and should respect him and be able to perform feminine duties.
‘This cultural practice and tradition uplifts the initiates’ moods. Some women come here with a lot of problems like infertility, marital problems and other social issues. When they go back to their families, they leave cleansed and rejuvenated,’ she said.
‘We got up early in the morning to perform rituals, sing and dance in the field. We came back in the afternoon and continued in the yard,’ she said.
She chuckled when asked about the secrecy surrounding initiation schools. ‘In life, when you want to find out about something, you have to experience it personally. This is just part of our culture. We want girls to come and find out for themselves and to learn about their culture,’ she said. But she made it very clear that there are no practices like female circumcision or any other physical changes that take place here. She quickly shows me a series of videos of what actually takes place during the course of the initiation. ‘This is all we do here – we sing and dance and, at the same time, we instil moral values in the initiates and teach them to be good wives,’ she said.
Disebo has been successfully assisting women for two years but could not divulge when the next group would be taken through the rite of passage to womanhood.

A group of inititiates with their pricipal, Disebo and traditional teacher, Malefu
Selogile Leshage

Thirty-nine-year-old Mmatseleng Stuurman is an old initiate from Disebo’s initiation school. She says this cultural practice has assisted her in many facets, particularly in taking care of her husband. I respected my husband until he passed away. I’d recommend these rituals to any young girl. My 18-year-old daughter, Ntombi has also been initiated and she is still a well-mannered young woman.’

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