Some cultures in Africa might sound unbelievable or impossible to the educated or elites. Most bizarre cultures are products of nature or teachings passed down from generations.
Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world. A lot of things are unknown in Africa, the world’s largest black continent and home to over a billion people.
Some of these customs are still being practiced in the remote parts of the continent, many years after civilization while some of these traditions are no more in existence.
Africa has its fair share of unusual, strange, and weird cultures, customs, objects and formations. Here is the list of African cultures that may be known or unknown to you.
1. Strange greetings (Maasai Tribe, Kenya)
The Massai tribe can be found in Kenya and Tanzania. Members of the tribe spit as a way of saying hello. Aside from this, when a baby is born, it is the custom for men to spit on the newborn and label him as bad in order to ward off evil spirits.
The tribe believes that a baby is cursed or become cursed if it is praised. Massai warriors can also be seen spitting in their hands before shaking the hands of an elder.
2. Bull jumping (Hamar Tribe, Ethiopia)
To prove your manhood as a young boy in the Hamer tribe, it is expected that you run, jump and land on the back of a bull, before then attempting to run across the backs of several bulls while naked.
Before this ritual takes place, female friends of the young boy undergoing the test must cover their whole body, including their head and hair, with red ochre mixed with fats. The girls are then expected to dance and get whipped by elders until they have scars and wounds on their backs. This is done to show their unflinching loyalty to their friend.
Although this practice is not been practiced in the open, some communities in the deep still secretly practice it.
3. Potency test (Banyankole Tribe, Uganda)
The Banyankole tribe is a minority tribe in Uganda. And the mention of marriage is definitely a burden to the bride’s aunt. When a couple is about to get married, custom dictates that the aunt of the bride sleeps with the groom to ensure the potency of the groom. Furthermore, she also has to test the bride’s virginity.
This custom has fast gone extinct but now in some hinterlands, the tradition directs the aunts to prove the couple’s potency by listening in or watching as the couple engages in sexual intercourse.
4. Widowhood (Igbos tribe, Nigeria)
It is a common custom among the Igbos to find widows subjected to humiliation to prove that she had no hand in her husband’s death. The widow is subjected to punishments such as forcing her to drink the water used in washing her husband’s corpse should there be any suspicion that the woman had a hand in the death of her husband.
In some communities, when a man dies, the widow is required to marry one of brother-in-laws by force; thereby, generating a lot of emotional tension for the woman.
5. Sharo Festival (Fulani Tribe, Nigeria)
Sharo means flogging. Sharo festival is conducted among the Fulanis of Nigeria to prove that a young man is ready to take on the responsibility of having a bride. The young man is continuously flogged by another man referred to as “the challenger”. He is expected not to show signs of pain as this is to test his level of endurance and perseverance.
If the young man is unable to withstand the pain, the wedding is called off.
6. Festival for the Dead (Chewa Tribe, Malawi)
The Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi and are of the Bantu people of central and southern Africa. Internationally, the tribe is famous for their masks and secret societies called Nyau, and their agricultural methods.
That aside, they have a ritual that most people find disturbing. When a tribe member dies, it’s the custom of the people to take the body to a sacred place where the throat of the dead is cut open. The deceased is then cleaned by pouring water inside the dead body and squeezed via the stomach until the water that comes out of the corpse is clean.
The most shocking part is that the water is then collected and used to prepare a meal for the whole community as they believe that the dead has been cleaned up of his or her iniquities.
7. Images of fish for protection against evil (Tunisia)
In Tunisia, it is common to find new buildings embedded with fish bones or fish tails while construction takes place. The symbol is said to scare off evil eyes and allow the inhabitants of a home to live in peace and safety.
People now carry the symbol with them at all times on jewelry and as trinkets in their bags and pockets. Cars are also not left out of this strange custom. This is done to provide protection to passengers.
8. Gerewol Festival (Wodaabe Tribe)
The Wodaabe tribe is a sub-group of the Fulani ethnic group and can be found in Northern Nigeria, as well as Northeastern Cameroon, Southwestern Chad, and the western part of the Central African Republic.
The Wodaabe Tribe has a festival known as the Gerewol Festival where all members of the tribe are expected to dance at night. Young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation and made up in traditional face painting gather in lines to dance and sing, vying for the attentions of marriageable young women .
Following the belief that women have the sexual power, they are allowed to have sexual activities with men other than her husband during a seven-day ceremony. During the duration of the event, the men disguise themselves with heavy makeup and peacock feathers as they strut their stuff in front of the women. They also put on a spectacular mating dance.
When the female sees what he likes, she makes her choice by walking up to a man and tapping him on the shoulder. If he likes her, the chosen man is allowed to steal her from her husband for this stated period.
The tribe considers the new union legitimate whether the woman is married or not. Exceptions apply to situations where the woman refuses or when her husband catches the man while he is trying to steal his woman.
9. Kidnapping a bride (Latuka tribe, Sudan)
In the Sudanese Latuka tribe, when a man wants to marry a woman, he kidnaps her. Elderly members of his family go and ask the girl’s father for her hand in marriage, and if dad agrees, he beats the suitor as a sign of his acceptance of the union. If the father disagrees, however, the young man is at liberty to return the girl to her father’s house or marry her as he so wishes.
10. The Men wear veils (Ahaggaren Tuaregs, Algeria)
The Ahaggaren Tuaregs of Algeria are part of a larger group of Berber-speaking Tuaregs. In their culture, the men wear veils almost all the time. At the age of 25, the Tuareg men are seen wearing veils. The veils are worn in such a way that the entire face is hidden except the eyes.
However, the only time these men can be seen without their veils is when they are travelling or inside their family camps.
11. Lip stretching (Suri tribe, South Sudan)
The Suri (known as Kachipo in South Sudan and Balesi in Ethiopia) live in the Boma plateau region of South Sudan and the adjacent border region of Ethiopia. They are farmers and tend livestock. The Suri are famous for their stick fights.
When a girl becomes a teenager in the Surma tribe of Southern Sudan, she begins the process of lip stretching. The girl has her bottom teeth removed to make space for a lip plate on their lower lips as a sign of beauty which is increased in size annually.
12. Famadihana (Madagascar)
Death leads to sorrow and silence even if it means visiting the grave of a loved one who passed away years ago. Not in the Hauts Plateaux of Madagascar where July and September witnesses the custom of Famadihana, known as the turning of the bones.
The ‘turning of the bones’ involves exhuming the remains of deceased relatives and re-wrapping their bones in fresh cloth.
Relatives also take time to ask their dead ancestors for blessings and things they might need in the world of the living. While this is not spooky, it is described by many travellers as more of a party with plenty of rum to go around.
Thanks to civilization,some of these traditions are no more in existence. But, in the remote parts of the continent, many years after civilization some of these customs are still being practiced.