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Puberty Rites

Shai Initiates/Krobo Initiates

After the child naming ceremony, puberty rites are the next set of rituals of social status transformation which children undergo in Ghanaian culture. The most well preserved puberty rites are the Dipo (pictured) of the Krobo ethnic group and the Bragoro of the Ashanti's. These ceremonies mark the entry of young women into adulthood. In Ghana only a small section of ethnic groups usually found in the northern parts of the country have initiation rites for men and where they occur they are done in secret and not given as much prominence as that for young women.

In the Akan culture women represent the beauty, purity and dignity of the society and are guarded against corruption by our traditional laws and regulations. The most lasting impressions about life and the character of children are built during their early and formative years, which they spend mostly with their mothers. So the Akans believe that they need properly trained mothers with good morals to bring up good children. It is therefore little wonder that the initiation of women into adulthood is given more prominence in the Akan society than that of men.

Under the supervision of the queen mother of the town or village in collaboration with some female opinion leaders, young women who have had their first menstruation are secluded from the community for a period between two and three weeks during which they are taught the secrets of womanhood. During this period of seclusion the girls are given lessons in sex education and birth control. They are also taught how to relate to men properly so that they can maintain a good marriage and their dignity in society.

After the period of seclusion, a durbar is held which is attended by the chief and almost everybody in the community. The newly initiated women are dressed scantily with very beautiful African beads and cosmetics showing off their vital statistics. Young men of marriageable age troupe there to feast their eyes on the young women and to select their prospective wives.

Amidst drumming and dancing the rituals are carried out with the spirit of Oynankopong Kwame, Asase Yaa and the departed ancestors invoked to bless the participants and ensure their protection, blessing and fertility during their period of motherhood.

According to traditional law no woman is allowed to get married without haven gone through the puberty rites and every young woman must remain a virgin prior to this. These laws ensure that young women grow up disciplined enough to control their sexuality and to prevent them from premature motherhood and unwanted babies. So important are these laws that any woman who gets pregnant or breaks her virginity before the rites are performed is sometimes ostracized together with the man responsible for it. On top of that, a heavy fine is imposed on the guilty party after which purification rites are performed to rid the society of the negative repercussions of their actions.

compiled by David Osei-Adu