10 Fascinating African Tribes With Unique Traditions

by | Africa

Aug 10, 2023

We take you on a captivating journey as we delve into some of the most fascinating African tribes with unique traditions. These remarkable tribes weave intricate traditions, from age-old ceremonies to enchanting rituals that echo through the sands of time. 

Let’s go into the wildest African tribes, exploring the most bizarre traditions ever!

1. The Fattening Customs of the Ethiopian Bodi Tribe

I’m starting with this African tribe because their tradition of finding men with potbellies attractive is quite bizarre. 

This is quite similar to the Calabar tribe of southern Nigeria, which we will be talking about next.  

Bodi families are made to present an unmarried man who is then asked to retire to his hut for a period of six months. Every day he spends there, he drinks a terrible mixture of blood and milk brought to him by the village women. Why, you may wonder? 

The reason is quite simple. So he becomes the fattest of the lot. 

After these men are fattened for six months, they engage in a contest of who is able to be the fattest and grow the biggest stomach. 

Although there is no prize money, the winner gets to enjoy a lifetime of reverence from the African tribe. 

This custom is under threat because the government has resettlement plans for them. 

Read: 15 Best Cultural Destinations to Visit in Africa

2. Ovahimba and Ovazimba Tribes of Namibia

Imagine passing through the Ovahimba tribe and needing a place to rest your head for the night, and then you remember an old friend and decide to stop at his house. You’re given a warm welcome, and his wife offers to satisfy your sexual urges. Chilling and scary thought, right? 

Amongst the Ovahimba and Ovazimbas of Namibia, this is quite normal. If a man has a guest, his guest is given his wife for the night. When the woman spends time with the guest, the husband has to sleep in another room, and if there are no other rooms, he sleeps outside. What happens when the guest comes with his own wife? The women are swapped if the men agree to do so. 

3. Fattening Rooms of Calabar

In Calabar, Nigeria, when young girls hit puberty, they are taken into the fattening rooms. It was seen as a privilege to be granted entry into the fattening rooms. Before a girl is allowed in, her father has to pay a heavy sum in coral beads to appease the Nku, the goddess of the fattening house. 

This is quite similar to the unique tradition of the Bodis of Ethiopia, but in this case, the girls are not made to drink any gruesome mixture of blood and milk. Rather, they are placed on a heavy diet of carbohydrates and fat. For beautification, natural beauty products such as native chalk and some oils are used to massage their bodies. 

In this house, they are taught the basics and duties of womanhood. They are even taught how to walk! At the end of this exercise, they would be circumcised. They believe that female circumcision would keep the girls chaste until marriage. 

Read: The Most Beautiful and Indigenous Tribes In Nigeria

4. The Ndebele Lobola

The Ndebele people of Zimbabwe believe that the father of the bride does the groom a huge honor by allowing him to marry his daughter, so he has to be appreciated for this. For this to happen, the lobola ceremony is carried out. 

Here, the groom’s family gives a large number of cows to the bride’s father. When this is given, the marriage can then be sealed. They believe these cows are also given for the children she would have in the future.

5. Chewa’s Festival of the Dead

This is the African version of Halloween but more gory. 

They believe that death is a result of witchcraft, so when a person dies, he has to be cleansed. If a family member dies, his throat would be slit, and water would be poured through it and extracted through the anus. 

This water is then used to prepare a meal the entire family will eat. For some reason, every member of the village is family, so everyone eats this meal. 

In these communities, a funeral has to be attended by the whole village because there is the belief that witches who have killed a person would not have the nerve to attend the person’s burial. 

6. Banyankole

Amongst the Bayankole people of South Uganda, female virginity is highly revered. A bride who is discovered to not be a virgin would suffer severe penalties, sometimes even as high as death.  

The duty of making sure a girl is married as a virgin lies, or better put, rests heavily in the hands of her aunt. As early as the age of eight, an aunt begins grooming her niece for marriage and finding out if the groom is skilled in bed since the bride cannot do so. 

During the process of finding out if the man is good in bed, she also learns of his favorite sex styles and skills so she can tell them to the bride to make her properly equipped to please him. 

Read: 10 Countries with the Best Dance Moves in Africa

8. The Wodaabe Tribe of The Niger Wife Stealing

I think this is one very hilarious tradition. In the Wodaabe tribe, if a man steals a woman from her father or husband to make her his wife, he is found more desirable and manly. 

During the Gerewol ceremony, men engage in a beauty contest of sorts. They adorn their bodies with jewelry and apply makeup. Women who attend this festival would have the chance to know which man catches her eye and have him steal her from her husband. If he does this without anyone noticing, then they are allowed to marry. 

9. Getting Whipped to Marry a Wife

Amongst the Fulani tribes, a groom has to show his strength before marrying a woman. 

He displays his strength by being whipped by the elders of the village. If he is not able to take the flogging, the wedding could be called off, as he would not be deemed worthy of protecting a woman. 

How much he is flogged depends on the family of the bride. 

10. Spitting of The Maasai people

Imagine you were walking on the road, and someone looked you dead in the eye and spat on your face. What would you do? Get into a fit of rage, I guess. 

But among the Maasai people of northern Tanzania, spitting is a form of blessing. When a baby is born, an elderly woman will spit on it as a way of blessing it. The same thing happens during a wedding. 

The father of the bride spits on her to bless her new home. People of all age grades spit on each other to bless themselves. 

Read: 12 Most Beautiful Cities in Africa

Summary

What’s left to say? Africa is truly a beauty. These unique African traditions hold deep-rooted meanings that often reflect Africa’s rich history and culture.

By Ubong Jonhson

Ubong Johnson (Ubee) is a relationship expert, medical student, and writer. He writes articles which cover everything from relationships and nutrition to lifestyle. His works of short fiction have appeared in several literary magazines including The Shallow Tales Review, Ngiga Review, and the Kalahari Review. He is the founder and editor of Fiction Niche.

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