Monday, December 1, 2014

The Bush

The boys in our branch who belong to the Xhosa Tribe and are age 16, 17, and 18 participate in a tribal ritual each December that is affectionately called "The Bush".  According to tradition this is a sacred rite that transitions a "boy" in to a "man".  During this ceremony the boys are circumcised.  If he does not go in to the "Bush", his people will forever refer to him as a boy and no self-respecting woman will want to marry him.  
During the Khweta ceremony, boys of different ages live in a so-called circumcision lodge. Here they stay in isolation for three days with no food or water.   Our Elders participated in building one of the "lodges".

The two pictures below give you an idea of the size of the "lodge" that is home to them for three to four weeks.  

Elder Branch said that once the plastic is put over the top it is really quite warm.

No one is sure exactly what happens in the lodge, because it is kept a close secret between the men. Anyone who speaks out takes the chance of not being regarded as a man by his people.

What is known for sure, is the strange circumcision costume the young men have to wear: Their bodies are whitened with sandstone. They also wear a white sheepskin as a coat or blanket. This is done to keep away the evil spirits.  On their heads they wear a reed cap in the form of a cone and also a reed mask.

With these costumes they perform special dances.  When this is completed, all the costumes and other items used, including the hut, are burned. The young men are then driven to a river by the initiators. 

Under no circumstances are they permitted to look back. In the river, the white paint is washed off - the last sign of their boyhood. They enter the river as boys, but when they come out of the river they are men. They receive the formal gift of a blanket from their fathers.

Returning home, the young men are smeared with red clay, which is not removed for three months. When this is washed off, they are finally regarded as adults and can marry. 

These men have a strong bond between them for the rest of their lives. They now carry with them the knowledge of the traditions and history of their people. They are men and ready to face the world of adults.

As far as the LDS church is concerned, some of the Xhosa traditions are not in line with the LDS culture and over time the General Authorities hope to see the Xhosa people abandon their traditions for the Gospel of Jesus Christ's traditions. (see THE GOSPEL CULTURE by Dallin H. Oaks and Alma 17:9) As a nation, South Africa is also moving away from this tradition.  Last year 200 deaths were reported from the Bush ceremonies.  Giving up these traditions are very difficult.  We pray for these four boys.

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