IndexAfrica→ [Bantu speaking tribes]



The many Bantu languages[1] are spoken in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Central African Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Comoro Islands, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, and South Africa[2]. Ethnologists have provided general remarks (vide infra) on the early sexual life of Bantu speakers. For this reason some tribes were tentatively arranged according to linguistic (rather than geographic) classification. The choice and argument involved have proved to be arbitrary, though, historically speaking, perhaps not more arbitrary than a nationalist arrangement.





Bantu tribes are noted for their nonbloody genital manipulations. Some girls try to widen [the vagina], for instance, by introducing a sweet potato or a piece of cassava (Pelt, [1982:p183])[3]. A note on traditional age of consent:


“If the woman whom the man desires to marry is past the age of puberty and is able to judge for herself as to a man's parts, the man will first address himself to her. If the girl is still a child he goes to her father and mother in the first place. The proposal made, the father and mother discuss the matter. […] The “Bundle” [bride-price] having been given to the assenting parents, when the time comes or the girl arrives at the age of puberty, the bridegroom sends money to the parents so that the girl may be placed in the “paint house”, where she undergoes certain rites of purification. […] When a man sleeps with a child not yet arrived at the age of puberty (Xina Xinselo) and so causes the wrath of God and a drought and consequent famine.”[4].


Dundas (1921:p42)[5] briefly notes on the East African Bantu tribes: “Curiously enough, several tribes permit sexual intercourse between immature children and regard it in the light of play”. Torday and Joyce (1905:p410, 420)[6] state that in the Ba-Mbala (Bantu) tribe, “[m]orality , in our sense of the word, can scarcely be said to exist; virginity is not considered of the slightest importance, consequently unmarried women indulge freely from a very early age, even before they have reached maturity; one result of this is that solitary and unnatural vices and prostitution are unknown; but, on the other hand, sexual excess is having an evil effect upon the mental and physical characters of the race. […] Males have intercourse at the age of about ten years, the age of puberty; girls, from the age of six or seven, before menstruation; the position adopted is usually side by side”. Culwick (1939:p425-6) [7] wrote: “It is common knowledge that in Bantu tribes sexual experience in one form or another begins for the great majority of children before ever puberty is reached, and certainly in some places it is, and has been for at least as long as any can now remember, accepted practice for girls to have full sexual intercourse for several years before their first menstruation. Yet some of those self-same people will shut the girl away in rigorous confinement the moment she reaches puberty”. De Rachewiltz (1963[1964:p229]): “The Bantu boys have sexual experience while still very young, and the girls also have usually had experiences before adolescence”.

Around Johannesburg, Longmore (1959:p173-5)[8] found that


“[c]hildren play at marriage from very early years. I have seen children in EasternNativeTownship from five years of age playing as bride and bridegroom, who must always be members of the opposite sex. They dress up and build rude shelters as houses and then play at sleeping together. Older children who are also playing with them will tell the very young ones to play sexually because they are man and wife. The reason that children understand about sex at such early ages in urban areas is on account of severe overcrowding. […] They immediately copy their elders and parents, who seem surprised that children can be so precocious, and fail to realize that the fault lies with them. Whenever the children in the township play “housey-housey”, they always imitate the sex act. From information given me by teachers and parents, children begin to court each other when very young. Stories indicate that children indulge in intercourse almost as soon as they discover the facts of life, which come to their notice in the overcrowded township at a very early age. One teacher told me that at Eastern native Township every evening he chases children away from the trees in front of his house, his reasons being that they are too young to have sex relations”.


Other teachers, however, would deflower premenstrual girls. Krige (1937:p109)[9] stated: “Bantu children, even before puberty, indulge in play at sexual intercourse; but this is either connived at or looked upon with amusement and toleration by adults, because it can have no social consequences”. Again, “[…] sex play among small children [is] connived at […]” (Krige and Krige, 1954:p79)[10].


Van der Vliet (1974:p223)[11] notes that house playing among Bantu children is common, and in case of the Lobedu, Venda and Pedi leads to highly formalised imitation of marital life, in miniature villages. Sexual intercourse would be rigidly forbidden in the Pedi “village” (p242n11), but Krige and Krige (1947:p109)[12] mention “play intercourse” among the Lobedu. Hunter (1953 [1960:p180-4])[13] relates that a girl would be ridiculed if she did not have lovers, and is taught how to avoid defloration. Periodical examination is performed by old women. Paradoxically, girls’ seclusion hut becomes an attractant for youth of both sexes.

Steyn and Rip (1968:p511)[14] found that among urban South African Bantu families, very few parents provided any sex education for their children. Most girls had sexual experiences before age 15, and multiple partners were common for both sexes.









Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Cf.


[3] Pelt, P. van (1982) Bantu Customs in Mainland Tanzania. Tabora: TMP Book Dept. 4th ed.

[4] Dennett, R. E. (1906) At the Back of the Black Man’s Mind. London: Macmillan

[5] Dundas, Ch. (1921) Native Laws of Some Bantu Tribes of East Africa, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 51, Jan-Jun.:217-78

[6] Torday, E. & Joyce, T. A. (1905) Notes on the Ethnography of the Ba-Mbala, J Royal Anthropol Inst Great Britain & Ireland 35, Jul.- Dec.:398-426

[7] Culwick, G. M. (1939) New ways for old in the treatment of adolescent African girls, Africa 12:425-32, as cited by Pedrals (1950:p17), op.cit.

[8] Longmore, L. (1959) The Dispossessed. London: J. Cape

[9] Krige, Ei. J. (1937) Individual development, in Schapera, I. (Ed.) The Bantu-Speaking Tribes of South-Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p95-118

[10] Krige, J. D. & Krige, Ei. J. (1954) The Lovedu of the Transvaal, in Forde, D. (Ed.) African Worlds. London: Oxford University Press, p55-82

[11] Vliet, V. van der (1974) Growing up in traditional society, in Hammond-Tooke, W. D. (Ed.) The Bantu-Speaking Peoples of Southern Africa. p211-45

[12] Krige, E. J. & Krige, J. D. (1947) The Realm of a Rain-Queen.London: International Institute of African Languages and Cultures

[13] Hunter, M. (1953 [1960]) Reaction to Conquest. 2nd ed. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press. Also cited by

Erny (1972 [1981;p60-1])

[14] Steyn, A. F. & Rip, C. M. (1968) The changing urban Bantu family, J Marr & Fam 30,3:499-517