Growing Up Sexually







Featured: Swahili, Wanguru, Turu, Kwere, Shambala, Ngindo, Chagga, Bena, Nyamwezi, Luguru, Kaguru, Sukuma, Subiya, Ngulu, Hehe, Barabaig, Nyakyusa, Gogo, Baraguyu;® Kuria, ®Masai


At puberty, but before menarche, the girls receive genital surgery, possibly hymenectomy, but perhaps labial (Brown, 1935:p92-3)[1]. At the same ceremony, a collection of songs (misimu) and accompanying dances are to introduce the girls with “facts of life, things to do or to avoid doing during pregnancy and menstruation and the rules which should guide girls in their marital relations, their relations with co-wives, mothers-in-law, etc.”. Not only does a mother not participate in the sex instruction of her daughter, “custom also decrees that she must be careful about enquiring into her daughter’s love affairs”. The ceremonies are held under direction of her grandmother (p95-6). Hodgson (1926)[2]: “After the age of three or four years [boys] were not allowed to play with small girls, and though considerable laxity has crept in of late years, it was formerly the custom to take great care of the morals of the young.  They were supposed to know nothing until puberty, and were not allowed to associate with strangers who might corrupt them. Sexual matters were never mentioned in their presence; their elders would even refrain from making such a remark as “So-and-so is pregnant”, and when a child was born they were told that it had been caught with a fish-hook in the river, and if anyone died that he had been taken away by birds” (p50). At puberty, the boy “is given medicine to prevent his being impotent, but is warned against sexual intercourse with any woman before marriage, lest he contract a disease, or made her pregnant and be obliged to pay compensation”. Girls appear to be married at puberty (although “[f]ormerly the Wahehe never married till several years after puberty”), and coitus interruptus is practised institutionally at the conclusion of the wedding feast. The girls receive instructions on “manners” and “duties” at the two-stage genital surgery on the labia minora and majora.











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] Brown, E. F. (1935) Hehe Grandmothers, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 65:83-96

[2] Hodgson, A. G. O. (1926) Some notes on the Wahehe of Mahenge District, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 56:37-58