IndexAfricaTanzania → Kaguru


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

During  rituals of sexual initiation practised by the Kaguru of Kilosa district in the Morogoro region of Tanzania, “[e]nactments are performed that instruct on the physiological nature of the woman and its relation to reproduction process, marriage life, parenthood and the obligations and responsibilities of women in the society” (Mlama, 1990:p166)[1]. Digubi songs and performances instruct girls between puberty and marriage on sexual hygiene, and details of the sexual act (Van de Walle and Franklin, 1996)[2]. The girl is taught “various riddles, sayings and songs with double meaning relating to proper sexual conduct and sexual hygiene” (Beidelman, 1973:p264)[3]. “Kaguru girls are (or were in the past) subjected to labiadectomy. This is said to “soften” the girl and thereby make her better able to bear children. At present this operation is not practised on all Kaguru girls […]”.


Beidelman (1997:p109-30[4]; cf. Beidelman, 1980)[5] gives a detailed account of Kaguru sexual development. Children learn about sexuality and initiation long before they are eligible for the latter. Children are “morally limited beings, and as such are excluded from full social, moral affairs; they are not “innocent”, but rather “incomplete social beings”. Moral responsibility is tied to adult knowledge (usungu) and cleverness ordinarily concealed (kufisa) and transmitted during initiation, and also informally through storytelling heard before initiation: “Sexuality truly is the single most important factor lying behind most Kaguru stories”, at least communicating the “dangerous, difficult and tricky” side of it, and sometimes the “amusing and ridiculous”. Sexual allusions are strictly forbidden between adjacent generations (at least among direct kin), which leaves room for same-sex grandparent-grandchild and unrelated peer communications on the matter (cf. p128, 185). Boys’ maturity is expressed through his no longer being allowed to eat food in the back of the house with his family[6]. Little children sleep with parents, though sexual activity is carefully shielded from them, and “even before initiation”, or age 9-10, some older children are transferred to a neighbouring dwelling for unmarried men and women. Pubescence announces a new era of social control (p123-4).

Initiation songs and riddles cover a wide range of sexological statements by metaphor, including circumcision, sexual practices and meanings, menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth (p186-229). Girls are initiated after menarche, and initiation is said to “cool” (imhosa) the girls, subduing and controlling their new sexuality (p163). Boys’ masculinity seems to be tied to a circumcised penis. Songs seem to imply that circumcision is done to facilitate coitus.

Apparently little is said about sexual behaviour development.











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] Mlama, P. (1990) Tanzanian Traditional Theatre as a Pedagogical Institution: The Kaguru as a Case Study. PhD Diss., University of Dar es Salaam

[2] Van de Walle, E. & Franklin, N. (1996) Sexual initiation and the transmission of reproductive knowledge, Health Transition Rev, Suppl. 6:61-8

[3] In Molnos, A. (1973) Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. Vol. 3. Nairobi: Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi Press

[4] Beidelman, T. O. (1997) The Cool Knife: Imagery of Gender, Sexuality and Moral Education in Kaguru Initiation Ritual. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press

[5] Beidelman, T. O. (1980) Man and woman in two East African societies, in Karp, I. & Bird, Ch. (Eds.) Explorations in African Systems of Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p143-64

[6] Beidelman, T. O. (1971) Some Kaguru notions about incest and other sexual prohibitions, in Needham, R. (Ed.) Rethinking Kinship and Marriage. London [etc.]: Tavistock, p181-201, at p190