Growing Up Sexually





Index Africa Botswana Kgatla


Featured: G/wi, Hambukushu, Kgalagari, Nharo, Dobe Ju/’Hoansi, (Ba)Katla / (Ba)kgatla,; also®Subiya, ®Tswana, ®Atonga



Seligman (1932:p213-4)[1] quotes an observation on the Bakatla, communicated by Dr. Schapera [1930][2], CapetownUniversity:


“The small children of these ages (6-12), boys and girls, play together, and one of their games, called mantlwane (“little houses”) consists of erecting miniature household enclosures; then they pair off, boys and girls, in couples and celebrate mock weddings, which end with each couple going to its little enclosure and lying down together. Occasionally they both remove their loin-girdles and rub together their genitals, without of course achieving penetration. This game is played at night, when the parents can’t see them. One of my informants, a young man, told me that when he was a child of about 9 or so his older brother, together with boys and girls of his age (13-15) used to get the smaller children at night, pair off the boys and girls, make the little boys lie on top of the girls, and then shout, e tsenye! e tsenye! [encouraging the children to mimic performance of the act]”.


Schapera (1930) points out that circumcision had been abandoned, and that the sex education associated with its ceremony had not been substituted. Traditionally, boys were “taught various rules of sexual conduct, “because in the old days boys grew up at the cattleposts and knew nothing of women” ” (Schapera, 1978:p13-4)[3]. Instructions included avoidance of coitus during menstruation, after recent abortion, and with much older women.

Schapera (1940)[4], on the Kgatla: “From an early age children are familiar with the nature of copulation, and much of their play consists of games with a definitively sexual character” ([161]). Girls start pulling their labia at puberty, “sometimes a little later”, sometimes mutual.  If the labia do not stretch fast enough, magic is employed: as in the Venda, the powder of a bat’s wings is used. “In this way the labia will grow long like the wings of the bat”. The purpose is aphrodisiacal: “To excite the bull” ([p40, 168]). Boys use love medicines (meratisô) ([p42]). Girls from the age of 16 also dilate the vaginal canal ([p166]). Schapera speaks of betrothal in early childhood or before birth in the past ([33, 37]). At the time of writing, “[s]exual adventure not only enters largely into the lives of the young Kgatla, but strongly affects modern courtship”.

At a later date, Suggs[5] (p108) notes that “[w]hen a girl attains menarche, she may already have learned of its significance from friends. […] the Kgatla value age-specific knowledge greatly and, while matters dealing with sexuality may be spoken about among peers, such topics are rarely and only situationally discussed between generations”. This renders menarche a horror. Menerchal [sic] girls are told that “if you now play with boys you will get a baby”.










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] Seligman, C. G. (1932) Anthropological Perspective and Psychological Theory, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 62:193-228. “Children of both sexes play together freely up to six or seven years of age, and imitation of the sexual act finds a place in their games, but the first stage in the boys’ initiation, when the lads begin to wear leaf hats, marks their strict separation from all female society, women and children, both related and unrelated. This separation lasts about ten years and may begin as young as seven or eight; lads of this age wearing the leaf hat may be seen together, indulging quite openly in games of a mildly erotic nature [note: “communicated”]” (p213).

[2] Schapera, I. (1930) Premarital pregnancy and native opinion, Africa 6,1:59-89

[3] Schapera, I. (1978) Bogwera: Kgatla Initiation. Mochudi: PhuthadikoMuseum

[4] Schapera, I. (1940) Married Life in an African Society. London: Faber & Faber. 1971 Penguin ed.

[5] Suggs, D. N. (1987) Female Status and Role Transition in the Tswana Life Cycle, Ethnology 26,2:107-20