Growing Up Sexually



NDEMBU (Zambia)


Index Africa Zambia Ndembu


Featured: Kaonde, Nkoya, Tonga, Ila, Bemba, M’wemba, Ndembu, Mambwe / Amambwe, Luvale, Lozi


Sex instruction is given to girls by an instructress (Turner, 1968:p246, 247f)[1]. At circumcision (a ritual complex known as Mukanda; cf. Nkoya), novices are given tortoise (mbachi) meat to eat “to give them a strong penis” (p254), and there is mimicry of coitus (see also Turner, 1967)[2]. The typical age for a boy who is to be circumcised was known to be eight to ten and rarely over fourteen to fifteen. The symbolism of Ndembu circumcision is detailed in Turner (1962)[3]. A full analysis is also found in Turner (1969a,b; 1985)[4].



“I [Edith Turner] used to ask the women what it was like to be in a polygamous marriage. The first wives would say, “It’s great, it’s a good life.” And the second and third wives said, “No, it’s not a good life. More or less we don’t get much of a look-in.” And the young third wives, who were usually kankang’a [having just gone through the puberty ritual], would be married off to wealthy older men whether they liked it or not. In one case there was a man about 50 or 60 years old whose young wife ran away. I thought that she ran away because she found him disgusting, but she ran away, you see, because he couldn’t get it up! And I liked to hear that, because these girls were really glowing with sexuality. They were superb young women. That was where I caught on to the marvelous sexuality of African life. The Ndembu loved sex. The most pleasant and cheerful conversations were about sex, and their only fears were of witches who were “hot” in their sex lives—too fast and sudden. The women liked it chovu, which means gently and quietly. They liked sex to come up gently. Boy, they loved it”[5].









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

Last revised: Oct. 2004


[1] Turner, V. W. (1968) The Drums of Affliction. Oxford: Clarendon Press

[2] Turner, V. W. (1967) Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

[3] Tumer, V. W. (1962) Three Symbols of Passage in Ndembu Circumcision Ritual: An Interpretation, in Gluckman, M. (Ed.) Essays on the Ritual of Social Relations. Manchester, England, p124-73

[4]Turner, V. W. (1969a) Symbolization and patterning in the circumcision rites of two Bantu-speaking societies, in Douglas, M. & Kaberry, Ph. M. (Eds.) Man in Africa. London ; New York [etc.] : Tavistock publications, p229-44; Turner, V. W. (1969b) The Ritual Process.London: Aldine; Tumer, V. W. (1985) On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press

[5] Engelke, M. (2000) An Interview with Edith Turner, Current Anthropology 41,5:843-52 []