Growing Up Sexually






Index AfricaNamibia Owambo (see also Ambo of Angola)


Featured (Namibia): Owambo, Bergdama, Nama, !Ko, !Kung, Herero


“The disappearance of initiation practices such as efundula, which once served to protect young women from unwanted sex, has served to empower men more in sexual matters. This, together with the growth of sex work, may plausibly contribute to increased HIV transmission, and provides fertile ground for the further development of the epidemic”[1]. Efundula was described by Davies[2], Hayes[3] and a reference was made by Salokoski[4], the latter of whom writes: “[Male c]ircumcision was one of the pagan customs that the missionaries abhorred [n], although it was not at the forefront of the ideological war between pagan and Christian ideas in the way that the female initiation ritual, ohango or efundula had been from the beginning of the missionary presence in Owambo society”.


“The second and related feature in existing representations of the ceremony [Efundula], which has led to its being branded as ‘immoral’ and ‘indecent’ in the minds of missionaries and (so they hoped) their Ovambo converts, has been the alleged sexual act performed by the male ritual leader in order to symbolically ensure the fertility of the female initiates. As outlined above and in Tuupainen’s [[5]] narrative of the initiation, in the first stage of the ceremony when the young women are enclosed in the ondjuo, they leave the house by crawling between the legs of the namunganga standing with legs apart over the entrance. They must then drink from a special cup which contains a mixture of Ovambo beer, potent herbs, and allegedly the ‘seed’ of the ‘master of ceremonies’ who has brought himself to ejaculation and placed the resulting semen into the cup. It is also alleged that he stirs the mixture with his penis. Tuupainen is one of the most explicit sources on this point, and she also makes mention of sexual intercourse taking place between the ‘master of ceremonies’ and his senior female assistant at a particular juncture in the ceremony […] the chain of processes that takes place during efundula incorporate social education around sexuality - mostly through song - and have important symbolic aspects that address maturation, pregnancy, childbirth and domestic labour.[6] Sexuality in the ceremony is but one part of a larger conceptual continuum celebrating and preparing young women for fertility and larger roles in the world. Missionaries by the 1930s were singling out particular alleged and highly sexualised aspects of the ceremony (masturbation, doctoring drink with semen, possible sexual intercourse) and castigating the entire proceedings on this basis”.



Continued: Ambo of Angola







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

Last revised: Oct. 2004


[1] Mufune, P. (2003) Changing patterns of sexuality in northern Namibia: implications for the transmission of HIV/AIDS, Culture, Health & Sexuality 5,5:425-38

[2]Davies, G. (1987) The Efundula: Fertility and Social Maturity among the Kuanyama of Southern Angola. MA thesis, University of Kent

[3]Hayes, P. (2003?) Efundula and History: Female Initiation in Pre-Colonial and Colonial Northern Namibia. CAS Occasional Paper

No. 19 JCAS-Basic Study for Women's History in Africa Series ii []

[4] Salokoski, M. (1998?) For the Birds or the Kings? An analysis of the Big-Bird Ritual and its relation to the consolidation of kingship during the mid-1800s in the Owambo societies of northern Namibia. Working Paper 16 /98 []

[5] Tuupainen, M. (1970) Marriage in a Matrilineal African Tribe. A Social Anthropological Study of Marriage in the Ondonga Tribe in Ovamboland. Helsinki (Transactions of the Westermarck Society, Vol. 18)

[6]Davies, ‘The Efundula’, provides a wide-ranging discussion of the social and religious mechanisms operating during one ceremony studied by the Powell-Cotton sisters in 1937. [orig. footnote] [cit.supra]