Growing Up Sexually



SWAHILI (Waswahili, Wangozi; Tanzania; KENYA, MOZAMBIQUE)


Index AfricaTanzania Swahili


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


Among the Washirazii / Wambwera Swahili in Tanzania, sex education is given after menarche by the instructress (Caplan, 1976)[1], as to boys (p23, 25). Boys’ circumcision (occurring anywhere between one year and puberty) is considered necessary to allow the boy to eventually have coitus. Premarital virginity is valued.


A study of Unyago (female initiation) was undertaken by Mwai (1997, 1998) [2] [3]:


“Among the original cultural aspects affected by this contact [Arabs with Waswahili] was the traditional rites of passage - Unyago and Jando. But whereas Unyago - a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood - actually received propping from Islamic teachings, Jando - a rite from boyhood to manhood was affected to the point of near extinction (Trimingham, 1980:51)[[4]]. This scenario was due to the fact that the bottom line in Islamic teachings was that males have power over females” (1998).



Among the Mombasa Swahili (Muslims), boys (beginning at the age of twelve as they start to move into all-male social contexts) have age-stratified sexual relationships with older men (Shepherd, 1987)[5]. The junior is called shoga, the senior is known as pasha. Anal intercourse appears to have been the accepted practice (Standing and Kisekka, 1989:p107-8).


The vugo ceremony celebrated the virginity of the bride[6]. Vugo songs were performed in two different forms. There was a more traditional 'tribe'-based vugo, and a 'para-tribal' vugo performed by women clubs. The former lost ground to the latter over the years. Topan juxtaposes 'tribal' and women clubs' versions of several songs.







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] Caplan, A. P. (1976) Boy’s circumcision and girl’s puberty rites among the Swahili of Mafia Island, Tanzania, Africa 46,1:21-33

[2] Mwai, W. (1997) Unyago: The Dynamics of Indigenous Education Towards Womanhood in a Swahili Community in Kenya, in Okuni, A. & Tembe, J. (Eds.) Capacity Building in Educational Research in East Africa: Empirical Insights into Qualitative Research Methodology. Bonn, Germany: Deutsche Stiftung für Internationale Entwicklung, p33-48

[3] Mwai, W. (1998) Song as a protest tool for the women in the Swahili speaking Muslim community: A case study of two interior settlements in KisumuMunicipality. OSSREA, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). OSSREA Gender Issues Research Report Series No. 6 [ et seq.]

[4] Trimingham, J. S. (1960) The Influence of Islam Upon Africa. London: Longman Group Ltd. [orig. footnote]

[5] Shepherd, G. (1987) Rank, Gender, and Homosexuality: Mombasa as a key to understanding sexual options, in Caplan, P. (Ed.) The Cultural Construction of Sexuality. London: Tavistock Publ., p240-70

[6] Topan, Farouk M. (1995) Vugo: A Virginity Celebration Ceremony among the Swahili of Mombasa, African Languages & Cultures 8,1:87-107