IndexAfricaSouth Africa → Venda


Featured: Zulu, Basuto, Tswana, Swasi, Bovale, Pedi, Thonga, Lemba, Xhosa, Xesibe, Tshidi Barolong, Venda, Fingo, Lobedu; ®!Xo

Gottschling[1] speaks of girl betrothal when “very little” and prenatal; but this is not standard. Blacking[2] observed that the among the Venda of the Sibasa district of the Northern Transvaal (South Africa) a woman’s labia minora must be lengthened by manipulation. “This operation is begun often long before puberty[3], its importance is emphasised at vhusha [puberty school], and it must be stopped after a girl has attended tshikanda [intermediary initiation school between vhusha and pre-marital schools]”.

“By the time they attend domba, girls are supposed to have given up the practice of lengthening the labia minora and to have turned their minds to the serious matters of marriage and child-birth. These words of criticism are said by youths who laugh at big girls who still practice kwevha [elongation]” (®Tsonga):


Musidzana a songo tamba,

U mona na nnu a lila,

A tshi elelwa zwo ita vhawe.

Makwevho ndi mavhulaise,

Vhasidzana vha litshe u kwevha! (Vhasidzana litshani u kwevha!)

Zwi ea vhuhole shangoni.

Zwi dina nga u holefhadza.


When a girl has not yet played with a boy,

She goes behind the hut and weeps,

Thinking of what others have done.

Playing at kwevha will be the death of you,

Stop lengthening your labia, girls!

It cripples the country.

It causes trouble by making cripples.




“From the beginning of vhusha to the end of domba, we move from the initial climaxes of individual girls experiencing the first signs of sexual maturity through a series of measured stages, to a final, massive climax in which the community participated in the symbolic rebirth of itself through the corporate rebirth of the novices. […] The initiation cycle was a system of formal education designed to follow the informal education of childhood (Blacking 1964b). But it was also a sensuous bodily experience that was considered essential for the well-being of each individual body and the whole human and natural environment. It was a productive technique of the body (cf. Marcel Mauss) for the purpose of reproduction. But although there was much explanation of sexual matters, it was not a system of education primarily concerned with the actual techniques of reproduction. The most important lesson of domba and of the other initiation schools was the instruction about the institutions and responsibilities of motherhood, fatherhood, and marriage. Thus, if a girl became pregnant during domba, she was not praised for succeeding in what the school might have seemed to be teaching: she was thrown out in disgrace! […] Girls undoubtedly express a desire for esoteric knowledge when they say “we go to domba [or vhusha etc.] because we want to ‘learn the laws’ “ (u guda milayo): and indeed they learn much about etiquette and the correct social and sexual behaviour of married women, although in many cases the instruction confirms what has already been learnt informally from older girls and women”.


Blacking[5] details the dances that are attached to the instructions. There is also extensive use of humanoid sculptures by the Venda in female initiation rites (Nettleton, 1992)[6]. Puberty rites (including immersion in icy water) are performed soon after the first signs of physiological puberty. “At the conclusion of the rites, sexual activity is permitted on the strict condition that the girl is not deflowered […]” (Saucier, 1972:p240)[7]. This is called hlobongo, according to Harries (1929:p7), and would be taboo for the one who has been bespoken for him or her. Blacking (1959, 1978)[8] observed that a traditional “mother-child” custom attached to the vhusha is mimicked by pubescent and prepubescent girls. The “play mother” and “play child” declare their love to each other, and the mother may help the child in her first amorous approaches.It is unclear whether sexual behaviour is involved[9].

Stayt (1931 [1968:p99-100])[10] refers to Venda children aged 12 to 15 years playing mahundwanu (miniature village), but nothing is said of sexual contacts. In the vhusha (p108), sex education is given, and “[q]uite tiny girls are often shown, by an old woman of their kraal, how to stretch the labia minora”. A stone is tied to the parts, and the juice of a cooked bat is rubbed onto the vulva to arrive at the desired anatomical state. The traditional age of Bavenda circumcision is not given by Wheelwright (1905)[11]. In the circumcision lodge, the songs initiands are taught are “obscene and lewd, bearing entirely on sexual matters” (p254).


Maluleke (2001)[12]:



“In vukhomba the maintenance of virginity and morally

acceptable behaviour are prioritised. Instruction covers issues such

as personal hygiene, the maintenance of virginity, self-control

and social morals. Although sexual enjoyment is not explicitly

mentioned, it is implied in many songs such as the song

called Ndzi tsakisa hi yona (I like it and enjoy it), which

means enjoying sex. Vukhomba teaching takes place through the

mediums of poems, songs, demonstrations and managa

figurines, effective learning methods used today in

health promotion. The sexuality education is done in a non-

threatening environment and the correct names of

reproductive organs can be used. Initiation brings women

of different age groups and social standings together to work

towards achieving the same goal. By performing rituals exclusively

for women and using language not generally used in the

community, participants get a sense of greatness and

power. Although men, including traditional leaders, find

the language offensive, they cannot address the issue

since vukhombaa falls outside of their sphere of

influence. However, initiated women and girls find the content

of the sexuality education in the rite inadequate and

want to learn more about their bodies, health, menstruat-

ion, child bearing, pregnancy and contraceptives and



“The Domba is the highest traditional

initiation school VhaVenda maidens go

through to learn the rituals of womanhood.

They do the Domba, a dance where they link

arms and move in a snakelike manner.

Outsiders are led to believe the dance is

called the python dance but the ritual

symbolises the act of sex, conception,

growth of the foetus and childbirth. To

prepare women for the hardships of

marriage, they dance from dawn to the early

hours of the morning, and gather in the

initiation hut to learn from the village

women elders. The Venda King can only

hold the Domba once in his lifetime, after

which the ritual becomes the responsibility

of his chiefs”.


[Additional refs: Jeannerat (1997)[13]].






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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1]Gottschling, E. (1905) The Bawenda: A Sketch of Their History and Customs, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 35:365-86, at p

[2] John Blacking, J. (1998) Venda Girls’ Initiation Schools. Unpublished field data edited by Michael Fischer and David Zeitlyn, Department of Social Anthropology, Queen’s University of Belfast

[3] De Rachewiltz (1963[1964:p152]) states “the girls are encouraged to begin extending their labia minora at the age of ten or twelve”.

[4] Blacking, J. (1985) Movement, Dance, Music and the Venda Girls’ Initiation Cycle, in Spencer, P. (Ed.) Society and the Dance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p64-91

[5] Blacking, J. A. R. (1969a-d) Songs, Dances, Mimes and Symbolism of Venda Girls' Initiation Schools [in 4 parts], African Stud 28,1-4:3-35, 69-118, 149-99, 215-66. These and other illustrated articles were reproduced on the web by Suzel Ana Reily & Lev Weinstock as part of the ERA Project, Department of Social Anthropology, The Queen's University of Belfast, March 1998 []

[6] Nettleton, A. (1992) Ethnic and Gender Identities in Venda Domba Statues, Afr Stud 51,2:203-30. See also Reily, S. A. (1998) The ethnographic enterprise: Venda girls’ initiation schools revisited, Br J Ethnomusicol 7:45-68

[7] Saucier, J. (1972) Correlates of the Long Postpartum Taboo: A Cross-Cultural Study (in Anthropology and Population Problems), Curr Anthropol 13,2:238-58

[8] Blacking, J. (1959) Fictitious Kinship Amongst Girls of the Venda of the Northern Transvaal, Man 59:155-8; Blacking, J. (1978) Uses of the kinship idiom in friendships at some Venda and Zulu schools, in Argyle, J. & Preston-Whyte, E. (Eds.) Social System and Tradition in Southern Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, p101-17

[9] “Two girls may sleep together under the same blanket as “husband” and “wife”, but they do not indulge in any form of sex play […There is nothing actively sexual about these relationships, although they are in part substitutes for a more intensive relationship with boys” (1959:p157).

[10] Stayt, H. A. (1968) The Bavenda. Frank Cass & Co, Ltd, London

[11] Wheelwright, C. A. (1905) Native Circumcision Lodges in the Zoutpansberg District, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 35:251-55

[12] Maluleke, Th. X. (2001) Sexuality Education in the Puberty Rites for Girls, WPH Rev 40:9-10 []. Cf. Maluleke, Th. X. (2003) Sexuality education, gender and health issues related to puberty rites for girls: research, Health SA Gesondheid 58:61-7. Also Maluleke, Th. X (?) The Puberty Rites Ceremony for Girls (Vukhomba) in the Northern Province of South Africa: Implications for Women’s Health and Health Promotion. MA Thesis, University of South Africa

[13] Jeannerat, C. (1997) Invoking the female vusha ceremony and the struggle for identity and security in Tshiendeulu, Venda, J Contemp Afr Stud 15,1:87-106