5 Unusual Cultural Practices In Africa

Photo credit: James Nachtwey
Photo credit: James Nachtwey


Tribal communities in Africa maintain practices that have been passed down for centuries. These outlandish customs help to shape their respective cultures.

These cultural practices are being integrated into everyday activities such as greetings, fashion, and even marriages.

Without further ado, here are some strange traditional rites from African tribes that will leave you perplexed.

  • Spitting as a form of greeting and blessing


Spitting at someone is considered rude in most cultures around the world, but not in the Wolof tribe of Gambia and Senegal.

In this tribe, spitting is a common way of greeting and is considered a blessing and good luck.

When a baby is born, an elderly woman will visit the mother and child and bless the child by spitting on its face and kissing it.

Well-wishers also spit on a new bride to bless and congratulate her, while her father spits on her forehead to bless her.


  • Lip stretching
Mursi women are famous for their wooden lip plates – a symbol of beauty and identity (Photo credit: Jean Christopher)


Lip stretching culture is one of Ethiopia’s most cherished practices among the Mursi tribe.

Stretching lips with a lip plate represents beauty and identity in this tribe.

Lip plates are typically made of clay, wood, or metal discs, and the procedure entails removing two to four teeth and then cutting out the lip to fit the plate.

“Lip plates are more commonly worn by unmarried girls and newlywed women than by older married women with children,” according to ICDO. They are typically worn for formal occasions such as serving food to men, milking cows, and important rituals such as weddings.”

They also increase the plate size because they believe it boosts their self-esteem.


  • Bull Jumping

This is another intriguing practice among Ethiopians of the Hamar tribe.

To demonstrate their manhood, young men of the tribe jump over bulls while naked, usually smeared with dung for a slippery effect.

Young men who can jump over the bulls four times without falling are declared eligible for marriage in this traditional coming-of-age ceremony.

However, if the odds are stacked against a young man and he falls more than four times, he must wait another year to try again.


  • Male initiation
Photo credit: James Nachtwey

The traditional circumcision ritual known as “Ulwaluko” is performed among the Xhosa people of South Africa to transform boys into men.

Youths who take part in the ritual are circumcised first before being sent out of the village to a hut wrapped in a blanket with little food.

They are no longer referred to as boys upon their return. According to the Xhosa tribe, this ritual teaches participants values, principles, hardships, respect, and accountability.

However, the initiation has been met with criticism due to its complexities.


  • Male beauty contest/ stealing of wife
Timothy Allen/Photonica World/Getty Images


During the Gerewol festival in Niger, the men of the Wodaabe tribe dress elaborately and wear make-up and jewelry to impress women and attract their attention.

Beauty, according to the Wodaabe tribe, is the whiteness of the eye, the firm straight bridge of the nose, and white teeth. As a result, the men’s make-up emphasizes these features.

These men, however, are permitted to attract the attention of both single and married women.

So, if a man successfully steals a wife without being caught, he becomes her husband and the union is accepted.


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