Akpema is a rite of passage for young maidens in Togo, a West African country. It takes place shortly after the boys’ initiation ceremony, known as Evala wrestling. Akpema is typically held a week after Evala.
The purpose of the ceremony is to increase girls’ self-esteem and help them maintain their virtues. Akpema is also used to groom young maidens in order to keep their virginity before marriage.
According to Exploring Africa, the initiation rite for girls begins at the age of one, while the rite for boys begins at the age of eight.
The main initiation ceremony is held for the girls when they reach the age of 18. The girls are said to be virgins who need to be prepared for marriage. The ceremony begins with the shaving of their heads’ hair. After that, they are stripped naked.
They march in an unclothed procession. On that day, the girls are only allowed to wear necklaces and a pearl belt while holding the hands of their companions. The girls are then taken to the sacred wood for the initiation rites. The girls are escorted to the sacred wood by elderly women and traditional priests.
The girls are forced to sit on a sacred stone as proof of their purity. Any girl who can participate in this part of the ceremony brings honor to her family. Once this is completed, the girls are approved for marriage and ushered into adulthood.
In modern times, girls who are not virgins have the option of not sitting on the sacred stone because it is believed that if they do, they will have blood dripping out of their private parts when they have sex or will be bitten by bees when they storm the community.
When this part of the ceremony is completed, the girls gather under the sacred tree to await the traditional priests to begin another procession. The previous year’s initiates and maidens’ parents form a line to congratulate the girls on successfully completing the initiation rites. The girls are then expected to enter the market wearing only their panties, bras, and pearl necklaces until they perform the “Tchimou dance” to signal the end of the ceremony.
The maidens later engage in a dance with their promised young warrior or “Evalo” after the ceremony. This is a courtship dance that represents the boyfriend’s wealth. The boyfriend gives the maidens’ family and friends “choucoutou,” a sorghum beer, to imply that he is wealthy enough to cater to the girl when he marries her.