Boys to men

2012-06-16 11:26

Winter is the most challenging season for young boys from coastal and inland regions.

It’s a time of undergoing a period of change – from boyhood to manhood.

Some cultural experts think initiation school is a passage ­towards manhood, but other cultural exponents differ.

As a young boy growing up on the dusty streets of Limpopo, I was exposed to this preserved cultural practice of koma and was often regaled with stories of how going to initiation school would completely change my status in society.

Persuaded by the strong power of the tongue, we were made to believe the fallacy that the initiation would transform us.

We would tell ourselves that these were the same people who had already been there.

We had no choice but to believe them.

I was reminded of one of Ghana’s idioms: “When a crocodile comes out of the river to tell you that a fish has one eye, you must believe it.”

I knew the “man-preparatory” step awaited me because ­initiation largely strengthens the culture of the Pedi.

The fallacy we all grew up with was that once initiated, you were a man.

The question is: what is a man? Does being a man come with the responsibility of leading a man’s life, where I will be expected to play a leading role among my peers?

Or am I a man because I simply went to an initiation school? At least 16 years after being turned into a “man” my question still remains: what makes a man?

Is it enduring and braving five weeks of cold in the bush, or is it playing the role of a man responsibly?

In his book The Pedi, HO Mönnig says: “The aim of the formal instruction is to prepare the boy as a potential adult for the social, political and economic role that will be expected of him as a man.”

Mönnig’s views allude to the point that once you are back from the mountain, the community expects you to take part in whatever ­activities required of you.

Mönnig insinuates that your voice is more audible than that of the uninitiated simply because of how you were fully incorporated into society by having taken part in koma.

Let me borrow from Caiphus Semenya’s song, Moshanyana: “Your month of being initiated is just around the corner/ prepare yourself for this moment to eliminate your ­uninitiated status.”

Semenya corroborates Mönnig’s view that one can go to the mountain as a man, but basically that does not make one a ­complete man. The difference lies in the transition.

Mönnig emphasises that “this formal instruction is usually ­imparted by teaching the boys traditional formulae that have to be learnt by heart in an archaic form of language”.

This refers to peculiar jargons used by initiates when addressing each other.

In my Pedi culture, after graduating, names like Madimetja, Lesetja and Matsobane are bestowed on boys as ­symbolic cultural names.

Does this mean that the uninitiated Matsobanes and ­Madimetjas in the community should forfeit and relinquish their birth names just because of their boshoboro (uninitiated) status?

My aim is not to devalue and lampoon my culture. It is just that I find it preposterous and unfathomable that going to the mountain turns you into a man.

My aim is to remove the cultural blindfold from people’s eyes to expose the misconception of calling young boys men. It is ­understandable from a cultural perspective to address initiated young boys as men, but literally and logically it does not change my cultural perception.

We are treating innocent and vulnerable young boys like ­convertible cars, where they can be converted into something else in a jiffy.

I know the values inherent in initiation and the prestige that comes with the practice.

This illusion of calling initiated boys men is up for debate. Boys will always remain boys.

» Mogotlane is an intern at a government department

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