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Intonjane, the Xhosa Rite of Passage Into Womanhood

Intonjane is a female rite practiced by the people of Xhosa and is typically carried out during the beginning of a girl’s first menstrual period to symbolize her transition from childhood to adulthood.

This ritual, which is comparable to the Zulu rite of passage known as Umemulo, symbolizes a girl’s sexual virginity and her capacity to conceive.

The young girl is secluded during Intonjane and taught female values and standards as well as prepared for marriage.

She is also instructed on the duties and rights associated with being a leader, mother, and wife.

They are encouraged to maintain their virginity till marriage while also learning about the socially acceptable behaviors of Xhosa women.

Multiple activities occur throughout the course of the three to six weeks that make up the Intonjane ritual.

Intonjane begins when the young girl alerts her mother, who then alerts her father, who then summons a customary assembly known as ibhunga.

As a mark of her coming of age, grass-based jewelry is worn around her neck and waist.
She then does a ubulunga necklace, which is a necklace constructed from an ox tail thread.

The necklace, which represents fertility, also shows that the girl is open to marriage proposals.

The girl then enters seclusion together with one of her family members and her amakhankatha (assistants), who are responsible for overseeing the procedure.

As the day the initiate enters isolation, the seclusion is known as umngeno.

Also, a young man is chosen to roast a piece of meat called “isiphika” a day after entering seclusion in order to observe the crucial custom of ukush­wama (taking the first piece of meat).

After being roasted, the meat is picked up with a sharpened stick and presented to the initiate, who is only permitted to consume it with the stick.

The initiate is exposed for the first week of the initiation, wearing nothing except a black doek and the inkciyo, a beaded skirt that serves as a covering for the pelvic region.

The next step is to paint her body with white clay to symbolize her isolation from tribal life and communication with the ancestors’ spirits.

An ox is slaughtered on the eighth day, or any even-numbered day of seclusion, for a ceremony called umt­shatiso that simulates marriage.

This ritual must be performed on an even-numbered day since two families joined in matrimony are symbolized by an even number.

The flesh of the meat is cooked the next day by one of the amakhankatha, and it is consumed using the same stick that was used to consume goat meat during ukush­wama.

The three-day celebration of this custom allows the public to witness the girl’s transition into womanhood.

Following the celebration, the initiate is required to discard her sanitary napkins or other period-related items and burn the stick she used to devour the meat.

This is a symbol of the initiate’s childhood coming to an end and the start of her journey into womanhood.

Another celebration is held for all the women in the hamlet just before the girl’s exile comes to an end. Umngqungqo is the name of this occasion.

The white chalk is replaced with a yellow one known as an umdike the next morning after the last day of the festival when the initiate goes to wash it in the river.

After leaving for the river, the initiate and her helpers don fresh clothing. Following that, festivities to honor the conclusion of the Intonjane rite continues.

Also read: All You Need To Know About The Great Ruins Of Zimbabwe

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