The Sharo Festival of the Fulani
Many indigenous cultures in and out of Africa often have rites of passage for male adolescents. While these traditions may vary from culture to culture, sacrifice, hunting, tests of bravery, strength and fortification rites are common hallmarks. One of such indigenous people who pay great attention to their rites of passage is the Fulani of West Africa. These people, while culturally dispersed and diverse, practice the Sharo Festival diligently.
Celebrated by the Fulfulde-speaking nomads in the most dramatic way, the Sharo Festival is a show of bravery and endurance by boys who are passing into manhood. The Sharo Festival is major to the Fulani, who are found along the northern parts of West African countries such as Nigeria and Senegal.
Held twice a year within Fulani settlements and majorly anticipated by participants and national and international audiences, the first of the festival is usually held during the dry season when guinea corn is being harvested; and the second during the Muslim festival of Id-el-Kabir.
Held for a week in an open place such as a market square, the festival commences with variations of entertainment like performances by tricksters, minstrels, and maiden dancers. The uniqueness of the festival, however, is the flogging rite of passage.
Sharo, which means flogging, is used to test the bravery and courage of young male initiates who lash each other to the peak of endurance. This part of the festival begins with the arrival of young bare-chested, unmarried men who are escorted to the center ring by beautiful young girls. Hopes are raised by the melodious drumbeats and thunderous cheers of the spectators while contenders eye their challengers. The families of the contenders watch and pray not to be disgraced by their sons. This is because a son who cannot endure the flogging by begging his opponent to stop brings disgrace to the family.
Challengers are usually of the same age group. The challenger comes to the center of the stage, bare-chested and wielding a stupefying strong and supple cane about a half inch thick. He brandishes it with the sole aim of intimidating his opponent and inflicting pain. Flogging his opponent without a bit of empathy with screams for more, the challenger continues until the other begs him to stop. Fortunately, a referee is provided to keep watch (every stroke must be hit right) so as to prevent serious and life-threatening injuries like blindness.
Many contenders are often seen to silently recite mantras during the flogging rite or to have undergone a traditional fortification process in preparation for the big day. This is because withstanding such high amounts of pain without any form of assistance is quite difficult. However, all these things do not matter at the festival as the major interest of observers is to see how well contenders can withstand the pain without showing the degree of hurt while asking for more strokes.
These severe floggings often leave scars on the proud contenders who believe the scars are marks of courage and a successful transition to manhood.
Encircled by family members, friends, and well-wishers, the opponent is encouraged by their support and readiness to offer gifts, as well as bounties if he is able to withstand the pain until the end of the rite.
When the Sharo is over, the brave and courageous boys become men and are permitted to marry the girl of their choice from the clan. The Fulani agree with the tenets of Islamic religion so the men can marry up to four wives as long as they have the ability to provide for them equally.
Despite the diffusion of the Fulani culture with Islam, the Sharo Festival’s importance has ensured its continuous practice over the centuries.
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