Traditional Beliefs

January 18, 2022

African traditions have been practiced for decades. However, with the changing times and the introduction of new technology, the way of life for most of the African cultures has been altered. Unlike in the past, where every child was brought up observing culture, the trends have changed with time. The western culture has been looked upon as the culture to follow by many youth, especially in Africa. The Internet has given the youth a glimpse into something new, something different, and something they gladly want to copy.

The way the youth are dressing, for example, is completely different from what was observed previously. Times have changed, and the pressure to change with the times is real.

The topic of this on-going change attracted a lot of debate with the girls we mentor. There was a very heated argument with those who are pro culture and those that feel that culture is an old trend that needs to be abolished. Some of the students in the club, tie a headscarf on their heads, showing they belong to a certain religious sect. Others, like the Masai, have two of their lower teeth missing. This is a painful procedure carried out by the older women in certain villages; no anesthesia is used and there are no medications given to ease the pain. For the non-Masai girls, this is an acceptable but barbaric-seeming practice. As for the Masai girls, they have no choice because this practice is carried out when they are still very young.

Some of the girls feel they are stigmatised because of the cultural markings they bare. They were not given a choice when growing up; instead, cultural practices were forced on them. Each girl, who has been affected by culture, stood up and told of stories from their community. As absurd as some of these sounded to us who do not follow the cultures, it was quite intriguing, and quite humerous to hear what the varying communities, where many of the students, live, believe.

Below are some of the stories shared by different girls:


When one falls sick, an elderly person is called in who makes cuts that look like tatoos on certain parts of the body, mostly on the chest, below the breast or at the nape of the neck. After the cuts are made, they smear local herbs which sting and make the area itchy. This is believed to heal the underlying health condition once the herbs mix with the sick person’s blood. The herbs consist of leaves, roots, and the bark of certain trees. This method of healing is commonly accepted in the communites which practice it.  It is very hard for one to seek help from a hospital unless the concoctions given do not work after a long period of time.

There is a special tree that takes care of headaches. When one suffers from a headache, they get the leaves of the tree, rub it in their palms, and inhale it. The leaves have a very strong smell, but instantly cure the headache. Communities practicing this health cure method do not believe in conventional medicine; they swear by this method for alleviating headaches.


Once a baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut using a machete, knife, or any other available sharp object. The remaining part of the umbilical cord is tied with a piece of  bark tree. Ash is applied to the wound until the wound heals, and the remaining part of the umbilical cord falls off. Once the umbilical cord falls off, it is tied into a piece of cloth which the mother ties around her waist, until the cord rots off, and dissolves. The mother stays locked in a room with her baby for 1 month. She is fed milk and porridge as the main meal. She is allowed toilet breaks, but she does not talk to anyone. She stays in the room with her child. Only her mother and the midwife are allowed into the room to check on the baby and the mother. Before the mother leaves the room after the 1 month period, she is washed with water infused with herbs which are boiled and left to cool. The baby is washed in the same herbs. Afterwards, the mother and baby are alllowed to leave the room and join the rest of the family. The leaves used in the ritual are hung on the door both on the inside and the outside of the room. This symbolises protection for the baby. A special paint is smeared on the mother’s body to show she is now clean and can socialise with the other women and cook for her husband. This is a women-only ceremony. The father of the baby is not involved in any way.

Child naming

A child can refuse a name. If, for example, a child is named after a person who had a particularly bad trait, and the child cries continuously, the name will be changed. The members of this community swear that once the midwife starts calling out names, the child will keep crying until the appropriate name is mentioned, then the child will go quiet.

We learned a lot, and it was both funny and interesting to see what people believe. The stories helped us understand why some of the girls behave the way they do. At the end, however, all agreed they need to be given a choice on whether to choose certain cultural practices or not. Most of the practices are not beneficial and can cause more harm than good; female genital mutilation being at the very top of the list.

Below is a picture of a traditional KIKUYU dress. The Kikuyu are one of the 42 tribes of Kenya. Below the traditional dress is modified to make it look more ‘classy.’

Masai girls proudly showing off gaps on their lower teeth. Two teeth are removed when they turn 6 years old.

Embracing culture

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