Tonga Initiation Ceremonies

Gloria Miyoba - (kitweonline)

The preparation of a Tonga girl into cultured  adulthood


In all most almost all Zambian tribes, a girl is isolated from other playmates and friends for sometime when she reaches puberty. Every tribe has got their own way of preparing the girl child for challenges and experiences associated with womanhood in early teenage years and in adulthood.

In this article, we will share on how the Tongas prepare their girl child for womanhood.

Tongas are one of Zambia’s main tribes, predominantly found in the southern province of Zambia. The Tonga tribe is segmented into fives groups. The Tongas of the Kafue plains are known as the BATWA. The ones from the Gwembe valley are referred to as the BAWEE. There are the BAAMBWE from Bwengwa, and the ILA from Namwala. The other Tonga group are known as the BA BIHI from the plateau. 

In spite of their classifications, all Tongas mainly depend on Agriculture and cattle rearing as their mainstay for their livelihood. Cattle are the major source of income and a symbol of wealth for the Tonga.

According to Tonga tradition, when a girl is about to reach puberty, she is  told that she is  expected to start crying without any reasonable cause immediately she sees blood soiling her underwear, which signals the beginning of her menstrual cycle. This is a signal for the parents to know that their daughter has come of age. Upon hearing her daughter’s cry, the mother has to call the paternal aunt (Father’s elder or younger sister or father’s female cousin). She will teach the girl how to look after herself each time she has her menses.

The young girl is strongly warned against having sex with male companions. Falling pregnant out of wedlock is strictly forbidden in Tonga tradition as this robs parents of potential measure of wealth when the time to marry off their daughter comes. Tongas marry off their daughters by charging their bride price in form of herds of cattle. A Tonga virgin known as NAKALINDU, can be paid for at as 10 herds of cattle as bride price.

When a girl comes of age, an initiation ceremony is held, which is known as KUVUNDIKA (Seclusion) young girl being indicted into the initiation is called KAMWALE, which simply means’ one who has come of age’. The other word is KUYALUKA. The initiation ceremony, KUVUNDIKA, takes between one to two months of initiation. During the period of seclusion, girls are not expected to go out and play after school work. When time comes for the secluded girls to take a bath, the girls are sneaked into the darkness of the early-morning hours to the river before everyone else in the village works up. This is so because according to Tonga tradition, these girls are not to be seen by the other people anyhow during the period of their initiation.

Girls who are in day schools are allowed to go to school and immediately return to the initiation hut after school work. Those that attend boarding school are initiated during holidays.

In the village, the message of initiation of a KAMWALE is spread across the village and near by villages by beating a traditional drum called” NDANDALA.”The people in the village and nearby village would know that there is a girl or a group of girls who has come of age at the sound of the drum. Even during meal times, the elderly women who are expected to live with the girls during the initiation prepare food that is taken to the girls in their secluded hut.

 During their seclusion, the girl or girls are taught by elderly women on how to traditional show respect to their in-laws when they get married. Other issues such as hygiene, abstinence from sex and how to conduct themselves in adult life are also taught.

The climax reaches when the date for release of the girl or girls from seclusion is set. The closing of the initiation occurs at an occasion known as NKOLOLA. Events leading to the closing of the initiation begin two days before the girls are released from seclusion.

Two days before the end of the initiation, elderly women put water in a clay port which is known as CHIBIYA. The water is poured on the unsuspecting girl who is not expected to shriek or show shock, but only remain quiet, calm and composed. Doing this, for a girl, symbolizes a strong character of a growing courageous woman who will be able to deal with impervious obstacles in her adult life.

A night before release, people gather to celebrate by singing and beating drums such as NDANDALA, which is made of wood and cow skin; MPITO and NYELE, traditional instruments made of clay and reeds respectively. The dances performed during this night are called KULINDA NKOLOLA (Waiting for the last day of initiation) and CHIN’GANDE.

At this occasion, a cow, chickens and goats are slaughtered for people to feed during celebrations.

Then the morning that everyone would have been waiting for arrives: the KAMWALE is led out of the secluded hut by the elderly women, covered in a blanket. She is led to sit on a reed mat at the arena of the occasion of her release with two elderly women seated by her side. Her father is called upon to uncover the blanket to reveal the KAMWALE to the public. Before he does this, he beats the NDANDALA drum and sings a song of self-praise in form of a poem known as KUYABILA. He next puts a certain amount of money on the reed mat where his daughter is seated and uncovers the girl. He later gives her advice and showers her with his blessings. After him, the rest of the people on the occasion present their various gifts to the KAMWALE, and thereafter, the ceremony ends. The young woman has begun her journey to into adult life.


  11 comments for “Tonga Initiation Ceremonies

  1. moomba
    March 26, 2016 at 1:14 am

    welcome to tonga ceremony

  2. Adrian Chongo
    March 9, 2016 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for the information, it has really helped me in my assignment.

  3. Thokozile Mwiinga
    September 8, 2015 at 6:12 am

    Thank you very much!this information has helped in my research. What is the significance music in this ceremony?

  4. lubono
    March 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    may God bless you, this information has really helped me in writing my assignment for African music arts (AMA)

  5. Kubbolomani- Kukanundwa
    March 15, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    This is great!!! please write something about how Tongas live in extended families. probably, thus why there are few Tonga-street-kinds.

    • JS
      March 16, 2015 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Kubbolomani,
      That is a great idea. Unfortunately, our Tonga correspondent is no longer available and we are still looking for someone who can write about Tonga traditions.

      • jane mbanga
        May 30, 2016 at 9:26 am

        very good observation

      • May 30, 2016 at 9:27 am

        hello, have you found a correspondent?

        • JS
          May 30, 2016 at 8:08 pm

          Hi Jane. It’s expensive to hire a correspondent so we are looking for volunteers who share our vision.
          We hope to be able to pay for such services in future but we are not there yet.

  6. tamar sitemeli
    November 1, 2013 at 4:30 am

    I love this info……helped me put thngs into proper perspective

    • JS
      November 1, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      Hi Tamar,
      I am glad you found the info useful.
      Thanks for your comments.

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