Most popular African traditions

Africa is a continent that prides itself of a multiplicity of ethnic tribes as well as diverse cultures and traditions that accompany each tribe. These cultures have held root despite the influence of Westernization. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation through tales, songs, fables, and myths. As a result, they have influenced how we live our lives and some of the decisions that we make.

Some of these traditional practices are so jaw dropping, that it will take you a while to comprehend how and why they are still practiced. Irrespective of this, they still are the most popular African traditions we have on the continent.

List of The Most popular African traditions

African TraditionCountry Founded
The chewa community’s festival for the dead
Bull jumping featEthiopia
Lip stretching of girls from the Surma community
South Sudan
Kidnapping of your brideSudan
Wife stealing Dance Night of the Wodaabe
The potency test of the BanyankoleUganda
Determining ones measure of wealth through number of cows by the Pokot of KenyaKenya
Spitting one’s greeting by the Maasai of Kenya and TanzaniaKenya and Tanzania
Beating the suitor by the Fulani of West AfricaWest Africa
Applying Red ‘Sun block’Namibia

1.The Chewa community’s festival for the dead

This is a Bantu tribe found in Malawi. This tradition requires that when a tribe member has died, it is customary for the deceased’s body to be washed during the burial ceremony. After the corpse has been washed, it is taken to a shrine where a cleansing ritual that entails slitting of the deceased’s throat and pouring of water into the inside of the dead person through the orifices.

After that, the water that had been poured inside the corpse’s body is squeezed out until no more is left. The mouth dropping part of the practice is that the water squeezed out of the corpse is collected and used to prepare a meal for the community.

2.Bull jumping feat in Ethiopia

Being a male child in Africa requires you to undergo various tests, rituals, and rites of passage to prove your manhood to the community. Bull jumping is very captivating to watch and it forms part of the best traditions Africa that are a must see. Hearing of the experience from someone is not as satisfying as it would be if one saw it in person.

It entails a series of events whereby, the young man strips naked, runs and is supposed to land on the bulls’ back. When this is done, he is now supposed to run across the backs of several bulls that are usually arranged in a straight line by the elders by holding them by the horns and tail. Despite its precarious nature, this practice is quite captivating to watch.

3.Lip stretching of girls from the Surma community

On reaching their teenage years, girls of the Surma community of South Sudan begin the process of lip stretching. This is done by having some of her lower jaw teeth knocked out so as to create space for a lip plate which is then fixed in.

The girls’ mothers are tasked with this gruesome task. It is not quite clear why this tradition is still in existence, but rumor has it that, the girl with the biggest lip plate gets the highest bride price paid for her.

4.Kidnapping of your bride in Sudan

most popular African traditions

The Latuka tribe of Sudan have an interesting way of wooing their brides to be. When a suitor has chosen the woman he intends to marry, he usually kidnaps her. Strange practice it is, but it is still, considered as one Africa popular traditions that are still carried out to date. The thrill it brings makes one feel like they are on set, shooting a movie in the 80’s.

After kidnapping his bride, the elderly members of his family go and ask the bride’s father for her hand in marriage. If the bride’s father agrees, he does so by beating up the suitor as a sign of acceptance of their marriage.

5.Wife stealing Dance Night of the Wodaabe of Nigeria

This practice forms part of the most embraced traditions in Africa. It is carried out during the festive season. Members of the community go out dancing in the night. However, the dancing is not considered complete until one bizarre action of stealing women from their tribe takes place.

Men are allowed to steal women from their tribe, irrespective of whether the woman is married or not. The man is at liberty to keep her legitimately unless the woman does not consent to it or her husband catches the other man in the process of trying to steal her.

6.The potency test of the Banyankole of Uganda

Marriage is considered quite a big deal in Uganda. And as a result, the aunt plays a major role in advising her nieces as they pass through various stages such as puberty and later on marriage.

However, things take an interesting twist where the aunt is also required to have sex with the groom.  This is meant to test the groom’s potency before the bride and groom are given a chance to consummate their union. Quite an eyebrow raising tradition this one is.  As if the potency test is not enough, she is also required to test the bride’s virginity before allowing her to get married.

7.Determining one’s measure of wealth through number of cows by the Pokot of Kenya

most popular African traditions

The Pokot people are mostly pastoralists or farmers. However, cattle herding carries the day as their main source of livelihood. This is because of the notion and age old custom that to them, wealth is determined by the number of cows a person owns.

The cows are also used for barter trade and they are also used to determine bride wealth to be paid in terms of a number of cows. Polygamy is only allowed if the man has enough cows in his herds to offer in exchange as bride price.

What beats logic about this practice is that the cattle are hardly ever slaughtered. This is because they consider them to be of more value alive than dead. As they provide milk and butter which form part of the tribe’s daily meals. This practice can be said to be one of the most embraced traditions in Africa existing because many tribes in Africa are pastoralists and they can relate to the importance of cattle.

8.Spitting one’s greeting by the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania

The traditional practice of spitting ones greetings in the Maasai community has been done since time immemorial. The spitting is considered to be a kind of blessing upon the one being greeted. Maasai warriors also spit in their hands before exchanging pleasantries such as shaking of hands, with elders as a sign of respect and to bless them too.

Newborn babies are also not an exception to the rule as they are also spat on too. This is meant to bless them and ward off bad omen away from them by saying that the baby is bad. By doing this, they believe that evil spirits will not haunt the baby or cause it any harm.

9.Beating the suitor by the Fulani of West Africa

The practice of beating the suitor is not an everyday occurrence. But when it happens, a traditional practice called sharo is done. Sharo takes place when two men intend to marry the same woman by mere coincidence or pure malice. To sort this conflict of interest, the young men have to beat each other up.

The man who triumphs by taking in the beating without grimacing in pain wins the bride. Irrespective of its precarious nature, it is one of Africa popular traditions in the western part of Africa that has stood the test of time and continues to hold root to date. It beats logic why two grown up persons would be encouraged and even cheered on as they fight for the suitor.

10.Applying Red ‘Sun block’

Well, it seems that the Caucasians must have borrowed a leaf from the Himba community of Namibia when they decided to start manufacturing sun block. This community has an interesting tradition of covering their skin with a concoction of butter fat and red ocher. The red ocher is obtained from the earth. This mixture they say protects their skins from the harmful rays of the sun and insect bites as well.


Africa is a free spirit, unique and mystical. It is characterized by a people of diverse culture and ethnic diversity, who are willing to preserve their culture to its fullest despite the enormous pressure and beckoning from the rest of the world to go modern.

As seen in the aforementioned scenarios, it has proved difficult to let go of these practices as our societies have entrenched them in almost all our day to day activities. And despite the fact that some of them are quite gruesome, precarious, and gross and mind-boggling, they still continue to be the most popular African traditions that give each community its identity and promote oneness in the African continent.

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