Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Dipo Ceremony - Krobo Girls Coming of Age Rites

Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved


Every year in April, the Krobos tribe in Ghana marks a girl's passage into womanhood with the Dipo ceremony - an age old ritual and initiation, which has been practiced for hundreds of years. In the past, this initiation lasted a year, during which girls of marriageable age where taught their responsibilities as women in their society such as farming, cooking, and laundering. These days the ritual lasts approximately 4 days, during which Krobo girls of all ages (sometimes as young as 2), who have have come from all over Ghana, perform the rites and symbolically emerge as women. 

During the 4 day ceremony, girls follow various rituals which include song, dance, purification and cleansing, and end with being "outdoored", which means being presented as women. The girls are assigned a ritual mother, who serves as a mentor during this initiation. In the past, girls had to be exposed the entire time during the initiation, however initiates are now allowed to cover their breasts with cloth except when a ritual is being performed. Although some rituals vary depending the on clan, the following seem to be the most important and consistent:

The ceremony begins with the initiates entering the ritual house, in which they shed their clothing as a representation of shedding their childhood. They are given a string and red loincloth to wear, and are anointed by a priestess. The girls then have part of their hair shaved off.


Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved
The following day, the initiates carry calabashes with sponges and cloth, and walk silently to a river, where they will bathe and clean their cloth as a means of symbolically purifying and cleansing their body and spirit. 

The ultimate test is the visit to the sacred stone. The girls are dressed in white cloth, (a sign of fertility and purity) and adorned with beads. The are sprinkled with chalky water to ward off evil and have a leaf pressed between their lips, which is to ensure contemplative silence. Amidst singing from the gathered women around them, the girls line up and walk towards the shrine where they will find the sacred stone Tekpete. 


Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved
Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved
The girls are made to sit on the stone three times - it is believed that if they are not virgins or are pregnant, they will be stuck to the stone. Once they pass this test, their feet are not allowed to touch the ground until they reach the dipo house, and so are carried there. The remainder of their hair is then shaved off, and they are given a straw hat to wear for the remainder of the day. Special dances are performed.


Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved
The end of the initiation is the outdooring. The girls quickly demonstrate cooking, sweeping and serving food. They are symbolically marked on the back of their wrists and palms with a blade (in the past, true cuts were made as a mark of the initiation, but these days it is only symbolic, and the skin is not broken). Dressing is then done with much ceremony - some girls in their family house, others at the Dipo house. Amidst the singing from the women around them, the girls, now women, are elaborately dressed with enormous amounts of mostly blue and yellow beads on their necks, waists, arms and legs and new cloth hanging from the beads. 

Anthony Pappone has an album of photographs of the Dipo ceremony with an emphasis on the beads worn. Please note many of these photographs include top frontal nudity among the girls. You can view them here.

The glass beads are made by hand in Krobo villages and are a source of great pride. They are often handed down from generations, having been accumulated over the years. Blue beads are associated with affection, while yellow beads symbolize maturity and prosperity. This is an opportunity for the family to demonstrate their wealth. The girls then go around the neighborhood, thank their friends and relatives while performing the Dipo dance. 

The Krobo girls have now gained the status of women, and are deemed full fledged citizens of Krobo society. 

You can watch a short video trailer of a documentary about the Dipo initiation by Ofamfa Entertainment here

In honor of the Dipo ceremony, we made paper and clay beads - find our post here.

The photography in this post was provided by, and are copyrighted to Ronnie Dankelman. I am very grateful to him for allowing me the opportunity to include them. You can find these, and many more stunning and vibrant photographs of his travels around the world on his website, Imaginative, here.


2 comments:

  1. I worked with a nurse once who was mutilated during her coming of age ceremony. I can't remember which African country she came from though. I do remember how horrified I was compared with how calm and accepting she was of her coming of age. The differences in our cultures are immense and it must be incredibly interesting studying them.

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    1. There are quite a few tribes throughout Africa that include ceremonial scarring - those marks differentiate each tribe from one another upon first glance, though this seems to be less prevalent over time. I wonder if it's typically during a coming of age initiation?

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