5 African tribes and their “unique” practices

By Xavier Vivian

Africa is the second largest and second most-populous continent in the world with over 3, 000 tribes dispersed across different parts of the continent. These groups vary in terms of languages, traditions, customs, and histories

The continent is home to around 54 recognized countries and thousands of distinct ethnic groups, each with its own unique characteristics. It should come as no surprise that while some of these tribes might share similar cultural traits and practices, some have a totally different cultural system that might even contradict other cultural ideologies and beliefs.

This article aims to highlight some of Africa’s tribes and their “unique” cultural practices. So, let’s get into it!


The Aka Pygmy tribe is located in the southwestern Central African Republic and in the northern Republic of the Congo. They have numerous unique social practices which are a far cry from the “normal” social practices practiced in the contemporary world.

Unlike the normal social standards, where men are considered the sole breadwinners of the family, the Aka people do not share the same view. Both men are women share interchangeable social roles which include cooking, taking care of the children, and yes, hunting too (imagine a 6-month-old pregnant woman running in the woods with a spear in one hand and a net in the other) and the women are even considered more skilled as hunters.

The Aka tribe would have been a perfect example of modern feminism except for one teeny tiny detail the men would probably not agree to – breastfeeding! One of the major practices of the Aka tribe is male breastfeeding (Shocked?… Me too!). They believe that infants should be in constant physical touch with their parents and allows the fathers to breastfeed their infant as this fosters an emotional connection between the father and the child.


The Surma tribe, commonly known as the Suri people, is an ethnic group in Ethiopia’s southwest, primarily in the Omo Valley near the border with South Sudan. They are well-known for their peculiar cultural customs, body decoration, and intricate scarification. One of their most popular traditional practices is the practice of wearing lip plates.

The lip plate, also known as a lip plug, or mouth plate, is a form of body modification whereby large discs are inserted into a pierced hole in either the upper or lower lip, or both, thereby stretching it. (Yup, you read that right!)

While the process might be gruesome, the Suri people see it as a big step into womanhood and a means of beautification. (Just like wearing make-up… right?)

As time goes on, the woman can choose to increase the size of her lip plates as the larger the lip plate gets, the more beautiful the woman is. This lip plate can be removed at any time but it is mandated that they wear it on four special occasions; presenting meals to males, special events (such as weddings), donga tournaments (fighting tournaments for males), and dances.

The woman eventually stops wearing the lip plate entirely if her spouse dies as they believe that a woman’s external beauty fades after the death of her husband.


The Chewa community consists of locals from the Bantu tribe – one of the largest ethnic groups in Malawi. The Chewa are mainly known for their masks and their secret societies, called Nyau. They are also known for their “unpopular” burial ceremony practices (let me explain)

When a member of the Chewa community dies, during the burial ceremony, the corpse is taken to a sacred place where they wash the body by slitting the throat open and pouring water through the hole till it comes out through the anus (not what you were expecting?).

They continue this process until the water comes out clean as they believe they are washing away the sins of the deceased. (That’s not even the juiciest part!)

After they are done washing the body, the water is collected and used to prepare a meal for the whole community.

Also, the entire community is always in attendance for a burial ceremony. This is because the Chewa believe that death is rarely natural and is mostly caused by witchcraft and whoever isn’t in attendance is responsible for the deceased’s death.


The Banyankole tribe is predominantly found in the western part of Uganda it is one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, and the people are known for their unique culture and traditions. Amongst these “unique” traditions is their wedding ceremony – particularly the final phase of the wedding ceremony.

The first phase is where the father of the groom looks for a wife for his son.

After finding a suitable bride, he settles the bride price (usually in the form of cows, goats, and pots of beer) and then the wedding preparation commences.

The final phase of the wedding ceremony is usually in two sub-phases.

In the first sub-phase, the aunt of the bride tests the bride to verify if she is still a virgin. If she fails the test, she faces the death penalty or is ostracized from society. If she passes, it is assumed she has no understanding of sex or how to sexually please her husband.

The second sub-phase involves the bride’s aunt testing the sexual ability of the groom by having sexual intercourse with him – This is to make sure that he is potent. During this act, she also learns all of his sexual skills as well as his favorite sexual positions so she can provide her niece with sexual tips and advice. They believe it will help the bride please her husband more in the marriage.


The Fulani are the world’s biggest nomadic group, with around 20 million people spread across Western Africa. They are most commonly found in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. They’re also found in the Central African Republic and Egypt.

In some parts of the Fulani tribe, getting married as a man poses a bit of a challenge (literally!) and is quite unconventional.

They have to go through a process called ‘Sharo’. Sharo is an event that occurs during the Sharo festival in the Fulani community where a man is flogged in order to test his manhood. The scars from the flogging are believed to be evidence of bravery and a successful transition to manhood. The brave boys become men after the whipping and are granted permission to marry the girl of their choosing.

It is important to note that while some of these practices might be unconventional and goes against the standard practices in the contemporary world, we as humans should learn to live harmoniously with our different beliefs and engage in constructive conversations when necessary instead of condemning another person’s cultural beliefs.



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