2 July 2004

Ghana: Dipo (Puberty Rite of the Krobos)

Accra — The krobos are an ethnic group, which still holds on to the celebration of the puberty rite. Like all initiation rites, the 'Dipo' ushers girls into womanhood. A girl on whom the Dipo is performed is known as 'Dipo-yo'. In times past a girl who did not wait for the rite to be performed for her and become pregnant was severely punished and banished from her village.

The rite used to be performed in the month of February but now, has changed to coincide with Easter. As the time approaches, an announcement is made throughout the krobo land for parents to submit the names of their daughters due for the rite. This announcement is made on behalf of the Earth goddess (Nene Kloweku). Parents present their daughters to their clan priest responsible for the Dipo. The ceremony can either be started on Thursday or Sunday, the two sacred days for Nene Kloweku.

In the first part of the ceremony beads are worn around the waist by the 'Dipo-yo'. They are crafted by an old woman known as a 'Yomeyo'. Next the head is shaved, leaving very little hair at the middle. This is known as the 'Yi-si-pomi'. A raffia fibre is then tied around her neck to identify her as a 'Dipo-yo'. On Saturday morning the girls are given ritual bath after which they are made to taste non-krobo foods like sugar cane, and groundnut. A special meal known as "Ho-fu-fu is given to them to eat.

The hair left on the head is shaved. A special libation, known as triple libation is poured with a cocktail of millet-beer, palm wine and Schnapps. During libation, the god's blessing is asked for the girls. After the parents of the girls present a castrated goat to the Dipo priest for slaughtering, the blood is used in washing the girl's feet, in the belief of washing away any bad omen that might prevent the girls from becoming mothers in future. The 'dipo-yo' is made to sit on a special stool covered with white cloth. Some marks are made on the body with clay. The girls are made to wear the intestines of the goat across their shoulders and taken to a shrine, where they are made to sit on a sacred stone three times.

After the ceremony, the girls are carried home amidst jubilation. The remaining hair shaved by the priest are worn like hats by the girls. They are confined for a week, where traditional krobo practices are made known to the girls. They are taught every thing that, would made them good women i.e. songs, dancing and dressing. Some traditional marks (incisions) are made on their bodies, indicating that they have gone through the initiation rite. Elephant skin is tied around their head to ensure fertility. The girls are then led outside the house richly dressed in beads and silk cloth, amidst singing and dancing. They go round to thank relatives and friends who assisted them during initiation they are given gifts

KUKUDIPO For those who become pregnant before going through the puberty rite, a 'Kukudipo' rite is performed on them. 'Kukudipo', known in Akan language as 'Kyiribra' is performed on the girl and the man who made her pregnant, and serves the purpose of chastising them for not waiting for the puberty rite before having canal knowledge of each other. In the past, the two were banished.

The rite is performed in the middle of a rubbish dump where the whole town gathers. Both the man and the girl are seated on the heap of garbage. The girl is stripped almost naked, with only a skimpy cloth at the waist. Mashed yam is sprinkled on the ground. A fowl is slaughtered and the blood sprinkled on their feet.The girl is then paraded through the principal streets of the town and hooted at. Accompanied by relatives, she is sent to the outskirts of the town or village, and made to run into a nearby river to wash down. After bathing in the river, signifying the washing of the shame and cleansing of the soul, she is given clothes to wear.

After the ceremony, the culprits are permitted to marry if they wish. In most cases they leave the town for another place to cover their shame. Often, babies born to parents who did not go through the 'dipo' rite do not survive, and if they do, they are perceived as cursed.

The case to modify or Abolish Dipo The concept of culture has, for sometime now been misconstrued and often led to the abuse of individual rights, in the name of preserving culture. There are many reasons to take another look at 'Dipo' and either modify, or abolish it. Firstly, the open display of the candidates' nudity offends our 21st century's sense of women's dignity. Secondly, there are several practices in this rite that abuse the human rights and freedoms of the girls involved. Most young ladies who go through this puberty rite are denied the right to decide on whether or not they wish to go through the process, rather it is the parents and some elderly clan members who decide for them. The process itself, for instance using the blood of a slaughtered goat in washing the girl's feet, shaving her hair, and striping her naked is an abuse that amounts to more or less a maltreatment of a child, prohibited under the children's Act.

Furthermore, most women who have gone through this rite if asked, face embarrassment and ridicule from their friends, particularly about the incisions on their bodies. Additionally, children born through this kukudipo rite are often disowned by the extended family as they are said to be cursed.

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