Dipo initiation rites in Ghana
The Dipo Ceremony is an initiation rite to mark the coming of age of young females in their adolescence. For many Ghanaian cultures, it is one of the most significant events in an individual’s life. This type of initiation rite is mostly practiced in most Ghanaian traditional cultures. The events that mark this occasion however differ from place to place. The Akans call it the “Bragoro” whiles the Ga-Adangmes call it the “Dipo”.
The Dipo celebration is seen as an out-dooring of the young girls in the community and until it is performed they are forbidden from having sex with a man or getting married. The average age for the celebration of this initiation rite has drastically reduced in the past years. In the olden days a girl must have gone through her first menstruation experience in order to qualify to be a part of this event. Nowadays however girls who haven’t attained that status are being presented by their parents for these rites to be performed. One other change which is worthy of note is the reduction in the duration of the Dipo celebrations. It used to be an occasion that spanned two months or even more but nowadays only a few days are spent on the celebration.
Before the commencement of the Dipo rites, the presiding fetish priest is to verify the virginity of the participating females. If an absence of chastity is ever uncovered by the fetish priest during the celebration, the family concerned will be put to shame before the whole community and also charged with a fine to be used for purification purposes. The duration for Dipo has however reduced due to the families’ complaints regarding the expenses involved. As such nowadays the celebration takes not more than a week.
First Day- ‘Sonimouni’
In the very first day the girls who are seen to be qualified for the initiation are paraded before the entire village. They do so naked and anyone in the village; old or young, male or female will have the chance to see their nudity. The girls, on their first day are introduced to the art of cooking. They do so by crushing corn. At this stage they are advised to uphold sincerity and truth as a very important virtue.
Second Day -‘Ke Pam Yami’
It involves the spiritual cleansing of the girls involved in the Dipo celebration. They are taken to a nearby river and bathed. In this part of the activity they are coached on how to keep themselves hygienic by the older women performing the rites. In the afternoon of this day the girls are admonished to share the ‘Ho Fufui’ meal with their families. Over the entire period of the celebration, the girls are forbidden to taste corn or rice. She is also asked to begin behaving in a matured way from then onwards.
Third day –‘Bua Sia Mi’
The third day is usually the day of truth when the girls’ virginity is authenticated by the priest or priestess. The girls are painted on the third day with clay. A clay pot is placed upon the girls chest and is expected to break if the lady is found to have had sex prior to the Dipo. If a lie is detected, she is sent back home and her family members are made to face the consequences.
Those who stay partake in the Tekuo Mi in the evening. They are led to a sacred stone away from the village and are made to each sit on the stone three times. After the third time she is believed to have crossed the barrier which separated her from womanhood. They are forbidden to talk to anyone from thence till the end of the celebration. To celebrate this success, she is carried by a strong brother or a male neighbor back to the village.
The Fourth Day –‘Blemi Ke Fo Mi’
This day is a holy day in the Dipo celebration. They go through a whole day’s lesson of womanhood with the fetish priest or priestess. The fetish priest instructs them on hoe they need to do things differently now that they have attained womanhood. To bring respect to their parents in the end.
Fifth Day- ‘Mahe Ya Mi’
The fifth day is usually the last day of the celebrations. The girls are therefore adorned in their most colorful and richest traditional Kente clothes provided by their parents for this occasion. To march they wear expensive beads that are provided by their families. Everyone’s set of beads shows the wealth in each participating family. As the Dipo celebrations draw to a close, all the maidens are made to sit together and dance in celebration of their womanhood. The girls who participate in this stage bring honor and prestige to their families. It is also a chance for the males present to glance through the bevy and analyze their chances of having one of the ‘qualified women’ as a wife one day. African instruments are played and there is lots of merry-making on this occasion.