10 Extraordinary African Cultural Practices And What They Really Mean

Unusual African Cultural Practices and What they mean
Unusual African Cultural Practices and What they mean
African cultural practices of Massia men. Photo credit: Alice, Pexels

African cultural practices are just as rich and diverse as its people. Not only do different ethnic groups observe unique rituals and ceremonies, but there have also been western influences. Nevertheless, there are African cultural practices that seem weird to onlookers. Some are even considered scary by those who do not understand the reasons behind them. However, no matter how odd an African culture may seem, there is almost always an underlining message.

Sadly, because most western media reporters don’t understand these cultures, they blow it out of proportion. The dynamo effect is that African Americans feel unsafe to return or visit their ancestral home. At African Vibes, our goal is usually to clear out the myth and help our readers to make a better decision. Therefore, in today’s post, we would demystify 10  unique African cultural practices by telling you what they mean.

What are the different cultures in Africa?

Each African country has its individual tribes with their unique cultural practices. There are hundreds of indigenous cultures spread across the continent. However, some of the most popular ones are:


African Cultural Practice
A group of Yoruba Dancers from Osun State, Nigeria in their Traditional “Adire” attires.

This is a prominent West African tribe. The Yoruba people make up one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, and they are predominantly in the southwestern part of the country. They are known for their rich and colorful cultural history.


Himba tribe
Himba’s women in the ceremony, Namibe, Angola

These are pastoralists that inhabit North-West Namibia. The Himba travel from one waterhole to another with their livestock. The women are famous for their red hue.


African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: Max Pixel

The Zulu is the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Zulu warriors had fear-inspiring attributes under Shaka, their famous ruler. These Bantu-speaking people have close ties with the Swazi and the Xhosa.

Bushmen (or The San People)

African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: Max Pixel

They are predominately found in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. The San People have a nomadic lifestyle and are famous for their rock art and their unusual clicking sounds.


African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: South African Tourism

They are related to the Zulu. Ndebele people are found in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. They are famous for their colorful, elaborate traditional weddings.


Wodaabe Nomads in Chad Photo credit Tariq Zaidi Zuma
Wodaabe Nomads in Chad. Photo credit: Tariq Zaidi Zuma

The nomadic Wodaabe tribe of Niger has connections with the Fulani people of North Africa. Wodaabe people love beautythey hold parades in high esteem.


Maasai Tribes Photo credit Maasaimarakenyapark
Maasai Tribes Photo credit: Maasaimarakenyapark

They are nomadic warriors and pastoralists from Kenya and Tanzania. Maasai people treasure their cattle and can be identified by the bright red wraps enveloping their bodies. They have remained true to their culture through the passage of time.


African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: Max Pixel

They are pastoralists predominantly in the arid regions in Northern Kenya. The Samburu resembles the Maasai tribe in many ways. For example, their diet consists of a mixture of milk and blood from their cattle.


African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: Einat Klein Source: allroundafrica.com

This is an African tribe found in the Southern part of Ethiopia. The Karo stand out because of their splendid face and body paintings comprising of white chalk and mineral compounds. 

Hadza Tribe

African Cultural Practice
Photo credit: Rita Willaert Source: Pinterest

The Hadza people can be found near Lake Eyasi in the Serengeti region of Tanzania. They are hunter-gatherers who live in temporary shelters and have maintained their way of life for the past one thousand years.

10 Extraordinary African Cultural Practices

People fear what they don’t understand. This saying is particularly true when it comes to African cultures. Most western media call some African cultural practices ‘primitive’but we know that is not true. Perhaps, by offering a clear explanation, they will also come to cherish rather than fear these practices. 

#1. Spitting as a Form of Greeting

In modern society, it is considered rude and even barbaric to spit on someone. However, for the Maasai, it is a demonstration of respect. The Maasai people are nomads who reside partly in Kenya and partly in northern Tanzania. They spit on their hands before shaking hands with a visitor as a sign of respect.

This African cultural practice may seem weird. However, to the Maasai, it is a warm and loving gesture. For example, on a girl’s wedding day, her father will shower blessings on his daughter by spitting on her forehead and breasts.

#2. Lip Plates

Stretching and distortion of the lips may be a scary sight to behold. However, this African cultural practice is a sign of perseverance and courage. Common among the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia, single or newly married women wear lip plates made out of clay or wood for special events. In addition to being a sign of courage on the part of the wearer, it also a sign of fertility and signifies that the girl is ready for marriage.

Wearing lip plate is a popular African cultural practice in East Africa
Photo credit: Peter W1950 Pixabay

#3. Why the Wodaabe Roll Their Eyes during the Courtship Dance

Young men from the Wodaabe tribe of Niger participate in the Guérewol every year. This is a courtship dance, and the suitors show up in beautiful traditional outfits and face paint to catch the attention of a young woman.

An observer would find it alarming or menacing to witness the young men rolling their eyes and baring their teeth as they dance. However, to the Wodaabe, bright eyes and teeth are signs of good looks. This is an African cultural practice the redefines contemporary social beauty.

The traditional Wodaabe courtship dance where men roll their eyes
Photo credit: Fineamerica.com

#4. Why the Women of Himba Are Covered in Red Ochre

The covering of women in red mud is an unusual sight that may elicit disgust. However, the women of this Namibian tribe apply a paste of fat and red ochre every morning as part of their daily grooming. It gives them a look that appeals to their native men. Also, there is a deeper meaning to this practice. The combination of ochre and herbs acts as a sunblock that protects their skin and hair from the desert sun. Call it a form of adaptability to the environment and you won’t be wrong. 

A woman whose hair is covered in ochre
Photo credit: Coffee Pixabay.com

#5. Jumping of Bulls in the Omo Valley Ethiopia

Young men of the Hamar tribe participate in an African cultural practice that to an observer may seem weird and dangerous. It is an initiation ritual that involves jumping on prize bulls, naked, and running across their backs.

The Bull Run has to be completed 4 times before one is considered man enough to get married. It is certainly a display of courage on the part of the young participants. This is not far from the belief of contemporary society that men should protect their families.

#6. The Xhosa Initiation Ceremony

In South Africa, young Xhosa men are circumcised without anesthetic, wrapped in a blanket, and driven into the bush with minimal provisions. They are left to fend for themselves for 2 months before they can come home.

Parents of young men may consider this a scary and horrific practice. However, according to tradition, youth have to earn the right to be men. Hitherto, young African men were trained to be warriors. There is no better time to instill this norm in them than when they are young.

#7. The Practice of Lobola

This is an African traditional practice that exists among Bantu tribes is that of ‘Lobola’ which means bridal wealth. A man has to part with a dowry in the form of cash, cattle, or other gifts to get his bride. Sometimes the demands are so exorbitant that the groom is unable to meet them. For the parents of the bride, this is often an assurance that the man is financially capable of taking care of their daughter. 

#8. The Blue Men of the Desert

It is a common practice among many people of the world for women to cover their faces in the presence of strangers.  However, this is not the case with the Tuareg people of the Sahara. In this community, the men are the ones who cover up with an indigo headdress. With time, the color drains in their skin, hence the name “Blue men of the desert’’. The men often expose themselves to harsh sunlight. This covering helps to protect their skin. The choice of blue is just perfect because it neither absorbs sunlight nor easily displays dirt.

A rare picture of the blue men of the desert
Photo credit: Flickr.com deepchi1 Pinterest

#9. Wife Inheritance

Another African cultural practice is the ritual that some may consider taboo. The marriage between a newly bereaved widow and her brother-in-law is still in practice by some tribes in East Africa. The practice is meant to keep the widow in the family to secure the bonds of the clan.

Bearing in mind that women have no right to inheritance in many African cultures, this is actually a win for women. In the absence of such practices, the women are often thrown out of their husband’s house with nothing.

#10. A Beverage Made of Blood

Among the most hospitable tribes in Kenya are the Samburu and the Maasai tribes. However, their way of welcoming guests may not appeal to everyone. They offer a drink made out of milk and blood taken from their cattle. Regardless of how much you may detest this, it is important to mention that blood meal is rich in protein.


African cultural practices always have strong reasoning behind them. They may be a sign of hospitality and respect, to instill courage in youths or a form of adaptation to the environment. However, we also agree that some cultural practices are due for a change. Any culture that violates the rights of individuals such as wife inheritance or pressure people into body modifications like the insertion of lip plates needs reconsideration. Cultural believes and practices should evolve. Perhaps, with more enlightenment, harmful practices will one day become historical topics.

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