This ritual, which is a symbol of a young boy’s rite of passage to manhood, starts when a boy is between the ages of 6 to 10 and comprises of 6 stages.
Imperative to the processes and teaching of the initial ceremony is the notion that women can be dangerous to men.
To become a man, and in essence a “warrior,” these young men are taught how to detach themselves from their mothers and the women around them as a means of showing that they can live without them and prove their masculinity.
The six stage process of affirming one’s manhood can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years until these young men father a child. Much of the initiation and training is characterised by what some have deemed to be highly erotic and sexual.
In the first stages, a sharp stick of cane is inserted deeply into the young boy’s nostrils until he bleeds profusely. The young boys are also introduced to older warriors who are told that bachelors are going to “copulate” with them to make them grow.
Throughout much of the 6 stages, the act of having the stick of cane inserted into the nostrils and the performance of ‘fellatio’ are integral to the process of becoming a man. While the former practice is often derided by many as ‘inhumane’ and the latter is often referred to as ‘homosexual’ behaviour, the Sambia’s understanding and purpose behind these two processes differs from our conventional understanding.
While many of us might view the practice of inserting the cane stick into the nostrils as being ‘inhumane’, because of the obvious infliction of pain and injury to the body, for the Sambia it is a symbol of strength and his ability to sustain pain, which is a needed requirement of a warrior.
Additionally, the act of performing fellatio and the act of ingesting semen is seen as an integral part of manhood because boys are unable to mature into men unless they ingest semen and they adhere to the notion that all men have, ‘eaten the penis’.
According to Sambia belief, the semen of a man possesses the ‘masculine spirit’, which young boys will be able to attain through his ingestion of semen.