Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
OF all mind-boggling African rituals that my sisters experienced in the olden days, I still cannot believe they settled for their breasts being swept with a reed broom at the onset of their puberty.
The chief reason was that their breasts would have started developing too early and their elders wanted the breasts to grow back.
I cannot say the process produced the desired results, though some who chose to open up about their experiences said it did. Others said the process did not bear the intended results.
“I was told that my breasts are too big for my age. I was in Grade Five then so, my grandmother said kumele abuyele so that engangisindi,” said 29-year-old Thando Mlobane who grew up in Mpopoma with her grandmother.
She said thereafter, in the morning before she went to school, her grandmother whipped out her reed broom and told her to unbutton her uniform so that she could sweep them.
Mlobane said this was a traumatising experience.
“It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had as it really made me lose confidence because I felt like I’m that girl with big breasts.”
Describing the sweeping process, Mlobane said: “My granny did it one morning when I was ready for school. She told me to stand behind the kitchen door and she took her broom and swept my bare breasted chest.”
After what she describes as an ordeal, Mlobane said she did not see the difference, but believes her breasts stopped growing when she was 13.
She said she would however not do the same to her daughter if she has one in the future.
“I wouldn’t want to thanyela her, but what I know now is that I have to cut down on foods high in cholesterol. The reason why is that I found out that these are the ones that provoke hormones,” said Mlobane.
Comedian Nomsa Muleya said in her Venda culture, it was either her grandmother or aunt who were tasked with the ritual.
“In our culture, the person who does this is either your aunt or grandmother. I remember mine (breasts) developed when I was in Grade Seven and bawathanyela ahamba. They started growing again when I was in Form Two/Three thereabout,” said Muleya.
Being a parent, Muleya said she would gladly make her daughter go through the process if she develops breasts early.
“I wouldn’t say I was traumatised because that’s how we were raised. It was in our culture and everyone knew that at one point of your life, you might go through the process and we’d discuss these issues as children among our peers. So, I’d like my daughter to experience that, if need be,” said Muleya.
A mother who experienced this process when she was growing up and also made sure her daughter did the same said she was told it was necessary to do so to protect young girls from beady-eyed old men.
“The reason that this was done in the olden days and some do it now is that there are some naughty men who realise that a girl is now grown up and want to sleep with her if they see breasts. It was a preventative measure to protect them from these ill-disciplined old men,” said a woman who only identified herself as maNdou.
And as with culture being passed down from generation to generation, it seems this practice will continue.
In Setswana culture, the ritual is the same, but Gonste Mapalane would never allow the ritual to be done on her daughter.
“My grandmother swept my breasts when I was 13. I don’t remember the exact emotions I went through, because I was so young. However, I did not want my daughter to go through the same process as the body should grow naturally,” said Mapalane.