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Central and Southern African Tribal Art





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Lister Haig Hunter


Initiation to Womanhood


Ntonjaan - Female Initiation


Photo Set C



Lister Hunter - Umtata Agencies - Tourists Paradise


Lister Haig Hunter was born in South Africa in 1919. After WW 2 and up until his death in 1981, he traded in Umtata, the capital of the former Transkei. He dealt  in traditional herbal medicines known locally as Muthi or Muti, as well as curios and ethnic artifacts, the latter sold to foreign visitors. His close association with his native clientele helped develop his keen interest in tribal customs, which  led him to the pursuit of photography. The two passions came together at "Umtata Agencies - Tourists Paradise - Indlu Ya Mayeza". There he sold postcards to tourists which he produced in Durban from his photographic collections. He also sold slides that detailed the customs of his photographic studies. To learn more about Lister Hunters life, business or postcards click here.


Lister Hunter compiled his slide collections into seven sets totaling 163 ethnic studies of isiXhosa speakers. The majority of the slides were taken between Umtata and Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape. The seven sets were labeled A to G. Gallery Ezakwantu digitalized the slide collection.


© Photographs and text are copyright protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - (DMCA)



Initiation into Womanhood


The text that follows was authored by Lister Haig Hunter






Described very briefly, this ceremony concerning young primitive maidens of many Transkeian tribes, only takes place after the young girl who, through the natural acts of nature, suddenly finds herself a woman. She naturally informs her mother of this, who explains to her daughter what has happened.


Until the above occurs, the girl's parent will never let their daughter marry, no matter how poor they may be, or how many cattle are offered. The sign that womanhood has arrived is time for discussion between mother, father and relatives, as to when their daughter will start the ceremony of "NTONJAAN". This ceremony is an age old custom amongst the most primitive tribes. It's purpose is to instil upon the girl the discipline required of women in the tribe - further, the girl herself feels she MUST complete the ceremony, as it will enable her to produce many children, while the tribe themselves will always recognize her as a true woman.


To instill the discipline referred to, the girl is seated inside a hut, behind two sleeping mats strung from the ceiling, where she will remain in so called seclusion for approximately three to five weeks. During this period she is visited daily by older women friends from far and wide. Seated facing the girl, they instruct her continually about life, it's pit falls, etc., emphasizing the wonders of being a true woman in the tribe. The effect is fantastic, as never will a woman of loose morals be found in the tribe after this ceremony.


Just as men in the tribe will never be recognize as men until circumcised, so the same applies to women unless they complete the ceremony.





Near sunset, maids who attend Ntonjaan (in white) return from the river, where they have washed her very thoroughly to cleanse the body before the ceremony, while upon their heads they carry special bundles of grass.




Entering huts specially provided and thoroughly cleaned, Ntonjaan is seated against the wall, her head covered by a black turban given by her mother. From the roof of the hut, two sleeping mats are strung behind which she sits in seclusion. The mats are always closed, and have only been opened for you, the viewer, to see. Therefore, all instructions spoken by the older women, are to someone they cannot see, but know she is there by her answers. The special grass is strewn upon the floor for visitors to sit upon while instructing.




The following morning, she is painted completely white to obliterate all traces of the girlhood complexion. White paint is made from a soft white stone from the river, call "INGEKE".




While outside a huge gather of people celebrate the occasion.




A close-up showing her being painted.




A close-up showing the majesty of the beautifully dressed women.




During the celebration, a goat, as sacrifice, is slaughtered, of which a piece is roasted upon coals inside the hut, cut into small pieces and offered to Ntonjaan on the end of a sharpened stick, as she may not touch meat with her hands while transforming from girlhood to womanhood. Once she tastes the sacrificial meat, all celebrators take part in the feast of Ntonjaan. This may last two or three days.



While in seclusion, maids attending Ntonjaan, pass the time by decoration the wall inside. Black paint for base is made by burning corn cobs to charcoal, then mixing with water. The white paint, as in 69, is applied with a chicken feather creating designs seen.



It is an easy matter to tell how long Ntojaan has been in seclusion, as above her head, behind the mats, maids keep a calendar painted on the wall, adding a round dot of "INGCOKE" every morning. This Ntonjaan, as calendar indicates, has been here eight days. 




At the end of seclusion period, Ntonjaan is taken to the river to wash the white paint from her body, after which we see her seated in the river as maids attend her hair.




Returning to the hut, Ntonjaan is painted completely red, with a powder called "MDIKI", which, when mixed with water, gives the result as seen.




A close-up of the painting. It's purpose, to obliterate all traces of white paint which might still adhere to the body. The red therefore ensuring no traces of girlhood remain.




Leaving hut she has occupied for three weeks, Ntonjaan sits upon a sleeping mat outside hut, while elder sister fetches fresh cow dung form cattle enclosure from which she makes a dung basin on ground in front of Ntonjaan.




Ntonjaan is offered thick sour milk, takes a good mouth-full which she spits into dung basin.




Spitting completed, sister closes dung basin then throws it back into father's cattle enclosure. This action, they maintain ensures that many cattle will pass into father's cattle enclosure as Labolo (dowry), in exchange for his daughter, when her hand is ought in marriage after ceremony.




Ceremony nears end as Ntonjaan, inside hut, receives presents from relatives and friends, as they wish her luck as a woman now ready for marriage. Presents given as seen, are simple things such as Bangles, Sweets, Tobacco and Beadwork, etc.



The above complete, her last job is to take a bucket of water, into which she throws fresh earth making a thin muddy paste. With this, she enters the hut where she underwent her seclusion, and obliterates all traces of youth from the walls as described in Slide 74.


PER SET - R4.80             (Circa 1960)


© Photographs and text are copyright protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - (DMCA)



Slide sets A through G have dedicated pages. Click a thumb to enter the section / category.



Ethnographic Photographs - Ethnic Photographs - Ethnographic Photography

Ethnographische Fotografien - Völkerkundliche Aufnahmen  - Ethnographische Fotographien


We hope you have enjoyed this page dedicated to the lifelong interest of African enthusiast Lister Hunter.









Galerie Ezakwantu

Southern African Tribal Art - African Art 


Central and Southern African Tribal Art


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