The Bijagós have eight different stages in their life linked to age and several initiations, for both men and women. Every initiation becomes a form of rebirth. Men will disappear for several months, while women will remain nearby living collectively in a dedicated house (Baloba) but assuming the personality/spirit of a dead man. Any men who die before their initiation turn into wandering souls with the potential to torment the living. It is the women’s responsibility to avert this danger.
They will abandon children and family duties for months or even years in order to fulfill their initiation. They move freely, sometimes with a certain mischievous attitude, sometimes in a state of quasi possession. Women embody those male souls and perform the initiation that the men could not perform in their lifetime. Afterwards these souls transformed into positive entities, only returning periodically dancing in the village. Such moments and rituals show the complexity and specificity of women’s spiritual role in the Bijagós world.
For the major initiation, the elders take a group of men and or women, away into the forest, sometimes for several months in order to be given a boot camp treatment. Some never return. Their clothes are delivered to their families, no questions asked. They will never talk about what happened there. Sons will only be told once they have done the initiation themselves.
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