Traditional methods of teaching girls about puberty vary in Africa from tribe to tribe just as they do between cultures around the world. Our research has been with our local people here in South Luangwa, the Kunda, but many neighbouring people have similar beliefs and traditions.
Here in the Luangwa Valley, when a girl starts her first period she will go to an aunt, grandmother or just an older woman, but not to her mother, for advice. Certain rituals may take place and Kunda women like to keep these secret - or at least just for the ears and eyes of women. We respect their wish.
The traditional village woman who may perform the rituals of initiation and teach a girl about puberty and growing up are known as 'alengezi'. An alengezi will instruct a girl on many things including how she must act now she is no longer a child; how to care for herself during her menses and explain that no one should see her underwear.
Traditional Methods of Menstrual Hygeine Management
Girls are taught to use a piece of cloth, torn from an old 'chitenge', during menstruation. A 'chitenge' is a 2 yard length of cloth used in many parts of Africa as a wrap around skirt, or used to strap a baby to a mother's back. It usually has a different name in each country and it similar to a sarong.
First a girl may tear off a long strip to use as a belt around the waist. To this is added folded fabric worn from front to back and tucked into the waistband. It can be bulky and, as only old chitenges are usually used, they are thin, worn and only absorb very little meaning they often leak.
Through consultation with the community, we helped to come up with a better way.
See here for more.