We had about an hour on our boats before we reassembled to take a local ferry across the bay to Kapota village to watch their annual coming of age festival. By now we had been assigned personal guides, young students wanting to practice their English, who mother-henned us through crowds and made sure we didn’t get lost.
When we arrived at Kapota, festivities were in full swing. We were herded into a huge tent packed with mothers, aunties, and grandmothers busily fussing over small children dressed in elaborate costumes and two-foot tall head gear. The men sat in a large circle through which these young kids would eventually pass. I was pulled and pushed to the front to witness the mandatory chalk marking of ankles and toe dipping into sand. All the kids looked traumatized as they were man-handled by their families through the ordeal and seated in the big area. The cacophony of whooping and cheering by so many people was overwhelming. Eventually we all spilled out into the streets where these young children and their mothers squeezed into kasondaa’ stretchers (like palanquins) atop bamboo poles. They were carried through the streets by male family members surrounded by hordes of people, looping twice through the village. Periodically the litter bearers would stop and thrust the kasondaa’ high into the air sending it’s occupants out of their seats to much cheering by all. Thankfully my guide prevented me from getting run over by the crowd as I videotaped the procession.
The explanation I got was a celebration going from one age group to another as they begin their Muslim moral training to adulthood. If you don’t go through the ceremonies you won’t be allowed to marry.
After the crowds dispersed we were invited to lunch in the Regent’s house where we again folded ourselves onto the floor with mystery food. We talked about this ceremony for weeks afterward barely believing what we’d witnessed.