In Nigeria, when you think of slave trade and the colonisation of Africa, one picture readily comes to mind for those who are not privileged to witness the period. This picture is portrayed in the award winning movie casted in Gambia, ‘The Roots’. One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is the rite of passage for the adolescent to attain manhood. This movie, based on a true story tale depicts the Kinte family with their son Kunta Kinte who at the age of 15 joined other adolescents to perform a tribal “coming of manhood”, rite of passage to becomeMandinka warriors. In the same vein the Fulani people of West Africa characterised with culturally diverse and dispersed people practice the Sharo/Shadi festival. This festival is the most important festival to the Fulfulde speaking nomads to test the bravery of their adolescents.
Sharo cultural festival as a major event in the Fulani settlements attracts people from all works of life to witness the bravery spectacle exhibited by the young and energetic Fulanis. Despite the festival has over the years being eroded with the introduction of Islam, the Jafun Fulani in Nigeria still hold this age long festival in high esteem. The festival is held twice in a year, during the dry-season guinea corn harvest and the Muslim festival of Id-el-Kabir. Thus, the Sharo festival would have just been concluded few days back.
Usually held in a market place for a week, the festival displays the test of endurance and elicit the strength and perseverance of young males to withstand the pain emanating from severe flogging. This public flogging is of vital importance to the nomadic Fulani, and all kinds of customs and ceremonies are rooted in it. As prelude to this festival, various kinds of entertainment are available which include the maidens dance, performances by minstrels, and all kinds of tricksters.
Sharo, literally meaning flogging meeting, is a kind of sport to the nomadic fulanis. The festival is a test of bravery in which young men lash each other to the point of utmost endurance. The core of the Sharo festival begins with bare-chested contestants, usually unmarried men, approaching the centre ring, escorted by entourage of amazingly beautiful girls. The thunderous cheers of the crowd and drumming engulf the scene of the event coupled with great expectation from the family of the contestant. Following this, the challenger generally of the same age with the contestant comes to the centre of the stage bare-chested as well wielding a mind blowing strong, supple cane about a half inch thick, brandishing it with the sole aim of scaring his opponent.
After the show of intense competition between the competitor and the challenger with the excitement at its highest pitch, the flogging begins. The challenger flogs his opponent without an ounce of sympathy. The victim stoically withstands the flogging sometimes drawing blood, without wincing or showing pain. Just like every other contemporary games, the Sharo festival also has its own referees who are saddled with the responsibility to ensure that the blows are rightly struck and there is fair flogging of the opponent. Surrounded by family members, friends and well wishers, the opponent is motivated with their support and their readiness to offer gifts and other bounties for him if he was able to withstand the pain till the end of the proceedings.
It is worthy of note that sometimes the opponents chant some incantations, use charm or pain resistant drug to fortify them in the course of the flogging. All of these do not matter in the festival as the only paramount interest of observers is the ability of the victim to withstand the pain without any show of pain but to ask for more of the whips. Mostly, the severe floggings leave some indelible scars on the victim despite the fact that the Fulani have herbal medicines that heal the wounds fairly quickly. These scars are later displayed as a mark of bravery and sign for the successful transition to manhood.
At the end of the rite of passage marked by Sharo, the brave and enduring once young boy who is now a man is allowed to marry his choice from the spinsters in the clan. With the adherence of Islamic religion, he can marry up to four wives provided he has the ability to cater for them all.
Despite the fact that the Fulani is a nomadic tribe that moves around in the search for pastorals for their herds, they are no less cultured than any other major tribe in Africa. Their socialisation process is gender specific where the females join their mothers in the kitchen and take care of chores at home. The male on the other hand rear cattle and protect the family. The Fulani culture over the years has been diffused with Islamic tradition leaving them with little practices that survived the cultural mix. One of such predominant practice is the Sharo festival owing to its importance to the Fulfulde speaking people. Little wonder, why today the one unique thing people only remember the Fulani culture with is the Sharo festival that has been preserved for centuries.