Photo Credit: Light Rocket

The Fulani culture presents a vast system; involving ancient initiations. The institution is of vital importance to the nomadic Fulani, and all kinds of customs and ceremonies have arisen around it.

One such ceremony is the Sharo, a public flogging that is a test of manhood. Not all Fulani nomadic groups observe this ceremony or insist on it before a young man may marry.

For some, it is merrily a sport, indulged in for its own sake. Probably the keenest exponents of the Sharo are the Jafun Fulani (whose ranks are still considered the finest) found in Nigeria.

The Sharo is a test of endurance; a youth is expected to undergo severe flogging in public without flinching. It is normally staged twice a year, during the dry-season guinea corn harvest and the Muslim festival of Id-el-Kabir.

It may occasionally be held during a marriage, at the naming ceremony of the firstborn child of a renowned Sharo exponent, to honor a chief, or as a contest between clans.

The Sharo is a festival in its own right and attracts Fulanis from far and wide. It is usually held in a marketplace and lasts for seven days. Men and women gather at the designated place all dressed up for the occasion.

Various kinds of entertainment are available like the dance of maidens, performances by well-known singers’ folk songs, and all kinds of tricksters, etc. But these are only a precursor to the main event that is to follow.

The young men who are to participate in this transformation rite are attended by those who might be called upon should they be unable to finish the intended act and surrounded by a small crowd of relatives, friends, and well-wishers.

As they make their way to the center ring, these bare-chested men are escorted by beautiful girls. When the Sharo is about to begin, young men carrying staffs and pretending fierceness clear the ground of spectators.

The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers, and the tempo of the music, provided mainly by drums, quickens; the youths cry shrilly and recite incantations.

The festival proceeds with loud liveliness and self-praises from both competitors and challengers. When the excitement is at a high pitch, it is the time for the flogging.

At this point, one of the young men to be flogged comes out and strikes a defiant pose with one leg crossed over the other and arms raised clutching either a staff or a mirror into which he gazes with apparent indifference.

Another young man of about the same age and size approaches, wielding a strong, supple cane about a half-inch thick, and moves around the victim taking careful aim.

Without warning he lands the whip heavily on the other’s ribs, sometimes drawing blood. Blow upon blow may be struck, with the victim shouting for more. The festival also has its referees who are saddled with the responsibility to ensure that the blows are rightly struck and there is fair flogging of the opponent.

The point, however, is that the victim does not flinch but shows utter indifference to pain and even sneers at his attacker. He must endure this without wincing or showing pain, lest he be branded a coward. If he can achieve this, his family and friends surround him with joy, offering gifts and congratulations.

Even the belief that the youth may have protected himself with charms and pain-resistant drugs does not affect the level of joy. He has now displayed his manhood and is considered worthy of a wife. Incidentally, the Fulani have herbal medicines that heal wounds fairly quickly, leaving only scars that the youth may display for all to see as a mark of courage.

At the end of the rite of passage marked by Sharo, the brave and enduring young boy who is now a man is allowed to marry his choice from the maids in the clan. With adherence to the Islamic religion, he can marry up to four wives provided he can care for them all.

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 having over the years been eroded with the introduction of Islam, the Jafun Fulani in Nigeria still hold this age-long festival in high esteem.

Today, the one unique thing people only remember the Fulani culture with is the Sharo festival which has been preserved for many centuries.

By  Naijassador


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