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I’ve been thinking a bit about the wonderful Zulu custom of “Umemulo”. It is a rite of passage for young women, signifying the transition from girlhood to young adulthood. After “umemulo”, a young woman is ready to be married. The rituals involve slaughtering an animal as well as a special dance called “ukusina.”

When I came across this ceremony, it reminded me of the Catholic rite of passage called confirmation.

For a Catholic, confirmation marks the transition from being an infant to being a “grown-up” in the faith, capable of taking on responsibilities and “making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ’s body, that is, the Church.” In other words, once one is confirmed, one becomes a mature soldier of Christ, ready, willing and able to “take one for the team” (team here meaning the Christian faith) because evangelization often involves enduring some hard knocks.

I think there are some parallels worth considering and exploring between “Umemulo” and confirmation, in the quest for the inculturation of the faith (or the Catholicization of traditional African culture, depending on how you look at it). Both rituals involve a rite of passage, preparing one for the rigours of adult life. What could this look like?

I imagine the ceremony taking place outside a church, and perhaps it could reach its culmination with the holy mass or church service inside the church. This would take the place of the thanksgiving animal sacrifice. Any ethnographic nudity would have to go (I don’t think it’s all that common nowadays), but I think a lot of the singing and dancing could remain, especially if it happens outside the church service. It could perhaps be some kind of extended service, happening in two parts: one part outside the church, and another happening within. Some “umemulo” ceremonies already consist of these two components: a traditional ceremony and a contemporary party. I have seen many weddings handled in this way too.

Could this maybe be a step forward in inculturation?