Angola: Fico ritual of the Muila tribe

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof

In the West-African country Angola there are still several nomadic tribes who celebrate traditional Ficos, or ceremonies. Each tribe does this in their own way. Ficos symbolize transitional rites. In some cases, such as the Mula community, there are three Fico-stages, starting from the early age of eight years.

The girls are getting married around the age of sixteen. This is followed by the most important and second Fico ritual. The hair changes from red uncula to a more complex shape. The community celebrates this for a few days with dancing, drumming, drinking and eating, financed by the families of the initiated girls. In most cases they are peer groups of girls from the neighboring villages who attend a fico.

By changing and colouring the hair, it is clear what stage the girls and women are at and what change they are going through. The uninitiated girls (i.e. from the age of eight) are called Ficar. They can be recognized by wearing red uncula (a mixture of reddish clay and butter) that covers the hair.

Finally, the third phase follows when initiated women have their first child. The uncular hair strength changes to a yellowish color and symbolizes the full status of the adult woman. The hairstyle is complemented by cow horns, the totem animal of the Muila.

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