Ross recently finished a paper on the Makonde male initiation rites, particularly on the lipiko (mask) dance, for one of his graduate school classes. The following is a select portion of the paper that may be of interest to blog readers.

“The lipiko dancer arrives after the neophytes have been warned about a possible lion attack. Lions that attack humans are believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. So a man who kills a man-eating lion is highly respected; he is fearless and able to master a spirit.

The elders tell the young boys that they must attack the lion if one appears. When the lipiko dancer arrives, the men block the boys in a circle and force them to attack it. Makonde boys are conditioned in their culture to fear the lipiko dancer because they believe it is a spirit; when it appears they are terrified. The men taunt and even beat the boys until they prove their courage by attacking and capturing the spirit.

When the neophytes have successfully tackled the lipiko man, they discover its human identity. This is the moment of their transformation into manhood when they prove their courage by facing and conquering unknown spiritual forces.”

“The lapiko ceremony…offers insight into the Makonde’s search for power over the invisible realm. This prevalent felt need must be addressed for those interested in Christian mission to this people. The resurrected Christ, who is above all forces, ought to be good news to those who desire power and are oppressed by malicious spirits.

However, a problem arises when Christianity–its words, symbols, and sacraments–is used as a new manipulative magic to attain material well being.

…So while Christian witness ought to include an answer to the felt need of power, this approach can easily lead to syncretism. Makonde people need the power offered by Christ undivided from the truth of Christ.”