Msondo: the puberty rite where boiled egg is used to break the virginity of girls in Malawi

The stage of puberty is seen as an important step in the life of adolescents in many parts of Africa. Anthropological studies have found that colorful ceremonies in various African societies are held to signify this milestone in the transition from childhood to adulthood.

In some communities, this means an opportunity to school the young adolescent on sexual and reproductive health as well as how to maintain personal hygiene. In parts of Eastern and Southern Malawi, among the initiation rites performed include the inserting of a boiled egg into the vagina to break the hymen.

This rite precedes when the young adult girl starts menstruating and becomes aware of her body, which means an elderly woman at this stage can take them through lessons on how to please their husbands in the future, according to United Nations Population Fund report.

Why this education is important is because it is believed that the young adult girl is old enough to get pregnant. The elderly women at this stage advise them to avoid sex before marriage to avoid pregnancy and not to eat eggs because it could affect their ability to become pregnant in the future.

In the absence of an elderly woman, an aunt or adult female relative can school the teenage girl on their journey to be an adult woman.

In the Malawi culture, the initiation rites begin between the age of 6 and 13 years before menstruation, according to Elizabeth Schroeder, who wrote on initiation rites in East and Southern Africa. According to her, this is the stage where the boiled egg is inserted into the vagina to break the girl’s virginity. This rite is known as msondo.

She explained that this rite of passage usually lasts two weeks and is supervised by an elderly woman called anankungwi.

The second period of initiation which is called cindakula is used to advise teenage girls to avoid having sex so they do not get pregnant. This has often been criticized by the Malawi Human Rights Commission because they believe some rites of passage allow young girls to be sexually exploited in the name of initiation.

One of them is kunyekulira where the girls are taught to sexually wriggle their waist around and assist men during intercourse.

Another aspect of the rites is the call on the young girls to dance to songs that are replete with sexual innuendos and expletives.

HIV/AIDS Campaigners Banda and Kunkeyani in their paper on renegotiating cultural practices said acts of teaching girls how to offer the best sex to the opposite gender and dance while naked are exploitative.

In these ceremonies, community members are allowed to freely watch these girls participating in the act and place monies directly on the vaginal area. Any person is also allowed to freely touch the breasts of these girls during the dance upon giving them a gift.

Each song these girls dance to has a particular message it conveys. It is to test whether the girls have understood the lessons passed on during the initiation rites.

In the end, the girls are advised to identify any boy to have sex with to avoid kutuwa which means getting pale and they call this practice kusasa fumbi or kuchotsa fumbi or removing dust.

Stephen Nartey

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