Sharo: The Making of Brave Men in the North

To cater for the quality of men their society produces, the Fulfude-speaking tribes of the North have held onto the Sharo Festival.

Some cultural practices in Nigeria have been listed as bizarre, and it is surprising to see that some of them are still practiced today.

Everywhere you turn, the acceptance and institution of Religion has influenced the abolishment of most of these practices; most of which were considered dehumanizing. But some communities have held onto theirs for the longest time. How they have managed to keep them away from the public is one intriguing aspect that needs to be explored. But we will leave that for another day.

One cultural practice that has been held onto is the rites of passage. Many indigenous cultures have different rites of passage for boys and for girls; and from one community to another, it varies. The common features, however, are the test of bravery, strength, knowledge and endurance.

In Nigeria, one of such indigenous people is the Fulani of the North-eastern Nigeria. These people practice a festival known as the Sharo Festival.

The Sharo Festival is celebrated as a public ceremony. It demonstrates the bravery and endurance of boys who are passing into manhood. And it is a major event usually held twice a year within their settlements.

The main attraction is the raw display of endurance. Though many cultural activities have been wiped out by the introduction of Islam, the Jafun-Fulani has firmly held on to the Sharo Festival. The first of this festival usually happens in the dry-season during the guinea corn harvest and the second, during the Muslim festival of Id-el-Kabir.

It is commonly held in an open place, like a market square, and for a week. It commences with dance by maidens, and entertaining performance by minstrels. The high point, of course, is the flogging sequence.

Sharo, which means flogging, tests the bravery of the young initiates as they lash each other to the peak of endurance. The core of the Sharo festival begins with the arrival of bare chested young unmarried men, escorted by very beautiful girls. Their arrival is marked by cheers from family members and supporters who pray not to be disgraced by their sons. The belief is that a son who endures the flogging brings respect to his family.

The challenger is of the same age group with the contestant and provokes by wielding a big thick cane at him with the sole purpose of inflicting pain.  He flogs his opponent without a shred of compassion while the opponent bravely withstands the pain without flinching and instead screams for more to aggravate his challenger. Like most sports, a referee is provided to make sure every stroke is correctly struck to prevent serious injuries like blindness.

Of course, it will be very difficult to withstand such pain without any form of assistance, so most contestants are seen to silently recite mantras during the flogging or have previously gone through a traditional fortification in preparation for the big day. The severe floggings most times leave an indelible scar on the victim which he is proud of. The scar is a mark of bravery and a successful transition to manhood.

At the end of the Sharo, the brave and enduring boys become men and are permitted to marry the girl of their choice from the clan. In accordance with the tenets of Islamic religion, he can marry up to four wives provided he has the capacity to provide for them.

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