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mKwetha: Vincent Mlinjana's Transition from Boy to Man

By andreduplessis
mKwetha Jan 09: Vincent Mlinjana outside Kwanokathula, Plettenberg Bay

Much better viewed large, thanks Smile

I am very grateful to Vincent who allowed me to photograph him today.

Around the age of 18 years Xhosa boys are considered to be emotionally and physically mature enough to undergo 'umoluko'. During this 4 - 5 week trial they are referred to as 'mKwetha's', and live in small makeshift shelters in the woods outside their towns or communities.

At a special ceremony on the day before the actual umoluko, or circumsicion, the boy is officially handed a blanket by the oldest brother or his mother for use in the bush, and the elders will cut his hair.

The circumsicion, which is done by the elders, takes place early the following morning, and then he is led to his little tent (usually build from cardboard and plastic) in the bush. Vincent's circumsicion actually took place right here at his tent.
During the 1st week he was not allowed any fluids, and his diet consisted of dry foods only - mainly corn. This apparently to help with healing of the 'isiko' or 'intentional wound'. Thereafter he was allowed fluids and to cook for himself in the bush. While I was talking to Vincent, two little boys arrived with some provisions for him.
He must also keep a little fire going throughout the month, and has to stay out of sight of all females. On meeting me he held out the stick (bottom of the frame) for me to shake as a welcome, as no one is allowed to touch him while he is a mKwetha.
Vincent showed me the ifuta (chalk) that he covers his entire body with. This is a natural soft stone that he gathered in the surrounding area.

His time will be finished on Tuesday. The same men will return then, and cut his hair again. This will be because he has to leave 'everything' of his boy days behind, and make a fresh start as a responsible adult.
Everything he has with him while in the bush, as well as the blanket and the tent will be burnt.
On his return to his home a sheep will be slaughtered, and he will be expected to perform a special dance to prove that he has undergone the whole process, before the elders will take him aside and tell him the facts of life.

Vincent, who is very softly spoken, and seems like such a gentle person, is presently in Grade 11 (pre-final year) at high school in Knysna, the neighbouring town here in the Garden Route. School will reopen soon after the summer holidays. He is really hoping to gain acceptance to University to study electrical engineering, and once there, also wishes to practice amateur wrestling as his sport of choice.

He has access to broadband at school, and hopefully I can get Vincent to submit a comment on this page once he is back in circulation.

Tags: Photo journalism Black and white Portraits and people

Voters: AlleyCatz, pennyspike, avent aclew and 35 more

Readers' Choice Awards are given to photos that get over 30 votes



pennyspike 19 2.1k 29 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2009 12:44AM
So hard to stop looking at those eyes, the large version is a must.
A powerful image, I await the narrative with interest.
PeelNStick 18 4 United States
19 Jan 2009 12:59AM
Powerful photo.
SueTurner 18 81 3 England
19 Jan 2009 1:11AM
a very intense stare, keeps your interest for ages
Rylands 15 1 2 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2009 3:08AM
A very strong image
VIKI 16 18 1 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2009 7:16AM
jonathanbp 14 99 Thailand
19 Jan 2009 8:02AM
superb mono - Jonathan
19 Jan 2009 8:36AM
Great shot and a very interesting story, I hope you managed more than 1 shot?
georg 18 4 South Africa
19 Jan 2009 9:16AM
Lovely photo. Although I've seen this so many times in South Africa, your write-up gave me more insight into the whole ritual.
19 Jan 2009 11:00AM
Thank you for the feedback. Ingrid - It was too dark and smoky inside the hut, but I did get another quite smilar shot with a bit moe of his rudimentary hut included. Shall have another look at that one to see if it justifies an upload. Andre
19 Jan 2009 4:54PM
andre die foto het die potensiaal om baie goed te doen! great storie en net n tipiese voorbeeld van die kulture van die land waarin ons lewe. Dit werk uitstekend in B&W! ek dink hier kom tenminste n HC!!!
ugly Plus
15 9 58 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2009 8:35PM
Love the detail in this mono..
What a great capture...
Top marks for this shot...
Well done..

KennyG 14 Belgium
19 Jan 2009 10:56PM
Intense and captivating.

Thanks for another great picture and, as always, your expert constructive critique and encouragement Andre.

User_Removed 17 7 8 Netherlands
20 Jan 2009 12:17PM
very intense André
ToothPilot 15 50 4 United Kingdom
25 Jan 2009 11:47AM
Another great shot Andre. Can you upload a variation of a closer crop around the shoulders and face only. I feel it will work better without the clutter behind his face. Perhaps use blurr tool and take out some of the detail behind him. I love the intensity of his face, so want that part "stronger". Looks like a National Geographic front cover!!
25 Jan 2009 1:24PM
Hi Henk. Glad to se that you are back from the moutains in one piece! Certainly - I shall upload another variant with a closer crop.
Thanks for commenting, Andre

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