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Africa: Richness In Ritual

For Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, African Ceremonies is much more than a book. It is a labor of love 10 years in the making, reports Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel.

"Angela and I met in Africa 22 years ago and shared a dream to do a comprehensive story of the most powerful ceremonies and rites of passage that move people from one stage of life to another, from birth to death," explains Beckwith.

The product of their effort is a massive two-volume 16-pound set called African Ceremonies, containing 847 photos. Even though it retails for $150, it is already in its second printing.

Angela Fisher: enjoyed cultural traditions

Fisher and Beckwith say they fell in love with Africa because of its rich variety of traditional cultures.

African Ceremonies includes 43 different rituals, but the authors say they could have been in Africa for 100 years and still have found new things.

Among the rituals they documented for the book:

  • The Wodaabe courtship in Central Niger. The men perform charm and beauty dances before 500 to 1,000 women, who choose their boyfriends, husbands and lovers. The men spend hours making themselves up, the better to show off their bright eyes and sparkling teeth. Considered especially desirable is any man who can hold one eye still while rolling his other eye in and out.
  • Donga stick fighting. This violent Surma ritual allows the men to show off their masculinity and win wives. The only rule: Combatants must not kill their opponents. While observing the fight, performed once a week for an entire day, Beckwith and Fisher had to be lifted up into tree branches so that they wouldn't be decapitated.
  • The Maasai warriors have a ceremony that happens once every seven years, but Beckwith and Fisher believe the world has seen the last one. It's where 700 warriors come across the plains from Kenya traditionally attired to prove what they have achieved in war, the ability to hunt, to attract young girls and the chance to show off their magnificent prowess. Each warrior wears a headdress made from a lion's mane.
  • The Ashanti jubilee. Once every 25 years, the Ashanti king is brought out to celebrate his reign. He is covered with gold to symbolize the power and wealth of the continent. His arms are so heavily adorned with gold that he needs to have arm bearers running alongside to support their weight.
As two women traveling alone, they had some difficult times during their research. They were threatened and proposed to nd, at one point, forced to bare their breasts.
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In Surmaland, some people wanted to ambush them on their way out. But their guide cleverly arranged to have a dinner for all the chiefs.

On the way out, he arranged to have a chief between each animal on the mule train. So Beckwith and Fisher walked out, shielded by the chiefs. Their would-be assassins, stationed in the trees, did not dare to fire a single shot as long as the chiefs were there.

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