The one thing that the older people in my family and community seem to agree about the most is that this new South Africa we live in has changed the way some of our oldest traditions are practised.

They say that the way amaKrwala (newly initiated men) act and dress is different to the way their fathers and grandfathers experienced it. Hell, even the chicks aren’t safe from the elders’ criticism.

They also say that Abatshakazi (newly married women) act and dress differently to the way their mothers and grandmothers did. But that’s a topic for another day. Right now I’d like us to talk about oobhuti abatsha (amaKrwala).

Every Xhosa person knows by now that after a boy emerges from initiation school as a new man, he comes home to umgidi (celebrations for the family and community) where he’s welcomed home and accepted as a new member to Xhosa manhood. One of the problems with this new South Africa, the older people say, is that this new man doesn’t dress the way our culture says he must dress. According to them, iKrwala starts his journey into manhood by wearing a suit (or a blazer and formal pants – as long as they are formal) and a cap or a hat (not a straw hat) for a period of six months after his umgidi.

There are rules about which colours he must wear and how he is supposed to wear his suit. He may not wear bright colours like orange, yellow and especially red. The fear is that these colours make him look too noticeable, like some sort of clown, when he is supposed to be doing everything he can to earn respect and carry himself with dignity. That’s why iKrwala isn’t even supposed to look around, run or be loud when he is walking on the streets. He’s supposed to wear a plain-coloured cap and long plain-coloured socks – not ones with stripes and bright-coloured dots or things like this.

And, to add to that, he isn’t supposed to wear his suit after dark (so from 6 pm he must change into a jersey or something) and must, in fact, not even leave the house after that time. He’s also supposed to wear face paint called imbola from the morning until 6 pm.

That is what the elders say they expect from iKrwala.
So how is the new generation of men different, you ask?
Well, for a start, the elders say, they wear bright colours – extremely bright ones! And, then, only wear their suits for three, two or worse, one month. You find some of them in taverns or walking the streets after dark. Others whistle at girls or stand with their girlfriends in the street and when you, as an older man, point it out to them, they react with anger and cheek as if you’ve disrespected them.

But is all this change wrong?

#ChatBack: Is it wrong for the new amaKrwala to dress differently to how the elders dressed back in their day or should change be allowed in culture?

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