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HomeLifestyleCulture & ReligionInside the Afar Tribe Teeth Sharpening Tradition 

Inside the Afar Tribe Teeth Sharpening Tradition 

Afar people reside principally in the Horn of Africa. They are mostly found in countries like Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The tribe name Afar means First or The Best. 

Though little is known of the origin of the Afar people, there are two distinctive divisions, namely The Red Afar (Asayahamara) and the White Afar (Adoyahamara). They speak the Afar language and Arabic. 

However, what makes the Afar people so famous is the tradition of sharpening teeth that they have carried for many generations. Mostly, they sharpen the front incisor manually to assume a ‘V’ shape. 

But you may be wondering, why such a strange tradition? Why do the Afar people sharpen their teeth?

Well, they do it for the following reasons: 

1. For Identification Purposes 

The Afar people carry out the teeth sharpening ritual as a sense of identification from other communities and tribes surrounding them. 

2. To Initiate Young Girls and Boys into Adulthood 

Another reason why the Afar tribe performs the teeth sharpening ritual is to draw a line that a young boy or girl has reached puberty, and it’s a sign that they are now initiated into adulthood.

It also symbolizes that the young kids are now able to bear the pain and are ready to become young adults. 

3. It’s a Sign of Spiritual Protection 

Sharpening the teeth for the Afar people also acts as spiritual protection for them. It’s usually done when one is especially seeking spiritual protection. It also happens when one is chosen as a spiritual leader. 

4. It’s Done for Them to Look Like Animals 

Sound weird, right? But it’s not weird to the Afar people. Teeth sharpening is also done so that they can resemble certain powerful animals like the crocodile. To them, resembling such an animal is a sign of masculinity. 

5. It’s a Sign of Beauty 

To the Afar people, the teeth sharpening ritual is a sign of beauty, especially to young women. According to the tribe, a woman with sharpened teeth looks attractive. 

We rest our case here. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and if the Afar men find Afar women attractive when they sharpen their teeth, we have nothing to deduct from their opinion. 

Can Anyone Perform a Teeth Sharpening Ritual? 

Definitely No! The teeth sharpening ritual is only done by chosen men and women who are believed to possess the skill gift from their gods since birth. They also train other chosen people who learn the craft of teeth sharpening. 

The reason why the ritual is not carried out by just anyone is because teeth sharpening requires great skills, and one needs to exercise patience to prevent injuring a person during the ritual. 

Are the Afar people still carrying out The teeth-sharpening Ritual? 

With the introduction of Westernization and education during the 20th century, the teeth-sharpening ritual died.

However, some Afar people chose to preserve their traditions, so the ritual still goes on and is passed from generation to generation.  

Other African Tribes that Still Perform the Teeth Sharpening Ritual

The Afar tribe is not the only tribe that performs teeth-sharpening rituals I Africa. Below are other tribes that still sharpen their teeth: 

  • Makonde Tribe in Tanzania sharpen their lower and upper incisors to assume a peg shape 
  • The Baka tribe in Cameroon sharpen their teeth for aesthetic reasons 
  • The Zappo Zap and Upoto tribes of Congo also sharpen their teeth to assume a maxillary arch 
  • The Mentawaian  tribe of Uganda sharpen their teeth as an indication of transformation from puberty to adulthood 

The Afar tribe’s teeth sharpening tradition offers a fascinating glimpse into the cultural practices of this unique community. Despite modern influences, some Afar people continue to uphold this ancient ritual as a sign of adulthood, identification, for spiritual reasons, masculinity, and as a sign of beauty.

While the practice may seem unconventional to outsiders, it holds deep significance within the Afar society and serves as a testament to the resilience and preservation of their cultural heritage across generations.

Geoffrey Migiro

Geoffrey Migiro is a contributor at Kenyalogue.com, dedicated to sharing impactful stories. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Science and Technology from Egerton University. With a keen ability to uncover the human aspect in each story, Geoffrey excels in crafting compelling narratives that resonate with his audience. Prior to joining Kenyalogue, he worked at WordAtlas.com

Geoffrey Migirohttps://kenyalogue.com/
Geoffrey Migiro is a contributor at Kenyalogue.com, dedicated to sharing impactful stories. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Science and Technology from Egerton University. With a keen ability to uncover the human aspect in each story, Geoffrey excels in crafting compelling narratives that resonate with his audience. Prior to joining Kenyalogue, he worked at WordAtlas.com
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