What important symbols and ritual practices did you observe in the film "Return to Belaye"? Did you find any interesting comparisons or contrasts with the coming-of-age rituals in "Masai Women"? How did the change from traditional animist beliefs to Muslim practices affect the ritual practices of this society?
One noticeable ritual practice was the dance the men (and some women) performed together to celebrate Papis Goudiaby's return to the village of the Jola people for his rite of passage into manhood, to be performed in perpetual secret in the forest. The dance, which seemed to spread out to any location to which the dancer wanted to go, had a seemingly unique slow-motion-type style and a loping-like gait (to lope: to move with a slow, swinging, long stride).
Another noticeable ritual practice was the dance trance Papis fell into, which was especially noticeable when he embraced his father but, to his dismay, was pushed away. This provoked great ire and hurt that were visible in Papis's eyes, but there was also visible in his eyes symptoms of a trance-like state induced by the repetitive group dance. His father's rejection also prompted him to say: "I went to the white man's land, but I came back."
While Papis and others had adopted Islam, and become Muslims, as Papis says, the older ones still embraced animism. In his interview, Papis recounts that there were those in the village who doubted his continued respect of the animism fetishes worshiped by the villagers and that one of his goals was to show, while a Muslim, he still respected the fetishes. Since the rite of passage into manhood was an animist ritual, and since the Pare's family had organized the rite for many, many distant generations--though there had not been a rite held since the 1960s (before the time of Papis' birth)--it is fair to say that Muslim practices had exerted a strong restraining influence on the display, beliefs and practices of traditional animist beliefs. Nonetheless, the fetishes still stood in and around the village, animism was still past down to children, and rituals were still remembered and revered even if not practiced, though the Pare had promised himself that the rite of manhood would be performed for the young village men before he died. One contrast is that Maasai rituals and rites of passage are not diluted or influenced by religious beliefs or practices of religions originating outside of Massai Africa.
A significant problem that Westerners see with some tribal rites of passage is that they violate Western beliefs about the sanctity of life and body and violate current scientific focus on such things as ecological practice. An example of this is the Maasai men's Enkang oo-nkiri bull ceremony, which has many significant implications for manhood and male-female relationships. At the Enkang oo-nkiri, men feast on the bull while it is in its raw form; this feasting proves the prowess of each man and none would dare flinch from this ceremony. Also at this ceremony, men grab the skin of the dead bull to mystically determine if their woman has had an affair with a man in a different "age set" (a woman's age set is determined by her husband's age set). A much publicized and argued example of how African tribal rites of passage violate Western ideas is the Maasai women's rite of female circumcision, which is intended to ensure moral sexual conduct after marriage and for which the prospective husband usually pays.
DER Documentary: Maasai Women
DER Documentary: Return to Belaye: A Rite of Passage