As a person moves from childhood through adolescence to adulthood and finally to old age, their society often recognizes these various stages of their life. In the United States, we celebrate occasions like the birth of a baby, graduation from school, marriage, and retirement through special gatherings or ceremonies. We often send greeting cards or take photographs, like this birthday party photo, to capture these moments. These events are part of our life cycle - a time of growth and change.
The Life Cycle in Africa
In a similar way, people throughout the African continent celebrate important times by performing rituals, dramas, or festivals called rites of passage. Some of the most important life cycle celebrations in Africa happen at childbirth and adolescence, puberty, marriage, and elderhood. Each African community celebrates these stages of life in its own way, and most communities recognize rites of passage with a kind of dramatic event that includes art objects.
Explore the following artworks and notice the many different kinds of objects used during rites of passage. You will also notice a range of artistic styles. Despite the different look each piece has, they all symbolize the changes a person undergoes in his or her life cycle.

Click on the objects below to learn more about the stages in the life cycle celebrated by various peoples in Africa.

Birth and Adolescence


Marriage and Family



© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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