Among the Kabye people in northern Togo, a young Kabye man does not belong to the community unless he goes through the evala initiation process.
Evala is an initiation rite that involves a ritual fight/wrestling, marking the passage of young males to the stage of adulthood.
A week before the festival, young men aged between 15 and 20 years live in isolated huts away from their families. Here, the participants go through tests, such as consuming dog meat, an animal signifying endurance and courage, qualities that the wrestlers need to defeat their opponents during the fights.
They must also endure climbing three mountains as a pilgrimage. Those unable to complete the process face humiliation and do not get initiated into adulthood.
Before the commencement of the match, each competing family performs some ancestral worship rituals to invoke the spirits of the ancestors and pour libation. The women also prepare local dishes, mostly made from yam and cassava, served to the wrestlers after the match.
The ceremony then begins with the participants being painted in white powder, followed by the wrestling, which involves two teams comprising 4 or 5 wrestlers who face bare-chested before their families and the community members, who encourage them with songs and shouts.
Whether or not one wins, the tribe recognizes him as a man. A young man who does not partake in the fight is not considered an adult, particularly among his peers.
This ritual is to make the young men tough, brave and tolerant. It also marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood and the affirmation of their cultural identity.
The winners head to the chief's residence, where they for presentation with red berets. They then bear the status of warriors as they are considered the best fighters. The red cap dance, considered a symbol of maturity and courage in the men's initiation ceremony, is performed.
At the end of the Evala, the traditional priests visit the sacred places to thank the ancestors for a smooth initiation process.
To crown it all, the young men take a new social status with the right to exploit the land on their own, marry and defend the village in case of attack.
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