Senufo-Tagba of West Africa

illustrated village including buildings and a woman

Senufo-Tagba Boys

children holding hands pictograph

Until about the age of 5, boys spend much of their time together as playmates. They also spend time doing simple chores around the house. If their fathers are blacksmiths or farmers pursuing dry season activities like weaving or tailoring, the boys will begin to observe their fathers' work and help by doing small tasks.

All boys must learn the skills of farming. Around the age of 5, they begin their farming education by supervising small domestic animals (goats, sheep, and chickens). They also do other small chores around the farm. By the time they are 6 or 7, boys are helping with the plowing by guiding the cows that pull the plows.

three children in the village with a pig
Children learn early to take care of animals.
a child leaning against a mound of cotton
Raising local crops, like cotton, is an important skill.

Growing Up and Learning

At 12, a group of 2 to 4 boys will become roommates, moving out of their mothers' homes and into an unoccupied house within the compound. Their days will be spent helping the adults of the village by running errands and delivering messages. They will continue to study the work of their fathers. Also important will be their education in the village kinship network and their own place within the society. This education establishes each person's proper behavior in relation to others in the village. Senufo people bring shame upon themselves by not acting in a way that is appropriate for their place in society.

Much of the learning in this stage of life results from deep observation of the world: education occurs through watching how things are done by elders. If a boy is seen doing something incorrectly, an elder will gently let him know this by saying, "I have never seen that myself." This tells the boy he is not performing a task in the way that it has been traditionally done -- the way he has observed it being done many times before. A Senufo person would be insulted to think he or she would not be corrected for doing something inaccurately. It is believed that people have the ability to improve and to deny them that opportunity is inconsiderate.

an old man resting
Children learn much from their elders.

Transitioning to Adulthood

Around age 15, the young men of the age set really become "somebody," fixing their own identities within the village. They are more involved in everything, including the village's Young Farmers Organization. During the dry season, they build homes of their own where they may receive visitors and girlfriends.

By the age of 17 or 18, the men are ready for marriage. Education does not end with marriage and families, though. As they begin to teach their own children, they continue to observe and learn from their elders. Old age is considered a time of great wisdom, and elders are greatly respected. Those learning to perform activities in addition to farming continue to gain skill and mastery by working with their fathers. The young men feel a moral obligation to carry on this work after their fathers' deaths.