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SSO

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Sso (rite)

The Sso was an initiation rite practiced by the Beti of Cameroon in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The participants were young men between 15 and 25 years of age who, by completing the rite, became adults and enjoyed added privileges, such as passage into the land of the ancestors at death. Each boy was sponsored by an esia Sso (Sso father). The sponsor of the rite was a village headman; he was expected to provide food and lodging for guests and to pay for several large feasts during the rite's six-month duration. Other important figures were the zum loa, who revealed past sins that the sponsor had committed and which would be expiated by the rite's completion, and the mfek Sso, who organised and administered the rite.

The Sso candidates lived away from the sponsor's compound in a barracks called the esam Sso. The rite consisted of numerous feasts for the sponsors and elders and harrowing trials for the candidates. The boys had no instruction or supervision and relied on hunting and stealing to survive. After five months, the mfek Sso gathered the candidates around the ritual Sso tree and signalled the rite's last stages. In the final ordeal, the boys danced around their compound, were sprayed with ants or itching powder, and crawled through a tunnel from the esam Sso to the sponsor's compound. After one final hunt, the rite was completed and the boys obtained adult status.

The Sso was important because it provided a means by which unrelated Beti lineages could form bonds, and, unlike with marriage, more than two lineages could participate. Sso candidates bonded with one another, and the Sso sponsor bonded with the boys' fathers and sponsors. The rite held an important place in Beti religion, as it was seen as a means by which a man could gain entry into the land of the ancestors after death. For the other villagers, the Sso was a source of entertainment and an excuse to socialise in large groups. During Cameroon's colonial period, colonial authorities opposed the rite.