Symbols of Ndembu Ritual

Andrea Zuvich

2nd April, 2008

Symbols of Ndembu Ritual

In Victor Turner’s work entitled, “Symbols in Ndembu Ritual,” the author explains many aspects of the Ndembu culture. The Ndembu people live in Zambia in southern Africa, and many aspects of their culture deal with the life cycle. The milk tree is symbolic for the people because it represents “the total system of interrelations between groups and persons that make up Ndembu society.[1]” The milk tree also stands for human breast milk and its source: the woman’s breast [2]. A woman’s role in many societies is to become a good wife and mother, and this same emphasis is placed on the women of the Ndembu people.

Among the Ndembu, “the girl’s puberty ritual was part of her marriage ritual, and marriage marked her transition from girlhood to womanhood.[3]” This is similar to many cultures around the world, including the Chilean culture (from which I am descended). In Chile, girls are taught everything that has to do with housework including: sewing, cooking, cleaning, knitting, etc. Girls are taught to be obedient not only to their parents, but also their husbands later when they are young women. I found similarities to the Chilean culture as I read Turner’s analysis of the Ndembu.


[1]Turner, Victor. “Symbols in Ndembu Ritual.” Anthropological Theory, 495.

[2] Turner, Victor. “Symbols in Ndembu Ritual.” Anthropological Theory, 495.

[3] Turner, Victor. “Symbols in Ndembu Ritual.” Anthropological Theory, 497.

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