Sticks play an important symbolic role in male initiation rites. In the case of older initiates, they are used to mark the transition to manhood.
Young initiates, like these Sotho youths from the Sasolburg area, are encouraged to affirm their new status as adult men. For this reason, they all receive fighting sticks as a symbol of their virility.
During the initiation period, young men from most southern African groups receive instruction in the martial art of stick fighting. Once they return to their homes, these sticks are supposed to remain with them for the rest of their lives. Historically adult men carried fighting sticks both to protect themselves and their families from danger, and to hunt small game and birds on their journeys to and from home.
By Professor Sandra Klopper