Graduate student Meghan C. Halley, with the guidance of Dr. Jill E. Korbin, will undertake ethnographic and comparative research examining the role of adolescent initiation rituals in shaping adolescent behavior in rural Mtwara, Tanzania. The rural district of Mtwara is one of only a few regions in Tanzania in which adolescent initiation rituals are still widely practiced. Referred to as unyago for girls and jando for boys, these rituals provide young people with explicit instruction on gender roles and family life, including reproduction. Despite the long history of these rituals, recent changes both in the practices themselves and in the social, political, and economic contexts in which they occur have fueled controversy over the role of these practices in shaping youth behavior.
Through person-centered ethnography of youths' experiences of the initiation process, the researcher will explore how individuals understand, interpret, and utilize the concepts, values, and meanings discussed in unyago and jando. She will also utilize a systematic, comparative framework to examine the interaction between these rituals and other underlying biopsychological, environmental, economic, and cultural factors that may influence youths' reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
This research is important for its potential to improve social science theory regarding the salient factors shaping enculturation during adolescence in general, as well as the shifting role of adolescent initiation practices within this process. As traditional practices such as unyago and jando meet with emerging concerns over adolescent reproductive health, in-depth, systematic examination of the role of such practices in shaping youth behavior is necessary to address these concerns.