As much as we all like to complain about our lives, we could definitely have it much worse than we do. It’s a known fact that we want what we can’t have, which means we spend most of our time thinking about how we could have more than we do, never considering how much less we could have instead. Not only does this exclude us from understanding the plight of those less off in our countries, but it also distracts us from some of the unpleasant things happening to people around the world.
We can pretty much say for definite right now that not having to go through a rite of passage might be one of the best things about living in a western society. Sure, you’ve got your debutante balls and your bar mitzvahs, but this pales in comparison to what some people do to their young in other countries. While we’re sure this applies to woman as well, we’re going to be focusing on men in this list, but who knows? Maybe you’ll be seeing a female rite of passage list soon enough.
So, are you ready to hear about some of the most insane male rites of passage out there? We wouldn’t be so sure if we were you…
15. Bullet Ant Glove
While this one certainly sounds like it could quite possibly be the most unpleasant on our list, we have to admit that it also sounds like the least extravagant. To those not in the know, the Bullet Ant is considered by the scientific community to have the worst sting of all ants, with many claiming that the throbbing pain can take you over for up to twenty-four hours. However, that’s the stinging pain from just one ant. The Satere-Mawe tribe force their boys passing into adulthood to put on an entire glove with numerous bullet ants woven into it, for ten minutes, without making a noise. Believe it or not, but some of them will be expected to do this more than once before they’re considered men by the tribe. While one Bullet Ant will leave you in unimaginable pain, these poor boys take in so much venom from the ants that they shake uncontrollably for days, as well as lose all use of their arm.
14. Land Diving
Before we get started, land diving is about as dangerous as it sounds. Taking a concept similar to bungee jumping but to insane levels of danger and possible fatality, the Vanuatu people take part in this ritual every year at harvest, but it’s only expected of the males. The villagers build a new wooden tower each year, the crude structure acting as a chance for the men to jump from anywhere between 10 to 100 feet and sometimes more. The men who want to be a part of the ceremony volunteer to climb the tower before tying a vine to the top and attaching themselves to the tower by their feet. They then throw themselves from the top, often reaching up 45 miles per hour. The point is to come as close to the ground as possible, but any small miscalculation can end in injury and death. Beyond the godly harvest ceremony, the ritual is also used to initiate their young boys into manhood.
While nosebleeds can be annoying, we can all agree that they’re not the worst thing in the world and are pretty much painless most of the time. However, that doesn’t mean that nose-bleeding can’t also be one of the most cringe-worthy things you’re about to hear all day. In Papua New Guinea, a tribe known as the Sambia tribe puts their youngs boys through a whole trial of unpleasantness that we won’t get into here but which includes the aforementioned nose-bleeding. With their backs up against a tree so that they cannot get away, the boys experience ceremonial bloodletting. This entails the older men of the tribe forcing hard grasses and sticks up their noses until they start to bleed. Once they do, the men let out a collective war cry, and they continue on with the rest of the hazing rituals needed to be considered a man within the tribe.
12. Whip Match
While it sounds incredibly unpleasant, barbaric, and painful, we have to admit that this particular rite of passage undertaken by young Fula boys actually makes more sense to us than a lot of the others on this list. Rather than relying on a connection to the spiritual, this one is a physical battle between two boys in an attempt to be recognized as a man. Not only that, but the boys are from differing villages, meaning that there’s also the concept of tribal competition in there. Just in case you were thinking that this one doesn’t sound as unpleasant and painful as some of the others on this list, the whips that are given to the Fula boys also contain thorns and sharpened points. However, they also expect the two boys to show as little pain on their faces as possible, which still seems pretty unreasonable if you ask us.
In the same vein as tattoos and piercings, scarification is a concept that many westerners have an understanding of but are unlikely to know exactly how the process was once used as a male rite of passage. While it’s something that many rites of passage include, it’s something the Sepik River tribes seem to take to an insane degree. The elders of the tribe take to the boy with razor blades, making numerous and extensive cuts across their bodies. Once they scar, these cuts leave numerous parts of the boy’s bodies looking like the hide of an alligator as the tribe believes the spirit of this alligator will eat the boy within and leave him a man. On top of everything else, this scarring is actually only a small part of a larger ritual, one that sees the boy enduring days’ worth of public humiliation. We’ll just stick with our sixteenth birthday…
10. Lion Hunting
Like a lot of the rituals on this list, this one has started to change quite heavily since the intervention of other countries has stopped them from being performed how they once were. A tribe known as the Masai like to replace their warrior class every 6-10 years, presumably to keep them as fresh and healthy as possible for a job so important. To do this, young men are circumcised and placed into a warrior’s camp where they live until it’s their time to take over. There was once a time when these warriors would be forced to prove their worth by stalking, hunting, and killing a lion with just their own knowledge of the land and a spear. Unsurprisingly, this practice is no longer part of the ritual as the animals are protected by legislation brought in by the government in an attempt to protect them. Probably for the best…
9. Cow Jumping
This is quite possibly the oddest addition to this list, an addition that pales in comparison to some of the horrors that we’ve yet to outline, but one that still deserves its place on this list. In Ethiopia, young men are expected to take part in a ritual that has them jumping back and forth over four castrated bulls a total of three times before returning back to the ground a man. Doesn’t sound that bad really, does it? Well, the truly odd thing about this ritual is the fact that the “men” seem to be doing a lot better off than the women. During the ritual, a group of young girls start it off by dancing and jumping, with each of these girls usually being a close friend or relative of the boy who’s about to turn a man. Before they start the cow-jumping part of the ritual, these young women hand sticks to the official men of the tribe, who beat and whip them until they show blood — this highlighting that the woman endured pain for the boy’s transition. Why are the women getting it worse than the men in this rite of passage?!
8. Helot Killing
In ancient Sparta, the only way to be considered a man within society was to become a soldier, which seems pretty restrictive if you ask us. You couldn’t even choose this yourself as you shifted onto the cusp of manhood, as the Spartans would take boys at age seven, placing them into a system that would hold onto them for an entire decade. Kept away from their family, they would spend every day till their eighteenth birthday learning how to become a killing machine. Once they’d turned eighteen, they only needed to take part in the Spartan rite of passage of Helot killing that would see them become a man and a soldier. What is a Helot, you ask? Oh, it’s the name that was given to state-owned slaves. Placed in the countryside with only a knife, the soldier would be expected to kill his way back to his school, usually waiting until night to attack.
7. Hook Hanging
Hook Hanging was a ritual taken part in by the Mandans, a Native American tribe. If you’re thinking that the name is unpleasant enough, then you may want to skip onto the next paragraph for now, but we promise that it won’t get too graphic. Essentially, once a boy in the Mandan tribe was ready to ascend into manhood, he would start his journey by fasting for three days. Then, he would have his skin pierced by wooden splints all across his body, the elders placing them across his chest, back, and shoulder muscles. We reckon you can probably guess where this is going, but for those still unsure, he would be suspended from ropes by these splints, expected to not once cry out in pain. If this wasn’t bad enough, the boy would eventually faint from the pain. He would be taken down and, once awake, would have his finger chopped off as a sacrifice to the gods. The torture still wasn’t over, as the splints would then be ripped out by the villagers in the opposite direction to how they were first embedded.
6. Enemy Sacrifices
It almost seems that the further you go back in tradition, the more barbaric the rite of passage either was or is. We don’t know what’s happening, but it would seem that people are just becoming more naturally open to the concept of rites of passage that aren’t bleakly barbaric. During the Aztec empire, all boys would start their military training once they passed their seventeenth birthday, a training that would only be completed once he was able to capture an enemy and bring him back to his village. This prisoner would be sacrificed by the boy and only then would he be considered a man by those around him. If the soldier then wants to progress further, becoming either a Jaguar or an Eagle warrior, he must continue to sacrifice his enemies. To be exact, an Eagle warrior would’ve captured and sacrificed twenty-one different prisoners. Pretty crazy stuff, if you ask us.
5. Man Birth
Like a lot of these ritualistic rites of passage, Mardudjara Aborigines had a lot of steps on their path between man and boy, some of which we won’t be describing to you today, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be getting the juiciest stuff. Somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve, the ritual will get off to a pretty mild start when the boy has one of his front teeth knocked out and his septum pierced. Sure, we’re sure it hurts to get your tooth knocked out without any medication, but it’s a lot better than what they have coming up! This physical change means that the boy is now symbolically dead, meaning that they’re now no longer allowed to speak throughout the rest of the process, which includes circumcision. They then go hunting before returning to the village covered with the blood of their prey, now officially considered to be reborn as a man.
4. Wysoccan Ceremony
When young members of the Algonquin Indians were ready to turn into men, they were taken away from their village and placed in a secluded area, where they were forced to drink wysoccan, a mixture derived from the plant Devil’s Snare. Unsurprisingly, this mixture has a hallucinogenic quality to it that the Algonquin tribe believed removed the memories of childhood and allowed some members of the tribe to commune with deities. Rather than being a one-off ritual, this mixture would be fed to the young man for up to twenty days, a decidedly powerful experience brought on by the ingestion of a potentially lethal plant. Sadly, some members of the tribe would come through the experience having lost their ability to speak and even sometimes having forgotten who they were, with some also dying from the plant. While it’s not our place to question the rituals of another culture, what’s the point in killing someone during his rite of passage toward becoming a man?
3. Hunting Trials
The hunters among the Matis trial must take place in a grueling set of trials that, if you’ll pardon the pun, really separates the men from the boys! These trials include a list of unpleasant practices that are supposed to prove the strength of the hunters, while also toughening them up enough to take on anything else that the jungle can throw at them. They pour bitter plant juice into their own eyes, ingest frog poison that causes them to purge pretty much anything within their body, if you catch our meaning, and hit each other with giant stinging leaves. Oddly enough, the frog poison that they take for the laxative effects also contains peptides that are thought to boost the immune system and fight off illnesses, meaning that these trials may well bolster the health of the hunters, rather than just act as a physical and emotional show of strength.
This is, by far, the mildest rite of passage on this list, but it still counts if you ask us. If anything, it gives you a look at how rites of passage whose traditions have only come into existence in more modern times look compared to the others on this list. Russefeiring takes place when a group of children, not just men, get ready to graduate from over a decade of compulsory schooling. During this time, we assume you can imagine what they get up to, with most of their time spent using alcohol and generally partying. Far from just a time to unwind, this Norway tradition is now seen as a genuine rite of passage, one that many people remember for the rest of their lives. Unsurprisingly, general disturbances and public drunkenness are consistently linked to this rite of passage every year, so it seems unlikely that everybody enjoys it as much as the kids!
1. A Vision Quest
Contrary to popular belief, a vision quest is a generic umbrella term given to various rites of passage that take place within the Native American tribes, often being used in a fairly offensive way by the western people who found and, usually, exterminated these tribes of people. At its very core, a vision quest is not what popular culture has made it out to be in television and movies for the past few decades: a voyage of self-discovery across a desert fuelled only by peyote or some other natural hallucinogenic. Instead, a vision quest is a period of intense fasting, in which a young boy is expected to travel away from his village for several days in the hope this will allow him the ultimate clarity to see what direction he should be taking his life in. Once he’s taken part in this journey and seen how he should continue as an adult, he’s officially recognized as a man in the tribe.
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