The journey into adulthood is a universal one, a shared experience that connects people across the globe. While every culture has their own celebration of boys and girls transitioning into men and women, it is a significant stage of life that transcends pretty much all boundaries. The rites of passage that symbolize this transition are long-lasting and steeped in tradition, with this stage being recognized and feted by different civilizations throughout the course of human history.
So why has this particular facet of human life been so emphasized, so celebrated? Regardless of cultural background, there exists a common collective need to assist in guiding the younger generation into adulthood. In a way, these coming of age rituals represent something of a mission accomplished in that pursuit. Although they come at slightly different times in a young person’s life, rites like a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a Quinceanera or even a Sweet 16 all commemorate, in a way, a young person ready to use accumulated knowledge to contribute to society as an adult.
The three aforementioned rituals are some of the more commonly known and widely recognized ones out there, but that doesn’t make them the only ones. The world is full of coming of age rituals, including some that are rather, well, unconventional. What essentially amounts to a party with some ceremonial elements in certain parts of the globe can take on an entirely different significance and symbolic representation elsewhere. As you’ll see with these 15 coming of age rituals from around the world, the journey into adulthood for some can mean bizarre adventures, daring feats and, often, pain.
15. Matis Hunting Trials – Poison In Your Eyes And Sent Off To Hunt
Hunting is tough. It takes years to develop the kind of instincts, speed and hand-eye coordination needed to bag some wild game. Even experienced hunters probably don’t need any further obstacles to overcome beyond the challenge of pursuing large, fast animals in their natural habitat. For the Matis tribe in Brazil, however, a successful hunt from its young male tribe members simply isn’t a sufficient symbolic sign of pending manhood. To stack the deck even higher, young Matis boys have bitter poison dumped into their eyes and find themselves subject to cruel beatings and whippings prior to the hunt. Even worse, the trial is only completed when the young boys inject themselves with the painful poison of the Giant Leaf Frog via wooden needles.
14. Matausa Cleansing – Canes Down Your Throat, Then Removed Through Your Nose
Cleanliness can’t be a bad thing, can it? In certain parts of Papua New Guinea, it might well be. That’s because of the local Matausa tribe and their fundamental belief that a boy will never realize his true strength if his body is not clean. While a nice shower would probably do, the Matausa ritual takes things to considerably greater extremes. To rid young men of impurity and instill vitality, two wooden canes will be stuck down the throats of the young tribesmen until they vomit. From there, the canes are brought back out through their nostrils and their tongues are stabbed until their blood has been deemed sufficiently purified.
13. Iria Ceremony – The Young Woman Must Sing By The River For Days
Ah, womanhood — that emotional time in life when a girl must end the long-standing romantic relationship she has enjoyed with a water spirit through childhood. If this tradition doesn’t sound familiar to you, chances are you aren’t a member of the Okrika tribe of Nigeria. Based on their belief in this childhood relationship that a young girl strikes up with a water spirit, the Iria ritual is performed to bring an end to it so as to free the young woman for marriage. The woman must sing songs by the river for days while the water spirits return in an attempt to recapture their former love before she is rescued by a man from the tribe.
12. Bullet Ant Initiation – Wear Ant-Filled Gloves For 10 Mins While Dancing And Hiding The Pain
It’s been called the most excruciating pain known to man and the most painful insect sting in the world by those unfortunate enough to feel its wrath. The vicious sting of the Paraponera clavata, better known as the bullet ant for obvious reasons, is nothing that you would wish upon your worst enemy. Well, unless you happen to be a part of the Satere-Mawe tribe of the Brazilian Amazon. For them, the bullet ant’s sting represents a critical component of a tribal tradition in which young boys are forced to wear gloves comprised of these ants with their stingers facing inward. Even worse, while scores of these insects go to town on the boys’ poor, throbbing hands, they must dance without so much as a flinch. The boys must endure 10 gloved minutes of torture, but the pain can last up to 24 hours beyond the rite.
11. Sambian Purification – “Ritualized Homosexuality”
Most of us carry at least some fond memories of the highly influential 10-year stretch of our lives spanning the time that we turn seven to when we reach 17 years of age. This is a period of adolescence that typically features formative experiences such as the birth and development of deeply forged friendships and one’s first romantic experience, not to mention increasing independence and self-exploration. Boys born into the Sambian tribe of Papua New Guinea know of no such adolescent experiences. They are, instead, taken from their mothers for a decade-long exercise in forced, male-only isolation. This period typically involves nose bleeding, forced vomiting and defecation as a means of purification. Even worse, the ritual involves semen ingestion, which critics deride as “ritualized homosexuality”.
10. Vision Quest – The Young Man Goes Into The Woods Alone For Days
Not to be confused with the 80s Matthew Modine flick of the same name, which ironically was a coming-of-age film, the vision quest has been an integral Native tradition for centuries. Though it has been the subject of mocking send-ups on shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, there is a rich significance to the ritual of sending young men out into the wilderness for several days during a period of intense fasting. The fundamental intent of helping these young men find direction in their lives and develop into grown adults is a valid one, but there is still the small matter of Native elders sending their starving, weak youth into the wild on their own.
9. Fula Whip Match – Get Whipped And Hide The Pain
Sounding like something pulled from the WWE, a Fula Whip Match represents a young Fula boy’s rather painful initiation into manhood. This West African coming of age ritual turns the journey into adulthood into a violent head-to-head competition. Fula boys participating in the tradition must engage in a cross-tribe whipping battle while armed with sticks bearing sharp points and covered in thorns for maximum pain potential. The mission isn’t so much to out-whip your opponent as it is to be deemed the bravest by taking blows without demonstrating any visible signs of weakness. The boy determined to have handled the brutal lashings the best will earn the right to be called a man.
8. Mandan Okipa Ceremony – Keep A Smile On As We Torture You And Chop Off Your Pinky
Mercifully, the ancient coming of age ritual practiced by the Mandan Okipa native tribe no longer exists in its traditional form, probably because it could more accurately be identified as a form of barbaric torture. Rather than merely striving to enter adulthood, young Mandan boys were hoping to be recognized as warriors through the ritual. But becoming a warrior wasn’t easy. They would endure four days of sleepless fasting, then voluntarily be pierced by wooden sticks and hung from the ceiling, being expected to smile through the whole ordeal. When they finally awoke after inevitably passing out from the pain, their pinky fingers would be cut off as an offering to the spirits before being recognized as warriors.
7. Mardudjara Circumcision – Without Any Form Of Anesthetic
The coming of age tradition for the Mardudjara aboriginal tribe involves a boy achieving manhood by losing a good portion of his own. Led to a secluded place by elders from the tribe, the boy is then held down while being circumcised with no form of anesthetic. From there, the young Mardudjaran is expected to consume his own foreskin without chewing. Even still not considered a man, it is only when the underside of the boy’s penis is cut down to the scrotum and he stands over a fire while bleeding out that the rite is considered complete.
6. Land Divers – Bungee Jumping With Vines… Over Land
Young boys residing on the tiny island nation of Vanuatu would be well-served to get over any potential fears of heights in a hurry. These children dive into adulthood through a form of bungee jumping involving a vine with one end tied to a 98-foot tower and the other secured around their ankles. Boys as young as seven or eight are invited to take part in the tradition, with younger participants jumping off a shorter tower. Still, it’s no picnic to take part in. Even if you are a thrill-seeker who enjoys the rush of the dive, the vines used in Vanuatuan land diving carry neither the slack nor elasticity of bungees, meaning that they can easily lead to broken bones, hyper-extension or even death on the right jump.
5. Mentawai Teeth Sharpening
Western society is hardly the only cultural collective that is consumed by aesthetics and appearance. Even while many Western men and women can take extreme measures in order to live up to cultural ideals of beauty, they can’t compare to the natives of Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands. Mentawai tradition has long emphasized the importance of beauty, believing that a person will die if their soul becomes dissatisfied with the appearance of their body. To appease their beauty-conscious souls, Mentawai women who have reached puberty will sharpen their teeth with a rock and chisel and file them down. Because beauty means razor sharp fangs, apparently.
4. Masai Lion Hunt
Being a part of the Masai warrior tribe is a proud and revered status to attain, even if it doesn’t often last very long. The Masai warriors are replaced every six to 10 years. During a young man’s tenure as a warrior, he is circumcised and then sent to live enclosed within the warriors camp until the next wave arrives. Time and environmental considerations have somewhat altered Masai warrior traditions, which once required each aspiring warrior to stalk and kill a lion armed with only a spear. After lions were protected under government animal legislation, that practice was phased out. However, future Masai warriors shouldn’t expect an easy path to elite status within the tribe.
3. Algonquin Indian Trip – Youths Consume Substance To Induce Memory Loss Of Childhood
Drug abuse remains a rampant problem states-side, particularly among impressionable youth. Within the Algonquin tribe, use of drugs among young people isn’t so much a problem as it is a traditional cultural practice. Algonquin Indian men have their manhood tested by being taken to a secluded, caged area and drugged with a local memory loss substance called wysoccan. These young men are supposed to forget any memories of their childhood, literally forging into adulthood by leaving their past behind. In fact, if they still carry any remaining memory of their youth upon returning to the village, they can expect another dose of wysoccan coming their way.
2. North Baffin Island – Young Men And Women Sent Into The Arctic To Fend For Themselves
Young Inuit children are just 11 or 12 when they are sent out into the wild to fend for themselves amidst harsh arctic conditions of North Baffin Island. Much like the vision quest, this tradition also carries the added peril of brutal winter weather. There’s also the strange spiritual component wherein a shaman is called in to open the lines of communication between the wilderness-bound humans and the animals and nature that surround them. On the plus side, the tradition has grown more modern over time. Now, young girls join in what was previously a male-only rite and out-camps have been developed to instill necessary skills in the participating youth.
1. Hamar Cow Jumping
Whether it is “taking the plunge”, “getting hitched” or “tying the knot”, there is no shortage of phrases designed to recognize and represent the act of getting married. But “jumping the cow”? Perhaps it’s an idiom familiar to members of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia. Before Hamar men are permitted to be wed, they must take part in a rite that combines pain with strange. They are first whipped by grown men in the tribe in front of female friends and family members before running naked across the backs of four castrated bulls lined up side by side. Once the running has been completed, the boy is now a man and is free to marry.