The transition into adulthood is an important stepping stone in everyone’s life. From the naivety of childhood, into the awkward early ages of adulthood, we experience not only physical changes, but mental, emotional and often spiritual changes as well – changes so significant, they may completely alter our adult selves. Most cultures around the world attach meaning to the coming of age of girls and boys, with important rites of passage being used to symbolize this maturation process. The age of maturation and the rite of passage that occurs is heavily dependent upon the culture itself. Here in the Western world, rites of passage can vary widely, and are often based on belief. Sweet 16 celebrations, celebrating one’s graduation from high school, or even sharing a drink with one’s parent can symbolize a rite of passage, and a sign of one’s entry into adulthood. On the other hand, Maasai coming of age traditions, can begin at the early age of 10 and have a duration of over 10 years before the boys are truly considered men of their tribe. Embarrassing or amazing, coming of age ceremonies are a memorable part of our lives, with some cultures having such elaborate and extensive rituals that some of us would likely be afraid of trying them even as adults. Read on to discover some of the most shocking and extreme coming of age rituals around the world.
13. The Iria Rite Of The Okrika Tribe
Upon reaching puberty, the girls of the Okrika tribe in Nigeria are sent to what is called a “fattening room” for a period of five weeks, where they are force fed rich foods such as goat’s milk to force their adult body to grow. A common belief among the Okrika tribe is that young women going through puberty form romantic attachments to water spirit, of which they must rid themselves before they are ready to marry. To accomplish this, the girls must come together at dawn and sing songs to chase away the spirits. On the last day of the ritual, the girls return to the river once more, where it is expected that the water spirits will try to capture the girls. To prevent this from occurring, a senior male of the tribe will strike the girls with sticks, sending them back to the village and away from the water spirits.
12. Cow Jumping Contest Of The Hamar People
Surprisingly, bull-leaping has been a popular tradition around the world – from Greece to India, the practice has been used as a training technique or an acrobatic stunt. To the Hamar people of Ethiopia, bull-leaping has become a symbol of maturation, and proof of the man’s strength and athleticism. To prove themselves ready for marriage, the Hamar boys must jump over a castrated bull four times in a row. This symbolizes the boy growing up and leaving his childhood behind. If successful, the boy will now be considered one of the men, and will be allowed to marry a wife of his choosing.
11. The Teeth Sharpening Ritual Of The Mentawai Girls
Standards of beauty vary across the world, and men and women alike often go to great lengths to attain and maintain them. Among the Mentawai tribe of Indonesia, sharpened, dagger-like teeth is considered very attractive trait for women. When the girls in this tribe reach puberty, their teeth are filed by a village elder by using rocks and a file so that they resemble shark teeth. For the Mentawai, the sharper the teeth, the more attractive the woman. When women’s teeth are sharpened to the right shape, they are considered ready for adulthood and marriage.
10. Land Diving In Vanuatu
Whoever thought bungee jumping would be considered a rite of passage? Boys from the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu begin their practice for their jump into adulthood by age 7 or 8, by jumping off of small towers with bungee-like vines tied around their ankles. To truly be considered a man however, the boys must climb a rickety old tower that stands 98 feet tall, tie vines around their ankles, and jump. When their jump goes as planed, the diver should be able to reach the ground just close enough to touch his head to the earth. Because the vines are not elastic, miscalculations can lead to harm and often death, so if you thought bungee jumping was scary, this might be a bit too much for you. The jump symbolizes the boys’ dive into adulthood and is proof of their manliness.
9. The Wysoccan Ritual Of The Algonquin Indians
When Algonquin Indian boys of Quebec were considered ready to become men, they were brought to an isolated area where they were caged and given to consume a powerful hallucinogenic mixture called wysoccan (which was derived from Jimson Weed), with a potency said to be over 100 times stronger than LSD. They would remain caged for a period of 20 days, being continuously given wysoccan. This ritual was performed to force the memories of childhood to be forgotten, so that the boy could move forward and become a man. This mixture was so potent that it was not uncommon for boys to be poisoned and die. Those that survived would experience extreme hallucinations, and many suffered such severe memory loss that they would forget their own identities, and even how to speak. The boys that still retained some memories of their childhood were taken back to attempt the ceremony once again.
8. Blood Initiation Of The Matausa Tribe
To be considered a man full of vigor and strength among the Matausa tribe of Papua New Guinea, a boy entering adulthood must complete the blood initiation ritual. To take part in the ritual, they must be removed from all women of their tribe, and must be cleansed of their influence through a series of painful tasks. They begin by inducing two thin wooden canes down their throats in order to induce vomiting until their stomachs are empty. Afterwards, they insert thin reeds into their noses to induce nosebleeds to further expel the bad influences from their body. Finally, they must endure a series of stabbings to their tongues which will finally ready them for manhood.
7. The Bullet Ant Ritual Of The Sateré-Mawé
When boys of the Sateré-Mawé tribe in the Amazon reach the age of 13, they mark their entry into adulthood by participating in a bullet ant initiation ritual. The ritual begins with a search for bullet ants which are sedated by using a herbal solution, and weaved into gloves by using leaves and the ants themselves, with the stringers on the inside of the glove. When the ants finally wake up, the initiation begins by having the boy wear these ‘gloves’ for a period of 10 minutes. Keep in mind, bullet ants aren’t your typical ants – their sting is considered to be one of the most painful among insects and is often compared to the feeling of being shot, hence the name ‘bullet’ ants. While the boy is wearing the glove, he is not allowed to yell out in pain, as this demonstrates a sign of weakness. To fully complete the initiation, the boy must complete this task over 20 times over a period of a few months. Following the ritual, the boy’s hand often becomes paralyzed for a short period of time due to the venom in the ant bite, and he will be sick and convulse due to the pain.
6. Warrior Training Of The Maasai People
The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania have several rites of passage to transition boys into adulthood. When boys turn 10, they begin their celebration by drinking a mixture made of alcohol, cow’s blood and milk, while also consuming large portions of meat. Following these festivities, the boys are ready to be circumcised. During the circumcision the boys cannot flinch, because doing so would make them appear weak. Over the next 10 years the boys train in various areas, including hunting lions.
Traditionally, the boys would hunt the lions alone, by using only a spear and a hide shield. They would also be required to wear bells on their legs to attract and irritate the lion. The goal of this task was to obtain the lion’s tail to prove one’s bravery. More recently the Maasai have begun hunting in larger groups due to the decreased lion populations (and not out of concern for the warrior’s safety).
5. The Whip Match Of The Fulani Tribe
For the boys of the Fulani tribe of Benin to be considered men, they have to complete a ritual called sharo, which requires them to participate in a whip match meant to test their strength, self-control and bravery. The boys choose a long sharpened cane and are pitted against each other in a ring. They then take turns hitting their opponents three times as hard as they can, until one winner is chosen – this is based on which boy displays the best pain tolerance and who was able to inflict the deepest wounds on his opponent.
The girls of the Fulani tribe have their own initiation ritual, which involves enduring elaborate facial tattoos. It is also important for the girls to show no signs of pain when they are being tattooed.
4. Trial Of Horrors Of The Mandan Tribe
The rite of passage among the Mandan Native Americans of North Dakota, called the Okipa ceremony, began with a four day period during which the boys were not allowed to eat, drink or sleep. Following this period, the boys were led to a hut and where they underwent a series of torturous ordeals. There they had cuts inflicted on their bodies, and wooden poles pierced through their muscles. These poles were then used to hang the boys from the ceiling until they finally passed out. Only then would the boys be pulled down from the ceiling. When they finally awoke, it was said that the boys had received the approval of the spirits and were finally ready to become men. To complete the ritual, the boys would have both of their little fingers cut off with a hatchet and were forced to run around the village while still impaled by the wooden poles and bleeding from their fingers.
3. Subincision Initiation Of The Mardudjara Aborigines
For a young Mardudjara man to transition into adulthood, he must partake in a series of painful rituals. Between ages 10 and 12, the boy will have his front tooth removed and his septum pierced, at which point he is considered to be dead. The elders of the tribe then lead the boy into seclusion, where they perform circumcision on him. The boy is required to consume the removed foreskin without chewing, a process which is meant to symbolize him becoming a man. When the circumcision heals, the boy must participate in the second part of the ritual which involves a subincision. During this part of the ritual, the boy’s penis is sliced on the underside and bled above a fire, which is meant to teach the boys of the experiences of women. Although following the rituals the boys are now considered men, they may perform the subincision ritual a number of times throughout their lives to be able to better relate to their wives.
2. The Hunting Trials Of The Matis People
When Matis boys of Amazonian Brazil are ready to become men of their tribe, they are required to participate in four trials. These involve pouring bitter plant juice into their eyes which is said to improve their vision, being whipped by sticks to prove their endurance, being injected with frog poison, and being stung by poisonous leaves. These trials are meant to prove the boy’s ability to withstand pain, his strength as a man, and his readiness to partake in future hunting expeditions. Once the boys prove themselves able to successfully pass the Hunting Trials, they will partake in these every time they go on a hunt.
1. Bloodletting Ritual Of The Sambia Tribe
Initiation for the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea begins when the boy turns seven, an age at which he is removed from all females of their tribe and placed in a special house where he will be assisting the elders of his tribe over the next few years. The initiation involves having the boy’s skin repeatedly pierced, inducing nosebleeds, and forcing vomiting and defecation by consuming sugarcane. These trials are done to purify the boy’s body from any female influences. Once the boys are considered cleansed, they are required to ingest semen, which is considered vital to ignite masculine growth and strength. The boy will spend years repeatedly performing these rituals. Once they are ready to be married, the boys will continue participating in heavy nose-bleeding and cleansing activities to purify themselves of their wives’ influence. The boys of the Sambia Tribe are only considered men when they become fathers.
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