Search Box

Friday, April 21, 2017

Coming of age rituals, then and now

In many primitive cultures, tradition has dictated that young men, soon after reaching puberty, undergo various tests of courage and fortitude before they could be considered full-fledged adults.

Young boys of the Satere-Mawe tribe in the Brazilian Amazon mark their 13th birthdays by putting their hands into specially woven gloves containing hordes of fiercely stinging bullet ants. They must keep their hands in the glove for ten minutes at a time without crying out, and must undergo this 20 times over the course of several months.

In Vanuatu, young men must prove their manhood by jumping off a 98-foot tower with only two bungee-like vines attached to their ankles to break their fall. For the jump to be considered a success, their heads must actually touch the ground before they are yanked back by the vines.

The Masai of Kenya and Tanzania get circumcised at puberty, but must not flinch during the procedure, or they will bring shame upon their families.

In ancient Sparta, when a boy turned 18, he had to go into the countryside, armed with only a knife, and kill as many state-owned slaves (helots) as he could.

The Mandan Indian tribe of North America would pierce a young man's chest, shoulder, and back muscles with wooden splints, then lift him by ropes attached to those splints. Crying out during this ordeal was forbidden. After the young man lost consciousness, he would be lowered to the ground again, and subsequently had to present his left hand for his pinkie to be chopped off.

The Fula tribe of West Africa would introduce their boys to manhood with a whipping duel, in which the boy who took the most punishment the most stoically was judged to be the winner.

There have been many similar rituals the world over, too many to list. All present a stark contrast to the current coming of age ritual in our country.

At age 18, many young people are herded off to college, where, in order to be accepted, they must demonstrate that they are so incredibly sensitive, and have such exquisitely refined sensibilities, that they cannot bear to hear any offensive truths.

And should they be exposed to any harsh truths, they must flinch and yell and cry as loudly as possible. He who can take the least pain/reality, wins.

I'm glad I didn't have to grow up in one of those primitive cultures and undergo one of those excruciating rituals.

I'm also sorta glad I'm not going to college today.


Gilbert Ratchet said...

What about the trivia quiz?

John Craig said...

Gilbert --
Just watched it. They captured the contrast well.

Mark Caplan said...

The coming-of-age ritual performed by Australian aboriginal males involves a procedure that makes me shudder just reading about it. My advice is do NOT lookup "penile subincision."

John Craig said...

Mark --
I saw that when I was looking up rituals for this post, and decided not to include it because it was too, as you say, shudder-inducing.

Anonymous said...

You should do a TED talk spoof on this subject. The big reveal would be hilarious. It would go viral.


John Craig said...

B --
Thanks, that's a good idea, but I'd never get hired for a TED talk.

Mark Caplan said...

I gather that hazing of new recruits in some militaries can get quite brutal. Russia's has some notoriety for sadistic hazing.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Yes, they do, and with Russia, I think some of it's actually considered part of the training. In the Spetsnaz (their Special Forces), for instance, being punched hard in the stomach, repeatedly, is just part of their toughening up routine.

alexgunther said...

You want to read the marvellous "The Passing of the Aborigine" by Daisy Bates. Many a good example there such as adolescent boys living for months exclusively on the fresh blood of their adult male relatives.

John Craig said...

Alex --
Thank you, I'll put that on my list.