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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

15 Rites of Passage From Around the World

By Ned Hepburn

While a rite of passage can be just about anything, some have stood the test of time long enough to be known, expected, and respected. Some mark the day when a boy ends his childhood and becomes a man, others may mark occasions of career milestones, religious standings, or social class hierarchies. While these rites will vary throughout the world, one thing is certain – rites of passage are something we all inevitably go through. These are 15 of such rites that carry on traditions today.

Maasai Lion Hunt

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The Maasai are a peaceful people in Kenya and Tanzania, but they still need a way to keep their men on their toes. Instead of using humans as targets for their warriors to hone their skills, they prefer to target lions- and not the sickly, young or female ones. The Maasai Warriors only hunt capable, large, male lions that have a pretty decent chance of winning, and they do it with a spear. Considering the fact that guys on safari with huge rifles still manage to get killed by lions every year, those Maasai Warriors have some guts.

Bar Mitzvah

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Jewish law says that a boy should be capable of handling his life as a man at the age of 13. We overlook the importance of this nowadays, but the implications are huge. Once a boy has his Bar Mitzvah, he’s responsible for his own actions, and able to do adult things like get married. We may still largely view teenagers as kids here, but in the parts of Israel where the old laws still have clout, people pay much more attention to this sort of thing.

High School Graduation

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High schoolers across America both dread and covet this day. All at once, they’re free from the horrors of high school, and suddenly expected to actually do something. While every study yields a slightly different result, less than half of all Americans both go to college and actually finish a four-year degree. On top of that, “college student” has all but become a career, with the average time it takes for that four-year degree being something like six to eight years. That means high school diplomas are still the mainstay of our educational milestones. Since graduation happens so close to legal age of 18, most of America views it as the crossing point into adulthood.

Poy Sang Long

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The look on this kid’s face is priceless. Young Burmese boys, usually around ten years old, go through this three-day long Buddhist ceremony. They spend most of those three days riding around on the shoulders of grown men, dressed up in full swagger to imitate Buddha, the idea being that he himself was a prince before giving it all up to walk the path of enlightenment. On the third day it all comes to a head when the young boys are ordained and entered into the priesthood, and spend at least one week with the monks. Afterwards, some go home to their families and some stay to become monks themselves. Bet you thought you had it bad when your family dressed you up as a kid.

Walkabout

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The Aborigines of Australia take becoming a man pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they send their adolescent boys out into the wild to see if they can survive in the Austrailan Outback, unassisted for six months. During this time they are forced to survive on their own, and spend a great deal of time thinking about all the great big stuff men think about when they’re wandering around a desert. When they come back to their people, they don’t get a merit badge, they get respect. Boy scouts have nothing on these guys.

Seijin Shiki

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The Japanese celebrate their Coming of Age day as a national event on the second Monday of January. Once the ceremony itself is over, the event turns into one big annual party for all 19-20 year-olds (whose birthday fell before April 1st of that year). When the boys-turned-men aren’t too busy ogling all the girls in their dress-kimonos and party outfits, they’re getting ridiculous on their own since afterward they’ll be considered adults (and finally have to act like them).

Vision Quest

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Native Americans may be shrinking in numbers, but there are many who do their best to pass on the old traditions. Vision Quests, much like the Aboriginal Walkabout, involve a period of solitude and introspection out in the wilderness. Unlike most rites of passage though, a young boy who leaves on a Vision Quest won’t come back a full-fledged man, but instead with a sense of purpose for his continuing journey toward becoming a man. The quest lasts only a few days, and usually involves an Animal Spirit, subject to much pop-culture ridicule and called a purely hallucinogenic experience.

Russefeiring

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While American high school graduations tend to be over in a single afternoon, Norway does things a bit differently. A ridiculous (and awesome) mash-up of universally color-coded outfits (Star Trek anyone?) and Spring Break-meets -Mardi Gras, Russefeiring has all of Norway knee-deep in shenanigans for 17 straight days. Along with the constant partying, challenges earn the “Russ” merit tokens. These aren’t boring either, since they consist of tasks like crawling through grocery stores and barking like a dog while biting ankles, and having sex with a different chick on each of the 17 days of the celebration. Since there is always proof required, well, you get the idea.

Hunter’s First Kill

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Men have taught their sons how to hunt since prehistoric times, and pieces of that legacy still live today. A hunter’s first kill is a pretty big occasion, usually marked by ritual. While some families have their own rituals, passed down a few generations, most follow the universal theme of “first blood.” The new hunter will mark himself with the blood of his prey, usually painting his face with it, and some even go as far as to drink the blood. Once this happens, the young man can call himself a hunter.

‘Redneck’ Coming of Age

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While wholly unofficial, the Redneck Coming of Age is a widely known and much joked-about tradition. Fathers are often eager for their sons to “grow up” and be men. In this “ritual” a dad will go out and buy his son a hooker for his 18th birthday. The idea behind it may be trashy, but looking back throughout history, it’s really not all that weird, and can you really say that your dad gave you a present you enjoyed so much when you were a kid?

Rumspringa

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No, this is not just a fun word to name your bad college Ska band. Rumspringa is the Pennsylvania German word for “running around,” and that’s exactly what the Amish who go through it do. Basically, young Amish men aren’t forced to stay Amish, at around 16 they can leave the community and sew their wild oats. If, in the end, they decide to go back and be baptized in the Amish way, then they’re welcomed back with open arms and a clean record. The obvious catch being that it’s the only time they’ll be able to abandon their strict rules for living and still keep their status.

Circumcision

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Men who undergo circumcision as babies usually don’t ever stop to consider just how lucky they were to have it done then as opposed to later on in life. While many cultures go through circumcision, not all of them do it to newborns. In many African countries, males go through the dangerous procedure as young adults, as a final step to becoming a man and becoming eligible for marriage. Entire villages get involved annually as all the males of the right age get circumcised, and then are isolated outside town to heal. The “surgery” is rarely done by a surgeon, and infection rates are staggering. In this quest to become men, many boys end up dying, alone in a tent.

Crossing the Equator

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Navies from around the world hold a special ship-wide “ceremony” for all the sailors on-board who cross the Equator the first time. The “Crossing the Line” ceremony, as it’s called, crosses every line it can. These floating debaucheries can get so out of hand, that the legality is sketchy at best, and just about every rule goes out the window. It’s tradition for these guys to dress up in drag and eat things that should not be seen, much less eaten. While it may have been tamed some in the last few years as more and more women are aboard naval vessels these days, the party still goes on, turning “pollywogs” into “shellbacks” one shipload at a time.

Fraternity Pledging

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Becoming a much-loathed Fratboy isn’t something just anybody off the street can do, it takes hard work and dedication. For generations, young men have gone away to college, but could not fully realize their potential without going through some of the most humiliating punishments that a young man can imaginatively inflict upon other young men. Once they make it through these (now largely illegal) trials of brotherhood, the worthless pledge becomes a valued member of the fraternal order. A former pledge won’t likely forget what he’s gone through, but not for lack of trying.

Marriage

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In all the world, there may not be nearly as terrifying a rite of passage into manhood as that of Marriage. No other moment in life is held so universally as a doorway to manhood, regardless of any previous life experience or even age. Once a guy takes this plunge into the ‘Happiest Moment of His Life’, he’s done for. Family members will often try to ply the young man with alcohol and gifts, but nothing can really soothe the pain, that’s what bachelor parties are for.

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