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Rites of Passage

Five initiation rites of passage practised around the world.

When it comes to initiation rites of passage, we Americans have it relatively easy. The worst we may have is a mild case of bullying as kids, or rushing for sororities/fraternities. In comparison to what other young men/women must endure in other parts of the world to be considered ready for adulthood, I’m not even sure that I believe what we go through can even be compared. It’s seems pretty mild, if not juvenile to say the least. But considering what these kids must go through, I’m glad I never had to perform these rites.

  1. Satere-Mawe

    This Amazon tribe performs an initiation ritual where young men really place their hands into mittens filled with hundreds of bullet ants. The bite is approximately 20 times more painful than being stung by a wasp. The tribal men will gather the ants and submerge them into a solution that temporarily knocks them out. The ants are then woven into the mittens. Upon waking up, the men will place their hands into the mittens and dance for 10 minutes. The ant’s sting prevents the body from protecting itself from pain. The body begins to convulse, and the pain can last up to 24 hours. The crazy thing is, many men will repeat this ritual many times to prove their manhood.

  2. Sharro

    Among the Fulani people of Nigeria, young men must partake in a ritualistic beating of one another before they are able to marry. Without enduring this rite of passage and bringing pride to their family, a young man will not be able to marry. Boys from surrounding village come to partake in the initiation. Families circle two young men who must face off inside the ring. The boys chose rods from trees that are flexible enough to whip. The boy of the opposing side must take his stance, arms raised in the air. When he is struck, he can neither move, nor sway from his position. He is then struck twice across the chest. Then the other boy takes his turn. If one of the two should fall or break his stance, then not only does he bring disgrace to his family, he is still considered a boy, regardless of his age. And worse yet, his wanting to become married to a girl of his liking will be prolonged until he is man enough.

  3. Crocodile Scarification

    Many tribes in Africa and Papua New Guinea perform this ritual. In the East Sepik River of Papua New Guinea, many young men partake in a painful rite of passage that has a lasting effect upon their bodies. Not only does this ritual test their strength and discipline, but it also tests their resolve. While they can receive hundreds of cuts upon their chest, back, and buttocks, they are not allowed to remove themselves from the ceremony. The cutting causes profuse bleeding which can cause shock and convulsions, not to mention infection in some cases. After the cutting, oils are rubbed into the skin to help with healing. When the keloids form (usually a year after healing), the marks of the crocodile are left on the men.

  4. Female Genital Mutilation

    Many anthropologists argue as to whether this should be considered a rite of passage. Some consider it nothing more than female circumcision. But if you happen to ever witness one of these, you’ll realize that it is not. Practiced in Egypt, parts of Africa, parts of Europe (although it is illegal), and now gaining popularity in Muslim religion, young girls are forced to undergo painful mutilations on their genitalia to “control” their sex drive. Female genital cutting, depending on the culture or religion, requires either a clitoridectomy, partial removal of the labia, or all of the above. Stitching of the vaginal opening is also common, whereby a small hole is left. The girls are often cut with non-sterilized utensils (in parts of Africa). Their legs will be bound for weeks making them immobile. If their vaginal opening was stitched, a twig is placed into the small opening to allow them to urinate. Hundreds of girls, if not thousands, die from such procedures, and those who survive suffer irreversible damage from these atrocities.

  5. Subincision (Mardudjara Aborigines)

    When a young man becomes of age, his tribal elders lead him into seclusion. The men will lay down surrounding the boy facing away from a fire. An assistant will sit on the boy’s chest, while another elder will pull and twist the boy’s foreskin and proceed to slice it off. The men will take the boy to kneel upon a shield over a low-lit fire and made to eat “good meat.” Essentially, the meat I am speaking of, is the boy’s own foreskin. He must swallow without chewing it, and once he has succeeded, he as eaten his “own boy,” and become a man. When the circumcision heals, the young man will go through a subincision. His penis will be sliced on the underside, sometimes to the scrotum. The man is then made to stand over a fire to allow the blood to drip into it and purify it. Apparently men do this to sympathize with their female counterparts. And although they will now have to squat to urinate because of these incision, when they become married, some men will often times repeat the same blood-letting process.

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  1. Catherine South

    On July 26, 2008 at 10:05 am


    The genital cutting of females is a bit of a problem in Africa. A lot of the girls get infections which leave scars, or lead to severe illnesse and death.
    Even though I love traditions, some can certainly be done away with.

  2. john

    On August 3, 2008 at 7:44 pm


    I think the worst I ever had to endure was stupid guy fraternity intiations. Can’t believe people actually do this

  3. Chuck

    On October 20, 2008 at 4:46 am


    The female circumcision is similar to the male circumcision listed after it.
    This is what equality is females, do you still want it?

  4. Rachel

    On April 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm


    Wow, just fascinating, i wish I was a part of these tribes. I also wish I was as cool as Julie, but i know that will never happen. ):

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