All cultures have certain rites of passage among their population. A rite of passage is defined as “a ritual marking the symbolic transition from one social position to another“(Witt 88). Rites of passage can vary in importance. However they normally involve moving up into a new chapter of life. They are important to cultures and many young children think about the day where they can become a man/woman. In the United States, at the age of sixteen, most teenagers go through the act of getting their driver’s license. Although after having your license for a while it just becomes a normal way of life, many young children fantasize about their sixteenth birthday so they can join the other adults on the road. Other important birthdays that are treated as rites of passage can be the eighteenth, twenty-first or fiftieth. When one turns eighteen, they have officially soared into the world of adulthood. The twenty-first birthday is when one can legally drink alcohol and the fiftieth birthday is one that many dread. The fiftieth birthday is a milestone of having reached the age of being a senior.
Not all rites of passage in the United States are birthdays, major life events can fall into this category as well. Graduation from high school or college is a passage into the next stage of life. Getting married for the first time and having a baby for the first time allows one to move into a new social status such as being a wife/ husband and a parent.
While reading of other culture’s rite of passage ceremonies, I found myself judging other cultures because of safety or health hazards. My display of ethnocentrism is how many people of the United States would act upon hearing of these events. In Vanuatu, men participate in a rite of passage called land diving. Once a male reaches the age of seven or eight and has been circumcised, they can partake in this event. These males climb on top of a ninety-eight foot tower. They tie vines to their ankles and jump. A good jump ends with the male’s head or shoulders touching the ground. However vines do not have the elastic qualities that bungee cords do, so a miscalculation in the length of the vine can end in serious injuries or death. During a boy’s first jump, his mother holds onto an item signifying his childhood, when he dives the mother throws the item away. This event is now becoming a tourist attraction for people to come see. However many experience culture shock and cannot believe the danger these men put themselves in.
In the Northwest Amazon, the Tukuna people have a rite of passage for young women that involve alienation. Once a young girl begins her menstruation period for the first time, she is forced into seclusion for four to twelve weeks. She is put in a chamber within the dwelling of the family that is constructed for this purpose. The girl is thought to be in danger of demons called the Noo while in this chamber. Near the end of this ritual, guests arrive in masks that allow them to become incarnations of the Noo. After this encounter with these “demons” the young girl stays within the chamber for another two days, she paints her body with black genipa dye for protection from the Noo. After the alienation is over, the young girl is surrounded by her relatives and led out into festivities where her family dances around her until dawn. At that time she is given a fire brand that she will throw at the Noo, breaking their power. The young girl has now safely entered into womanhood.
Even more extreme rites of passage can be found around the world, many of them involve circumcision or body mutilations. Although people of these cultures put themselves through great pain, the reward to become a man/woman is so great that cultures cherish these events and they have lasted through generations. Industrial and post-industrial societies tend not to have such violent acts as rites of passages. Rites of passages that are less extreme include ceremonies such as a Bar Mitzvah for Jewish boys transitioning into men. Whether extreme or not, each type of passage is important to the culture from which it comes from.
“10 Bizarre Rites OfÂ Passage.” Listverse. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.
“8 Interesting (And Insane) Male Rites of Passages From Around the World.” The Art of Manliness RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.
Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://weddingcakes.simpleweddingdecorations.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/bride-and-groom wedding-cake-topper-2013.jpg>.
Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. Ed. Gina Boedeker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 88. Print.