Cultural Curiosities: Curious Rites of Passage



Every one of us has enjoyed some rite of passage, events that marked an important transition in our lives. We couldn’t wait to get our license or to go to the prom. And who could forget spring break? You may not remember all of it, but there’s no denying its importance. Many cultures around the world have their own traditions, too. Some are delightful, while others border on ‘curious.’ For your pleasure, here are a few of these curious rites of passage:

Brazilian Amazon – Bullet Ant Initiation

13-year-old boys are initiated into manhood in the Sateré-Mawé tribe. After gathering bullet ants, the ants are temporarily sedated in an herbal solution. The ants are woven into gloves, stinger side in. The boys must wear the now angry ants in gloves for 10 minutes. They prove they are men by not flinching during the excruciating stinging. To complete this initiation, each boy must do this 20 times, over several months.

Native Americans – Vision Quest

For young men, every tribe’s vision is unique, but their quest is the same: to find their purpose in life and their place in society. Through four cycles of day and night, they are sent into the wilderness. Without food or sleep, it is believed they will have a better spiritual connection. Some tribes consume hallucinogenic plants and herbs to aid in their spiritual quest.

Aborigine, Australia – Walkabout

Aboriginal males (age unspecified), will venture into the outback, alone, to reconnect with their ancestry. Occurring between life changing events (school, employment, etc.), this can last from 2 to 6 months. Hunting and living in their traditional ways helps to preserve their culture. This is especially critical to Aboriginal communities as they become assimilated into Western cultures.

Jewish Communities – Bar and Bat Mitzvah

Boys aged 13, and girls aged 12 spend long months preparing for their Bar (‘son’) and Bat (‘daughter’) Mitzvah ceremony. There they will demonstrate a commitment to their faith and upholding of their laws. They must recite a blessing over the weekly reading of the Torah in front of everyone at the Synagogue. Immediately following, they are honored by family and friends with a banquet, gifts, and revelry.

Amish Communities – Rumspringa

At 16, Amish young men and women are encouraged to spend unsupervised weekends away from home in the “English world.” They are allowed a party, to wear English clothes, etc., Then, having experienced both cultures, they will be better able to decide to stay (or not to stay) in the Amish community. By 26, they must choose. If they choose to return, they are baptized and commit their lives to the Amish community and way of life.

Latin Tradition – The Quinceanera

This elaborate coming of age celebration is years in the planning for 15-year-old girls and their families. Even families with modest means will save for gowns and receptions that rival royal balls. After renewing her vows at a Catholic mass, the young lady is honored at a party to end all parties.

Malaysia – Khatam Al Koran

Upon their 11th birthday, Muslim girls celebrate Khatam Al Koran. This is an exciting time that requires a great deal of preparation. At a ceremony in their Mosque, they will recite the final chapter of the Koran, in front of

their proud family and friends.

Ethiopia – Hamar Cow Jumping

Not your traditional bachelor party…grooms-to-be must successfully jump a (castrated) male cow four times, while naked, before they can marry. If they are successful, they become “Maza” and are then responsible for supervising this activity for other grooms-to-be.

Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, South Pacific – Land Diving

To prove they are men, boys as young as 7 or 8 land dive with only liana vines tied to their ankles. They begin jumping from shorter towers until they can jump from a 98-foot tower. Because these vines lack elasticity, calculating the correct length of vine is critical. Most divers do hit their heads and necks, though deaths and injuries are rare.

We may not jump over cows, naked, but we can appreciate the importance of cultural rites of passage. These traditions connect us to our ancestry, communities, faith, family, and friends. So, why not embrace them? If nothing else, we will have great stories – some we may even tell!