Coming of Age, Then and Now

John Craig, Just Not Said, April 21, 2017

What does it take to become a man?

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 upward 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 similarrituals 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 if you should be exposed to any harsh truths, you must flinch and yell and cry as much 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 glad I’m not going to college today.

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John Craig
John Craig blogs at: Just Not Said
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