Who’s up for a glass of alcohol, milk, and cow’s blood?
Our world is brimming with culture in every crack and crevasse — each beautiful and unique in its own way, passing down timeless beliefs and traditions from generation to generation. In many cultures, one of the most important milestones is when you leave behind your childhood to become a man or woman. This exciting step forward often comes with a “coming of age” tradition, which can trying both mentally and physically demanding.
Some of the more commonly known coming of age traditions include sweet sixteens and quinceañeras, but if you venture around the globe, you’ll find a number of intriguing rites of passage — from getting naked and jumping over cows to putting on a glove made of bullet ants.
1. Vanuatu Land Diving
It’s kind of like bungee jumping, but way more terrifying. Each year from April to June, the Vanuatuan island of Pentecost hosts a spectacularly life-threatening cultural ceremony — men climb 100-foot wobbly wooden towers and dive off headfirst, only attached to a vine at their ankles. For young boys attempting the land dive for the first time, the act of bravery is seen as their right of passage. Luckily, first-timers aren’t required to dive from the full height. Nonetheless, vines lack the elasticity present in bungee cords, so the fall could easily result in broken bones or death. But to the boys of Vanuatu, the risk is worth becoming a man.
2. Masaai Warrior Festivities and Circumcision Ritual
The Masaai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania have a few ceremonies which transform boys into men — an “initiation” into a new class of warriors. The night before the ceremony, the boys sleep outside in the forest and return at dawn for a day of singing and dancing. Then they drink a mixture that sounds like something that could be featured on Fear Factor: alcohol, milk, and cow’s blood. After eating large amounts of meat, they’re ready for the circumcision ritual that solidifies their official transformation into a man, protector, and warrior. However, they’re forbidden to flinch throughout the circumcision process, for it would bring shame upon their families.
3. Scarification in Papua New Guinea: Human to Alligator Skin
Let’s be real. None of us would mess with a man who had scarred his skin into looking like alligator skin, which is exactly why the scarification ritual in Papua New Guinea's Sepik region serves as the rite of passage into manhood. The elders of the tribe cut the younger boys’ skin with razors until it resembles alligator skin. The belief is that the alligator will then consume their boyhood, leaving them behind as men instead.
Alligator-style scarring on the skin of a young man from Papua New Guinea. Photo credit: *christopher*/Wikipedia (CC by SA 2.0)
4. Bullet Ant Initiation in the Brazilian Amazon
Boys in the indigenous Sateré-Mawé tribe of the Brazilian Amazon go through a particularly painful rite of passage at the age of 13 in a Bullet Ant initiation. Bullet ants delivers a sting that lasts for 12 to 24 hours and is more painful than other insect sting in the world, according to the BBC.
The boys scour through the jungle in search of bullet ants, which are then submerged in an herbal solution to be sedated. Then, the ants are weaved into gloves with their stingers pointed inwards. The insects wake up about an hour later, completely furious, and each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes. The boys will wear the gloves 20 times over the span of several months before they’ve officially reached manhood, but enduring the pain demonstrates the boys’ readiness to leave childhood behind.
5. Hamar Cow Jumping in Ethiopia
The Hamar tribe of Southern Ethiopia requires a man to perform the “cattle leaping” ceremony before he has the right to marry. The boys are only allowed to jump over male castrated cows, and the test is performed completely naked. Before the ceremony, the boys’ heads are partially shaved. They’re also rubbed with sand to wash away their sins and smeared with dung to provide them with strength. About 15 cows are lined up and smeared with dung to make them extra slippery, and the boys must jump over the line of cattle four times. In anticipation for the cattle leaping rite of passage, the tribe has several days of feasting and drinking sorghum beer.
So around the world, the coming of age ceremonies aren’t all fun and games. They’re serious trials of pain, dedication, and bravery — the young have to physically and mentally prove themselves before becoming an adult. These are just five of the intriguing rites of passage around the planet, but they offer a dip into the rich cultural diversity that exists throughout humanity.