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From Boys to Men: Bizarre Rites of Passage

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“And today you are a man.”

What does it take to make the passage from boyhood to manhood? The closest thing to any kind of ritual in modern day in America is to acquire one’s driver’s license. (Although it’s clear from the statistics surrounding male teenage drivers that having that license is no guarantee of an adult sense of responsibility). Other cultures have very definitive rites, some of which clearly stem from the belief that that what does not kill you makes you stronger.

A 13-year old Jewish male is considered a man once he has completed his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. This religious tradition asserts that he is now old enough to be accountable for his actions and his faith.

For a young Maasai Warrior, on the other hand, the only way to achieve manhood is to kill his first lion, demonstrating his bravery, skill and value to the tribe. Until recently, that feat had to be achieved completely on his own, armed only with a spear. Now, with the lion population in decline – mainly due to disease – young warriors hunt a single lion in groups, hoping to give the population a chance to increase.

In Vanuatu in the South Pacific, 8-year old boys are called upon to prove their manhood by jumping off a specially-built platform to which they are attached by vines. In order to placate the gods, the boy’s head must touch the ground, so the key to surviving this challenge is to have vines that are cut exactly the right length. Too short and no benefit from the gods. Too long and you won’t see 9.

Burmese boys between the ages of 7 and 14, take part in a three-day Buddhist ceremony called Poy Sang Long. During the three days, the boy is dressed as a prince and carried on the shoulders of his older male relatives to emulate the Lord Buddha who began life as a prince before setting forth on his religious path. On the third day, the boy is ordained as a novice and enters the monastery for at least one week, or, if he chooses the life of a monk, for many years.

In the Amish religion, 16-year olds of both genders take part in Rumspringa – the Pennsylvania German word for “running around.” This is a time when they are allowed to engage in worldly activities outside their church and their community. At the end, each is expected to make a decision whether to be baptized into the church and all it represents or not. Although many of us would think the opportunity to live freely and enjoy all the world has to offer is a no-brainer, turning away from the church carries a harsh penalty: all your friends and family will shun you forever.


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