It’s always nice to get to know about a culture while traveling, to understand the local traditions and believes. Sometimes they surprise or astonish you. I came along some initiation traditions in different parts of the world that are so different to what we are used to that I want to share them with you. These traditions vary drastically from culture to culture and are designated as a way to symbolize and celebrate the transition from child to adult.
1. Bullet ant ritual
Have you ever traveled to the Amazon? If yes, then you can maybe remember the warnings of your local guide to pay attention when you saw a string of giant ants passing by. These ants are called bullet ants, as their stings feel very much like getting shot. According to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, the bullet ant has the worst known insect sting. The intense pain lasts a full 24 hours and can lead to vomiting, nausea and hart problems. And that’s all from one sting. The Satere-Mawe tribe don’t use just one ant……..for the boys on the Sateré-Mawé tribe getting stung is part of their initiation ritual. As soon as they turn 13, they have to find bullet ants that will be used for their ceremony. They have to wear a glove full of bullet ants for 10 minutes. Once the ritual is complete, they will suffer from the stings for days. This process must be repeated an additional 20 times in the following months for it be officially complete. Ai!
2. Whipping ritual
I know that African tribes have many initiation rituals. An interesting ceremony I didn’t hear of before is the one of the Fulani people from West Africa. Before the boys to be considered men, they must endure a tormenting bloody whip match that will test their strength, self-control and bravery. The initiate picks a long stick and sharpens it in a way that will guarantee the most painful whip. Two boys whip each other three times and the one who flinches the least wins.
3. Blood initiation ritual
Deep in the highlands of Papua New Guinea an equally gruesome rite of passage exists. The Matausa believe that if a boy doesn’t complete the blood initiation, he is not considered a true warrior and worthy of companionship. They must expel themselves from their mother’s blood, as they believe it contaminates them. In order do this they first must slide two thin wooden canes down their throats to empty their stomachs. Then they need to shove to bundles of sharp reeds down their nostrils to expel blood and mucous. Finally, they must endure repeated stabbings to the tongue.
4. Crocodile scarification
If you think that the rituals above are bad, well, this one is also pretty painful. Crocodile scarification is a traditional initiation ritual still practiced by the Sepik River tribe of Papua New Guinea. Hundreds of small incisions will be made in the skin of the man-to-be with a razor or bamboo splinter. The incisions form an elaborate pattern that resembles the skin of a crocodile when the cuts turn into raised scars. It is thought that this reptilian divinity consumes his youth during the bloody process, leaving behind a man in his place. As the following video shows, the crocodile scarring ritual is a pretty horrific practice!
For me, grown up in the Western world, it’s difficult to grab these gruesome rituals. In the belief of the above cultures men need to be strong to be able to protect their future family and they proof this by undergoing these rituals. Ok, but for me the question rises “are all men in the rest of the world not strong as they haven’t experienced these kind of rituals? Wouldn’t they survive? Is it really necessary?” Although I doubt the benefit and necessity of these rituals, I do understand that I am looking at these rituals from a Western viewpoint. Either way, it is crystal clear that in both societies the survival skills required are very different so therefore some of them might make sense after all!