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Rites of Passage from around the world

Discovering identity & belonging through traditional rites of passage

If you were told you could jump over a castrated cow four times to become a bonafide adult, would you do it? Oh, and you have to do it nude.

While many in the West are on an endless pursuit of youth and identity, it might do us well to take notice of - and glean wisdom from - other cultures who celebrate the rite of passage from childhood to adult. Nowadays, searching the internet for “how to become a man” yields entirely different results than it did a decade ago (try “rites of passage” instead). However, if you dig past the initial Google suggestions or fine tune your search, you’ll encounter a range of practices that motivate, surprise, or even make you uneasy. Here are a few:

Some Ethiopian grooms must jump naked over a castrated to prove they are ready to wed… then do it three more times.

Boys jump from a 98-foot tall tower with a vine tied around their ankles, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph (72kph). As a boy jumps, his mother simultaneously throws away a representation of his childhood to “release” him into the world. Queen Elizabeth II once witnessed this rite, but the jumper sadly died from injuries sustained during the ceremony.

Between the ages of 11 and 12, Inuit boys are sent out to an island to test their hunting skills and survive the Arctic elements.

When the Amish turn 16, they are permitted to go into the world for a short period of time to enjoy niceties such as modern clothing or alcohol. By the age of 25, they are expected to have fully returned and be baptized if they wish to remain in the Amish community.

In a world consumed by the pursuit of eternal youth and self-discovery, it is worth exploring the intriguing and sometimes unsettling rites of passage found in different cultures. The notion of becoming an adult takes on unique and often unconventional forms. While the actual rites discussed above might not even be legal or practical in the West (nor are they necessarily endorsed by the author), we would do well to learn from cultural attributes of other peoples who draw a clear line to delineate between life’s most important stages.

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