Whether you celebrate your coming of age with a birthday party or by permanently disfiguring your body, most cultures recognize the importance of a rite of passage. However, not all rites are created equal. Some can be downright deadly. The crazy rites of passages in this list commemorate a young adults’ entry into adulthood. They also highlight the agonizing things people are willing to endure to earn the respect of their peers. Check out these 25 crazy rites of passage from around the world!
Naghol (Land Diving)
Conceptually similar to bungee jumping, land diving is done with vines instead of elastic chords and the objective is to come as close to death as possible. Performed by the Vanuatu people, the jumper’s goal is to brush his head on the ground. If he survives, he’s a man. A very, very lucky man.
Hamar Cow Jumping
This rite of passage must be performed by men of the Hamar tribe in Ethiopa before they are allowed to marry. First, the young boy’s closest female friends and family chant while they are whipped by the men of the tribe. The scars that are left on their backs are meant to be a testament to the pain they were willing to endure for the initiate. Afterwards, four castrated bulls are lined side by side, the naked boy runs across their backs, and voila…he’s a man.
Masai Lion Hunt
The Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya replace their warrior class every 6-10 years. The next generation of warriors are then circumcised and moved into a warriors camp where they will live until the next generation takes over. In the past the Maasai had to stalk and kill a lion with only a spear before they were considered warriors, but today the lions are protected under government animal legislation. Let’s face it, you know you’ve crossed into manhood when the government has to stop you from killing too many lions.
Similar to the Aborigine practice of sending young men to fend for themselves in the wilderness (#20) although not nearly as involved, many Native American tribes would send their young men off into the wild for several days during a period of intense fasting in order to find direction for their lives and become adults.
The Ogiek Roar
After being ceremonially circumcised, the young boys and girls of the Okiek tribe in Kenya are secluded from the adults for several months. During their seclusion, they paint themselves white using clay in order to take on the appearance of a wild creature and they are then haunted by a mythical beast whose roar can be heard at night. They become adults when the elders show them the instrument used to produce the roar and they do it for themselves.
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Many aboriginal tribes of Australia send their young men into the wilderness for up to 6 months to test whether they are ready to become men. The boys must survive, unassisted, and keep themselves totally isolated. When they return after 6 months they will be considered men of the tribe.
Mentawai Teeth Sharpening
To the natives of the Mentawai Islands beauty is extremely important because if a person’s soul becomes dissatisfied with the appearance of its body, they believe the person will die. In order to beautify themselves young female Mentawaians who have reached puberty sharpen their teeth with a rock and chisel, and file them down to points.
Matis Hunting Trials
As soon as the time comes for boys of the Matis tribe in Brazil to go on the hunt they have a bitter poison dumped in their eyes in order to “improve” their vision. After this, they are beaten and whipped. Finally, they must endure the excruciating conclusion to the trial in which they inject themselves with the poison of the Giant Leaf Frog using wooden needles.
Fulani Facial Tattoos
Woman of the Fula people in West Africa must have their faces tattooed before they are considered adults. The process takes several hours and is usually done with a sharpened piece of wood. Similar to a Fula boy’s whipping match (#13) if the girl cries or grimaces she is believed to be too young, and must wait to finish her tattoos and marry.
A boy of the Xhosa people of South Africa must be circumcised before being considered a man. He is shaved and taken into the mountains where he will live in seclusion in a hut built for him by his family. While in isolation, a surgeon comes and circumcises the boy, after which he is not allowed to return to the tribe until he is healed.
As part of agoge (Spartan training), a young Spartan would participate in the Krypteia, which was essentially a yearly “war” against the helots (slaves), and boys as young as 12 would partake in the slaughter using the stealthy tactics they learned in agoge. So, next time you have a final exam, just be thankful you’re not being graded based on a body count.
Algonquin Indian Trip
When it comes time to test the manhood of young Algonquin Indian men they are taken to a secluded area, caged, and fed a powerful drug called wysoccan. The whole purpose behind this is to cause the man to forget any memories of his childhood, which consequently includes his family and friends. If the new man acknowledges any memories from his youth after returning to the village, he will be given a second dose of the drug.
Fula Whip Match
Young Fula boys must undergo a whipping battle in which they trade blows with another boy from a different tribe in order to become a man. The sticks they use to whip each other have sharpened points and thorns all over them to maximize the pain they inflict. Both boys attempt to take the blows without wincing or showing any signs of weakness. The boy whom the observing crowd deems the winner is considered the bravest and earns the right to be called a man.
Though scarification is a common rite of passage around the world, it is practiced heavily by Sepik River tribes in Papua New Guinea as part of an initiation ceremony for men. This is only a small part of a ceremony that lasts weeks and includes public humiliation, but it’s ridiculously painful. The elders of the tribe use razor blades to cut the young men all over their bodies in a pattern that closely imitates the rough skin of an alligator. They believe that the alligator will then consume any semblance of a boy left in their bodies, and they will become men.
The Okrika tribe of Nigeria believe that the young women of the tribe form romantic relationships with water spirits during their childhood. For this reason, young girls must perform the Iria ritual in order to end their love affair with the water spirits before being married. The ritual consists of singing songs by a river for days on end during which the water spirits make one final attempt to capture their lovers, but not before they are rescued by a man from their tribe. This makes for a good rite of passage poem.
Festa de Mocas Nuevas
Performed by the Ticuna people of the Northwest Amazon, this rite of passage is an initiation into womanhood for all of the girls in the tribe. Beginning at menstruation they are secluded in a small chamber for several months while they are believed to go to the underworld. Eventually, she returns and is released after which she is officially a woman.
Considered a rite of passage in ancient Greece, this practice involved the publicly sanctioned relationship between an older man and a younger boy. Many historians believe it coincided with the beginning of a young male’s military career.
At seven years old young boys are taken from their mothers and placed in an all-male hut for the next ten years of their life. During this period they engage heavily in nose bleeding, forced vomiting and defecation (by way of sugarcane), and semen ingestion in order to rid themselves of impurities and become men.
Although we realize internet penetration rates in most developing countries are relatively low, just in case you happen to be an African tribesman or Amazonian warrior checking in on your satellite phone allow us to introduce you to a peculiarity of western culture…the Sweet 16. No blood, no pain, no near-death experiences. Sounds pretty boring right? Yea, we agree, so back to the cool stuff…
In addition to scarification, Papua New Guinea is home to another extreme right of passage. The Matausa tribe believe that a boy will never realize his true strength if his body is not cleansed. In order to rid them of impurity and help them gain the vitality a warrior needs, the young men will first stick two wooden canes down their throats until they vomit. Then reeds are forced up their nostrils and their tongues are stabbed until their blood has been sufficiently purified.
A boy living in the Aztec Empire began his military training at 17 and he would only be considered a man once he captured an enemy and brought him back as his prisoner to be sacrificed. His next objective was significantly more difficult. If he wanted to become a Jaguar or Eagle warrior it would require 20 more sacrifices, and therefore 20 more prisoners.
Mandan Okipa Ceremony
In order for a Mandan boy to become a warrior, he had to fast for 4 days without sleeping. On the 5th day, the boys were taken into a hut where wooden skewers were forced through their chests and they were hung from the ceiling. They had to smile through the whole, agonizing process until they finally passed out. Oh, but we’re not done. Immediately after the boys wake up they cut off their little fingers as an offering to the spirits and are welcomed into manhood.
When it is time for a young Mardudjara aborigine to enter manhood, he is led by the tribe’s elders to a secluded place. While one of the elders sits on his chest another will slice of the boy’s foreskin. After enduring this without any form of anesthesia, the boy is then given his foreskin and must swallow it without chewing. After the circumcision heals, the boy is taken to an isolated area again where the underside of his penis is cut down to the scrotum and he must stand, bleeding, over a fire. Welcome to manhood.
Bullet Ant Glove
Deep in the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon live the Satere-Mawe tribe. Young boys from this tribe have to wear gloves made of bullet ants with inward pointing stingers as they dance for 10 minutes without flinching. Unfortunately for the boys, the bullet ants have the most painful sting of any insect. It causes paralysis and throbbing pain for up to 24 hours.
Practiced in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, this gruesome and often life-threatening rite of passage is also known as female circumcision. During the procedure, the labia and clitoris are removed after which a wall of flesh forms across the vagina. A small hole is then pricked in it to allow for menstruation and urine.