8 Interesting (And Insane) Male Rites of Passages From Around the World

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 21, 2010 · 115 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

At the heart of the modern crisis of manhood is the extension of adolescence, a boyhood which is stretching on for a longer and longer period of time. Once thought to end in a man’s 20s at the latest, men are extending their adolescence into their 30′s and in some especially sad cases, their 40′s.

But in some ways it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of a culture in which rites of passage have all but disappeared, leaving men adrift and lost, never sure when and if they’ve become men. Today’s men lack a community of males to initiate them into manhood and to recognize their new status.

Across time and place, cultures have inherently understood that without clear markers on the journey to manhood, males have a difficult time making the transition and can drift along indefinitely. Thus, rites of passage were clearly delineated in nearly every culture as one of the community’s most important rituals.

While almost every culture had a rite of passage ritual, there existed a great diversity in what these ceremonies consisted of. The common thread was an experience that involved emotional and physical pain and required a boy to pass the test of manhood: to show courage, endurance, and the ability to control one’s emotions.

The following are a few of the interesting (read:insane and crazy) rite of passage rituals that existed (and in some cases still exist) around the world. While they be quite offensive to our modern, Western sensibilities, each was born of different cultures’ beliefs of what made a man, a man. And you thought your Bar Mitzah was stressful.

Vanuatu Land Diving

Bungee jumping is for wusses… at least compared to the men who live in Vanuatu, a small island nation in the middle of the South Pacific. Here the men take place in a yearly harvest ritual called Land Diving.

Around April or May, villages will build crude wooden towers reaching heights of 100 feet or more. After the tower is completed, a few men will volunteer to scale it. The men then tie a vine first on a platform on the tower and then around their ankles. Summoning all the courage they have, the men dive from the platform headfirst. The divers reach speeds of 45 miles an hour as they plummet to the ground.

The goal of the jump is to land close enough to the ground that the diver’s shoulders touch the ground. Any miscalculation on the length of the vine means either serious injury or death.

Land diving among the Vanuatus goes back nearly 15 centuries. The purpose of the ritual is twofold. First, it’s performed as a sacrifice to their gods to ensure a bountiful yam crop. Second, it serves as a rite of passage to initiate the tribe’s boys into manhood. Boys as young as five years old will take part in the ritual which is often preceded by circumcision. The boys start out jumping low, but will work their way up as they get older. The higher a man goes, the manlier he is considered by the tribe.

Watch the divers make their plunge into manhood:

Mardudjara Aborigines Subincision

The rite of passage from boyhood to manhood of the Australian Mardudjara Aborigines consists of two parts: circumcision and sub-incision. Don’t know what sub-incision is? Read on. You’ll be wincing in pain.

When an Aborigine boy comes of age, usually around 15 or 16, the tribal elders will lead the boy to a fire and have him lie down next to it. Tribal members surround the boy while singing and dancing. Another group of men, called the Mourners, wail and cry while the circumcision is performed.

The tribal elder in charge of the circumcision sits on top of the boy’s chest facing his penis. He pulls up the foreskin and twists it so it can be cut off. Two men take turns cutting away the foreskin with knives that they’ve imbued with magical qualities. The boy bites down on a boomerang as the operation takes place.

When the circumcision is complete, the boy kneels on a shield that’s placed over the fire so the smoke can rise up and purify his wound.

While the boy sits there dazed and in pain, the tribal elders tell him to open his mouth and swallow some “good meat” without chewing it. The “good meat” is actually the boy’s freshly removed foreskin. After he’s swallowed a piece of his own wiener, the boy is told that he has eaten “his own boy” and that it will now grow inside him and make him strong.

Now comes the second part of the initiation- the sub-incision. A few months after the circumcision, the tribal elders take the young man again to a fire. An elder sits on the boy’s chest and takes ahold of the boy’s penis. Again, there are singers and men mourning at the ceremony. A small wooden rod is inserted into the urethra to act as a backing for the knife. The operator then takes a knife and makes a split on the underside of the penis from the frenulum (underneath the head of the penis) to near the scrotum.

After the sub-incision, the boy stands above the fire and allows his blood to drip into it. From now on the boy will have to squat when he urinates, just like a woman. In fact, some anthropologists posit that the sub-incision ceremony is done to simulate menstruation, allowing men to sympathize with the females of the tribe.

The ceremonies of the Mardudjara have slowly disappeared as contact with the modern world has increased and each successive generation becomes less willing to make a snack of their foreskin.

Hamar Cow Jumping

Imagine sitting down with your girlfriend’s dad to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. You’re nervous. Sweat gathers on your forehead. You make small talk, but finally manage to get the question out while your voice cracks.

The dad responds, “Sure! But you’ll have to jump over some cows first.”

If you’re a man living in the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia, this is exactly what you’d have to go through before you can get hitched.  To become a man, you’ll have to jump over a herd of cattle.

The ceremony starts off with the tribe’s young girls jumping in unison. Usually these girls are relatives or good friends of the boy who is about to be initiated into manhood. Their metal jewelry clinks and clacks in a rhythmic beat. The girls will jump towards the maza – men who have already gone through the rite of passage — and hand them a green stick. The men use this green stick to lash at the backs of the girls while they continue to jump up and down. The lashing continues until blood is drawn. When the men are finished, the girls bow to them and jump away. The scars that form show that the women endured pain for the initiate during his passage into manhood.

After the whipping ceremony, the tribe forms a circle around a herd of cattle. Singing and chanting fills the air. Four of the biggest bulls are lined up side to side.  In order for the ceremony to be valid, the bulls must be castrated. The initiate is brought to the cattle, naked except for a few cords he wears around his chest. The boy must jump onto the first bull and then run back and forth across the backs of the cattle three times. When he’s done, a shout is given and the boy is a maza, or man.

The Ancient Spartan Helot Killing

For ancient Spartans, becoming a soldier was the only way one could be recognized as a man. Military training began at age seven when boys would be taken from their families and placed in the Agoge system. For the next 10 years Spartan boys learned the skills necessary to become a trained killing machine.

When a Spartan youth turned 18, he completed his training. To graduate and be recognized as a man in his community, the boy had to undergo a cruel rite of passage called the krypteia. The young man would be sent to the countryside with only a knife and his wits. His object? To kill as many state-owned slaves, called helots, without being detected and return to his school in one piece. The young men would often hide during the day and make their attacks at night. In order to complete this rite of passage successfully, the young man had to call on all the training he received in the Agoge.

After successfully completing the krypteia, a Spartan man was expected to marry and continue killing for the state.

Satere-Mawe Bullet Ant Glove

Deep in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon lives the Satere-Mawe tribe. To become a man in the Satere-Mawe, a boy must stick his hand in a glove woven with bullet ants and withstand their stings for over 10 minutes without making a noise.

According to the Schmidt Sting Index, the bullet ant has the most painful sting in the ant world. It’s described as “waves of throbbing, all consuming pain” that continues for over 24 hours. In fact, the locals call the ant, hormiga venticuatro because the pain from the sting lasts 24 hours.

Now if the sting from one bullet ant is that painful, imagine the pain you’d experience if you put on a glove made entirely of pissed-off bullet ants.

To make the glove, the tribesmen will knock out the bullet ants with a natural sedative. While the ants are docile, the elders proceed to make their torture device by weaving the ants into a glove made of leaves with the ants’ stingers facing inwards.

When the ants regain consciousness, the boys put on the gloves and face 10 minutes of pure, unadulterated hell. The copious amounts of venom the boy receives during the ordeal will temporarily paralyze his arm and leave him shaking uncontrollably for days.

This isn’t a one-time deal, either. A young boy may have to stick his hand in the bullet ant glove several more times before he’s considered a man. Each time he experiences the ordeal, the object is to remain as quiet as possible. It’s a test of manly endurance and stoicism that’s necessary to be effective warriors for the tribe.

Watch it in action:

Maasai Warrior Passage

The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have a series of rites of passage that carry boys into manhood. Every 10 or 15 years a new warrior class will be initiated into the tribe. Boys between the ages of 10 and 20 are brought together from all across the country. Dozens of houses are built that will serve as the place of initiation. The night before the ceremony, the boys sleep outside in the forest. At dawn, they return to the little makeshift homestead for a day of singing and dancing.  They drink a mixture of milk, cow’s blood, and alcohol and eat piles and piles of meat. After the festivities, boys who are of age (12-16) are ready to be circumcised.

The Emuratare is the most important ceremony in the life of a Maasai boy. Once circumcised, the tribe will consider him a man, warrior, and protector of his village. As the young man makes his way to where the elders will circumcise him, friends and family members will taunt the boy by saying things like “If you flinch, we will disown you.” The Maasai value bravery in their warriors and the circumcision is a boy’s first way to prove his courage even in the face of severe pain. It takes about 3 months for the circumcision to heal and during that time the young men wear black clothing and live in huts built by the women of the villiage. The Maasai boy is now warrior.

For the next 10 years the young men live together in an Emanyatta, or warriors camp. There they learn fighting, oratory, and animal husbandry. After 10 years, the young men take part in the Eunoto ceremony that marks the transition from warrior to senior warrior. After a Maasai has passed through the Eunoto, he can marry. The ceremony is basically several days of festivals, which ends with the initiate’s mother shaving his hair.

Mandan Hook Hanging

Native American tribes each had their own unique coming of age rituals for the men in the tribe. But few were as intense as that of the Mandans. Before his rite-of-passage, a Mandan boy fasted for 3 days to cleanse his body of impurities. Then, on the day of the ritual, elders of tribe would pierce the boy’s chest, shoulder, and back muscles with large wooden splints. Ropes, which extended from the roof of a hut, were then attached to the splints, and the young man was winched up into the air, his whole body weight suspended from the ropes. Despite the pain, the boy was not to cry out in pain. While hanging in the air, more splints were hammered through his arms and legs. Skulls of his dead grandfather and other ancestors were placed on the ends of the splints.

Eventually, the young man fainted from the loss of blood and the sheer pain of the torture. When the elders were sure he was unconscious, he was lowered down and the ropes were removed. Yet the splints were left in place. When the young man recovered consciousness, he offered his left pinky to the tribal elders to be sacrificed. He placed his finger on a block and had it swiftly chopped off. This was a gift to the gods and would enable the young man to become a powerful hunter. Finally, the young man ran inside a ring where his fellow villagers had gathered. As he ran, the villagers reached out and grabbed the still embedded splints, ripping them free. The splints weren’t allowed to be pulled out the way they had been hammered in, but had to be torn out in the opposite direction, causing the young man even greater pain and worse wounds. This concluded the day’s ceremony, and the boy was now a man.

Sambia of Papa New Guinea

In the small country of Papau New Guinea, over 1,000 different culture groups exist. Among them is the Sambia tribe, a group with perhaps the most insane rite of passage into manhood in the world.

The initiation begins at age seven with the separation of the boy from the mother. The boy will spend the rest of his young life only in the presence of men in an all male hut. The gender separation is taken to such extremes that boys and women use different walking paths around the village.

After being separated from the women, the young boy is subjected to several brutal hazing rituals. The first involves ceremonial bloodletting from the nose. The procedure is crude, but effective. The boy is held against a tree and stiff, sharp grasses and sticks are shoved up his nose until the blood starts flowing freely. Once the elders see blood, they let out a collective war cry. After the bloodletting, the boys undergo severe beatings and lashings. The purpose is to toughen up the boys and to prepare them to live as warriors.

As we’ve seen, ritual bloodletting is par for the course when it comes to male initiation. What sets the Sambia apart from other groups is the second part of their male rite of passage: semen drinking.

The Sambia believe that both men and women are born with a tingu. The tingu is a body part that allows for procreation. A woman’s tingu is ready for reproduction when she first menstruates. A man’s tingu is born shriveled and dried and the only way to fill it is to drink the “man milk,” or semen of other sexually mature men. They believe that by drinking the male essence of other men, the boys will become strong and virile. Done in the privacy of the forest, a boy will perform fellatio on young, usually unmarried men between the ages of 13 and 21. The boys are encouraged to “drink the male essence” as much as possible in order to become strong.

Around age 13, a young man has started puberty and another stage in the initiation begins. Another ritual nosebleed takes place along with some beatings to purify the young man. The boy is now considered a bachelor and will now provide the “man milk” to young boys just starting down the path of manhood.

Around age 20, a Sambia man is ready to marry, but before the nuptials take place, the tribal elders teach the young man the secrets to protect himself from the impurities of women. For example, when having intercourse, a man should stuff mint leaves in his nostril and chew on bark in order to mask the smell of his wife’s genitals. Moreover, when a man has sex with his wife, penetration shouldn’t be too deep as this will only increase the chances becoming polluted. Finally, after intercourse, a Sambia man must go bathe in mud in order to wash away any impurities he may have contracted from his wife. Even after marriage, a young Sambia man doesn’t spend very much time with his wife, but instead continues passing the time with the other men

The final rite of passage in the life of Sambian man is fatherhood. After his wife gives birth, a Sambia man is considered to have the full rights of masculinity.

Know about any other crazy male rites of passage? Share them with us in the comments.

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Abe February 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm

There is a world of difference between emo punks and the people who are into suspension and other body modification. Just thought I’d point that out.
I got a tattoo and put plugs in my ears as a coming of age ritual I made up for myself

2 Na Yeo February 22, 2010 at 12:02 am

Gratuitous, and more suited to “News of the Weird” than “Art of Manliness”.

Sure it was interesting in a WTF! … “look at that” kind of way. But it was *not* inspiring, did *not* show me anything about how I can be manly, and I think would make most readers think the very ungentlemanly thoughts of “I am glad I am not one of those uncivilized people”.

I would guess most of those cultures do not do such things anymore except for tourist gawkers who are willing to pay to see people participate in ‘traditional’ ceremonies. You would be outraged if white american trailer trash did such things to their boys, so I guess you must be OK with it because of their color or the country they live in …

3 Larry Carlile February 22, 2010 at 12:03 am

“Emo punks” was a bit of a cheap shot, don’t you think?

4 Chris February 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

And yet all I seem to hear anymore is how we should accept and value all aspects of other cultures. Riiight.

5 Brett McKay February 22, 2010 at 12:13 am

@Na Yeo-

Not everything on AoM is designed to be “inspiring.” It’s designed to cover all topics related to manliness and increase knowledge on all things manly. I thought this would be a fun and interesting look at how a distinct and unique aspect of manhood-the rite of passage-has been practiced in different cultures. And no one said they were all still practicing these rituals (especially for tourists-what an outlandish idea); this is a look at history. History doesn’t have to be pretty to be worthwhile to learn about, does it? If learning about history and different cultures is gratuitous and makes you think how glad you are that you’re not one of these uncivilized peoples, then that’s entirely on you and a sad reflection on you at that.

6 Michael February 22, 2010 at 12:18 am

Check out the movie “A man called horse” with Richard Harris for a depiction of the Mandan ritual.

7 Jonathan Potter February 22, 2010 at 1:01 am

Does anyone have positive coming of age ceremonies? The “interesting” rituals you posted were, as Mr. Yeo said, repulsive. I come to AoM for positive reinforcement, not grotesque National Geographic style history.

Brett, if you really think these rituals are manly, then that’s a sad reflection on you. Any doctor could tell you that 90% of these things do not make a better or stronger man; to the contrary! And you certainly didn’t present them as bad examples to learn from–you said that: “Today’s men lack a community of males to initiate them into manhood” and “rites of passage were clearly delineated in nearly every culture as one of the community’s most important rituals.” That sure sounds like a commendation of these hideous ceremonies to me. I thought AoM was about overcoming the lack of manliness in modern culture, not about conforming to it.

Those boys were no more “real men” than kids today who smoke, drink and do drugs because they think (and are told) it’s what “real men” do.

I, for one, enjoyed a unique coming of age ceremony: my 16th birthday found myself and my family en-route to Alaska from Michigan (via the trans-Canada highway and the Alcan). We had purchased a motorhome for the trip, and were camping at the Gas City Campground in Medicine Hat, Alberta. My dad, older brother and I took a 3-mile hike into the surrounding hills, overlooking a river, irrigation circles, and the city of Medicine Hat. That afternoon found us waiting (for 6+ hours) in a Ford garage getting the motorhome’s alternator repaired. I now consider that a divinely sent test of my character–to remain cheerful on a special day wasted (or so I thought) in such a dull manner. I passed. Two days later found us hiking in Banf national park, Canada. I have traveled through 49 of America’s 50 states and about half of Canada’s provinces (driving–a topic for another day), and Banf is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It was worth the wait.

How about you? Did you have an uplifting coming of age experience, or ideas for one? Did your Dad take you on a 3-day camping/hunting trip? (I always wanted to do that!) Maybe even a big game hunt (now there’s a practical test of skill and courage in the face of danger), or how about a eagle-scout style public service project?

8 FredInChina February 22, 2010 at 1:13 am

Great article – contrary to other comments I think that the rites of passage between boyhood and manhood are appropriate to this site. I am not an anthropologist, but believe that every single society in the history of man has come up with its own formal or informal rituals… Rites are the essence of society — even gangs came up with their own.
That some of these be liable to shock readers from a remote culture is not surprisong – it does not change the facts.
One interesting question, knowing that all societies have these rituals, is why do people collectively and maybe inconsciously believe they are necessary? and to what purpose?

9 Paul February 22, 2010 at 1:21 am

Are these commenters for real? I can’t think of a sadder reflection of the state of men today than these pathetic, reading-comprehension-deprived morons.

Their responses actually remind me of the post last week about resiliency, how resilient people are creative people who keep an open-mind and can learn about things without labeling them. Learning for learning’s sake. I hope these men-if they’re young-never become history or anthropology majors. They’ll throw the textbook at their teacher and say, “This is gross and repulsive! These aren’t real mean! This doesn’t inspire me, so it’s not worth my time. Yucko! “

10 Dan February 22, 2010 at 1:33 am

@ Jonathan- Get off your high horse, man. This article isn’t advocating that we all go jump off towers to be men. It was an interesting piece about what manliness means to other cultures around the world. And what do you have against National Geographic? Sheesh.

And sorry, waiting 6 hours while your family car gets fixed wasn’t a rite of passage. That’s just called dealing with one of life’s inconveniences.

11 Brett McKay February 22, 2010 at 1:42 am

Reading comprehension, indeed! Sometimes I think I should shut down all regular posts, and do a whole series on that topic alone. For now I guess I am stuck providing this service on a case by case basis.

Jonathan, where should I begin?

“That sure sounds like a commendation of these hideous ceremonies to me.”

You see, I figured no disclaimer was necessary as I did not think any reasonable person would believe I was advocating putting a glove of bullet ants on their hand. I guess I was wrong on this count. But just to be sure, I made sure to say that these were crazy and insane rituals. Again, I didn’t think it was necessary to spell out the fact that crazy and insane meant crazy and insane and that readers were mature enough not to need a “Do Not Try This at Home” sign placed on the post.

Now allow me to breakdown the introduction for you, so we can see where you went wrong. It starts with a introduction to the topic, and a few comments on why rites of passage are necessary. This sets the reader up for understanding why rite of passage rituals are universal in all cultures. And then that segways nicely into how different these rituals are in different cultures, and then we talk about each of these rituals. The end.

“I come to AoM for positive reinforcement, not grotesque National Geographic style history.”

Basically this translates into: I come to AoM to have my pre-existing beliefs confirmed. That’s all well and good. But personally, I believe manliness involves understanding not just what you think manliness is, but what other cultures think manliness is. Because it’s a concept that differs from culture to culture. And I think it’s valuable to get a look at other conceptions of manliness even if we might find them strange, uncomfortable, and offensive.

12 matt February 22, 2010 at 1:43 am

I thought this was a good look into history and other cultures rights of passage. For many western cultures becoming a man meant joining the military, or becoming a master craftsman, but this was a cool look at some of the more interesting and definately painful rites of passage. I still consider joining the military a right of passage, thats what basic training is, and if anybody wants to argue that basic training isnt painful, then they havent been through it. (and yes i have, twice)
I think there are many manly rights of passage for all types of men, for some it could be going to Philmont Scout Ranch, for others it could be a father – son hunting trip, or following their father into a fraternal order. As mentioned above it could be joining the military for some, or graduating college. I dont believe it has to be a grandiose gesture, or a painful ordeal, it should be a point when a father can look to his son and feel comfortable that he is ready to take on the world as a mature adult.

13 digital_dreamer February 22, 2010 at 1:54 am

Yikes! How about something that the modern, industrialized man can relate to, instead?

Perhaps many of use can relate to working on the farm as a kid, getting up and starting chores at 5 a.m (or earlier, if you have lots of cows to milk), showering before going to school, returning from school to work until dark? Or, perhaps, hauling 1,500 bales of hay in the barn loft in the heat of the afternoon without complaining? Or, digging 600 post holes by hand and lowering into the holes each of the self-cut wooden posts, all while a teenager? Take that, you video-gaming city-slickers! :-P

Maybe working at a 75-hours-a-week job, or working a 20-hour-shift more than once a month? Or, silently taking verbal abuse from bigots and other small-minded individuals on the job or in other situations? Or, sacrificing your time to fix serious issues created by others due to their lack of inexperience, skill, or apathy, knowing you will never be credited or recognized for it, and watch that person be promoted?

I’d like to think all the above examples, and more, are a testament to my manhood and a definition, however small, of the modern man in today’s system. It’s the realization that there are bigger things in life to be proud of – getting the job done (pat on the back or no), exercising self-confidence (born of experience and hard work), and a strong conviction that you are doing the right thing, even if or when others don’t see it.

There’s much more, but I agree there are many males today that that done little to earn respect from society or the female gender. Most of this is because of industrialization – it has removed much of the labor and hard effort that made men MEN.

The thing is, if you were to engage in any modern-day equivalent of these rather primitive male rites, you’d be mocked out of the room. Most women certainly wouldn’t see it as “manly”, but simply roll their eyes and say “boys will be boys” while taking them to the hospital.


14 Shane February 22, 2010 at 2:00 am

@Jonathan – congratulations, you waited for for your family car to be fixed. You’re clearly the pinnacle of manliness. We should all be like you, and find the time to wait for things that are broken to be fixed! It’ll show us how incredibly manly we are!

Get over yourself, wow.

15 Sir Lancelot February 22, 2010 at 2:17 am

As it’s been suggested before, some of the comments are a sad indictment of the whinging crybabies we have become.

16 Craig February 22, 2010 at 3:08 am

Wait, so are you guys saying that going down on a bunch of guys and drinking their “man milk” won’t make you a better man?

LOL! Boy am I relieved.

17 Daniel C. February 22, 2010 at 3:25 am

It’s interesting that circumcision is such a common theme in these rituals. Anti-circ people try to paint circumcision as something that just grew out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But it’s in many disparate cultures. I wonder why this is-why do we have this urge to remove the foreskin as a badge of manhood? Interesting.

I think it’s valuable to see different cultures like this because it makes you ask questions like that. Sure, no one is saying we should do these rituals now, but it makes you ask what it is that has made cultures come up with rite of passage rituals? Why are many so extreme? How can going through pain like this apply to modern men who want to become men?

18 Sam February 22, 2010 at 3:27 am

Snark him all you want, but I think Jonathan’s was a passage of maturity and manliness because he had a dawning realization of growing up. Obviously not many of you have seen the whining, petulant 150 lb male toddlers dragging their feet behind their exasperated and overworked girlfriends or wives in the grocery stores at any given time. I’d take a mature guy who can keep up a good attitude and good spirit and help out while doing something he may find downright boring any day.

19 rich February 22, 2010 at 3:43 am

I am disgusted by the number of closed-minded “men” that have chosen to comment on this post. I hope you all realize that by finding these rituals as interesting or what have you does not mean that you believe ritualized body modifications are necessary to becoming a man. You don’t have to condone these actions. What you must do is look at what these actions represent to the culture they are born out of and why they are necessary to that culture. Understanding that not every society has had modern Western ideas on what is/is not appropriate for men/boys and learning to differentiate this understanding from a morbid approval is an important aspect of being a man (and evidently one quality that numerous people seem to be lacking). You know who else looked at these cultures as incorrect, backwards, amoral, and unnecessary? All the countries that colonized numerous African, Australia, Indian, etc. nations and bent those people to their will while proclaiming how much they were helping the poor savages. And look! Even the Spartans from “civilized” Greece were responsible for an insane rite of passage and I guarantee a look into the history of any “civilized” Western society will produce numerous rites of passages just as bloody as these. But rather than opening your eyes to the fact that other cultures and ideas that you disagree with can be valid in other contexts, let’s stay firmly planted in those wonderful absolutist ideals that allow us to so easily point the finger and laugh at these “disgusting savages.”

20 Dan February 22, 2010 at 3:55 am


There is a big difference between good behavior and rites of passage. No one would argue that Jonathan didn’t exhibit good behavior, but to say that waiting for the car to be fixed was a rite of a passage, the point where he transitioned from boy to man, devalues actual rites of passage and is so naive, ignorant and self-important as to invite derision. I’ve known men who have come of age going to boot camp, traveling the world on a mission for their church, and losing their fathers and having to take care of their family. Saying that waiting for a car to be fixed stacks up insults the true meaning of rite of passage and the men who have actually gone through trials to become men.

If you’re going to deride the men of these cultures as not real men and then defend your manhood with that story, then yeah, you’re going to get some snark.

21 Thomas February 22, 2010 at 4:14 am

If you are familiar with kettlebell training, there is a Rite of Passage outlined in the basic training program suggested by Pavel Tsatsouline, which consists of performing 200 snatches in 10 minutes with a 24kg kettlebell as well as one-arm pressing a kettlebell weighing half your body weight, at least once with each arm.
It can be done alone, so it’s not really anchored in our culture, but it’s a worthwile goal for me, requiring a lot of effort and patience to reach. If the requirement of being physically and mentally strong is a good indicator of male adulthood is a different story.
To me, such a goal forms a good base to build manliness on, as it forms character and mental toughness.

22 Will February 22, 2010 at 4:19 am

My wife has suggested that at this time of night sleep sounds like more fun than any of these things. So…

23 IrishTony February 22, 2010 at 5:24 am

I am very surprised at some of the comments on this one.
Personally, I found it interesting.
Sure some of it grossed me out a bit ,the aboriginals in particular.
However, I do feel this was an enlightening and worthwhile post.
My 2 cents worth,
Thanks Brett. Please continue with the sterling work.
You’re making each day a little bit better for me by forcing me to think about what I do,why I do it and what I can do to be a better man.


24 Autobraz February 22, 2010 at 5:30 am

A quibble:
How can the ants be called “hormiga veinticuatro” if they are in Brazil? That’s Spanish and we speak Portuguese here!
Otherwise a very interesting article, thanks.

25 Dene February 22, 2010 at 6:06 am

The Mardudjara Aborigines Subincision is something I found most difficult to stomach (no pun intended).

Although growing as a man means dealing with the ugly realities of life both past and present – whether they be our own or otherwise.

26 BRZ February 22, 2010 at 7:34 am

Well I can’t say I enjoyed it but it was still a good article, painful but good. It is interesting to see how much emphasis different cultures put on becoming a man while western culture in general almost devalues the transition to manhood.

Kind of weird but I wonder if the Aboriginal Subincision affects fertility rates?

27 ThomsonsPier February 22, 2010 at 7:41 am

I also found the article interesting, and, like Daniel C, find it intriguing that circumcision and genital mutilation feature so heavily in coming of age rituals. I wonder if it stems from that being the most visible indication of maleness; focusing on those parts specific to a man as part of a passage into manliness has a strange logic to it.

When hunting and warrior culture were essential to survival, I can understand how some of these rituals had a place. They showed that a child had grown enough to withstand the very real dangers of a life which could kill them. There was no room for physical or mental weakness. In addition, I can imagine a mindset where a psychological advantage is to be had when your army is the more scarred and ostensibly battle-hardened. Fortunately for a lot of us, mental strength can be just as much a boon in the modern world as physical and the rites of passage are not based on a life of mortal peril, but financial security (usually).

28 dave February 22, 2010 at 8:16 am

There is another side to this, as usual. The willingness of men to inflict staggering amounts of pain on each other, to no productive end other than to decree that the survivor is ‘one of us’, might be described as an abiding pathology of masculine sociability. Maybe it gives them ‘resilience’, and preserves long-standing traditions; or maybe it makes them merciless bastards, clinging to power by re-enacting the abuse they suffered as adolescents and unable to grow beyond it.

29 Pipp February 22, 2010 at 8:24 am

For a more modern version of what ‘makes a man’ one should watch Lars and the Real Girl. This movie, while distintly odd, is really about how Lars finally grows to accept his manhood. This discussion with his brother is excellent.

Lars Lindstrom: I was talking to Bianca, and she was saying that in her culture they have these rites of passages and rituals and cermonies, and, just all kinds of things that, when you do them, go through them, let you know that you’re an adult? Doesn’t that sound great?
Gus: It does.
Lars Lindstrom: How’d you know?
Gus: How’d I know what?
Lars Lindstrom: That you were a man
Gus: Ahhh. I couldn’t tell ya.
Lars Lindstrom: Was it… okay, was it sex?
Gus: Um. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s uh, yeah, yeah it’s kind of – it’s uh – no. Well, it’s kind of sex but it’s not uh, you know? I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s – uh – good question, good question.
Lars Lindstrom: Yeah, but I have to know
Gus: [dryer buzzes] Hold that thought.
Gus: [in basement] You know, you should ask Dagmar
Lars Lindstrom: I did ask Dagmar. And she said that I should ask you.
Gus: Okay, you know I can only give you my opinion.
Lars Lindstrom: That’s what we want
Gus: Well, it’s not like you’re one thing or the other, okay? There’s still a kid inside but you grow up when you decide to do right, okay, and not what’s right for you, what’s right for everybody, even when it hurts.
Lars Lindstrom: Okay, like what?
Gus: Like, you know, like, you don’t jerk people around, you know, and you don’t cheat on your woman, and you take care of your family, you know, and you admit when you’re wrong, or you try to, anyways. That’s all I can think of, you know – it sound like it’s easy and for some reason it’s not.

30 Adam February 22, 2010 at 8:32 am

What is wrong with these people? What ever happened to having an ice cold brew with your dad? :)

31 Kevin February 22, 2010 at 9:05 am

Sorry, I’m not all that interested in the cookbook after this one!

32 DJ Wetzel February 22, 2010 at 9:11 am

Most important statement in the whole post “While they may be quite offensive to our modern, Western sensibilities, each was born of different cultures’ beliefs of what made a man, a man.”

The fact here is that the Aborigines (and every other culture represented) manhood rite of passage is a shock to our system, but we should not forget that their way of life is also. The profound thought behind the article, is that the state of manliness (or lack thereof) in America, can be directly tied to the lack of a clear definition of manhood. These various cultures know exactly what it takes to be a man (in their own eyes) and they perform initiation rites that justify that end. Here in America, we have no prevailing sense of what it takes to be a man and therefore we lack a standard rite of passage that helps us transition into manhood.

The lesson we can learn here is not so much about the rites of passage of other cultures (although fascinating) but how the lack of a definition for Manliness leads us to the current sad state of manliness in our modern society!

33 Tyler Logan February 22, 2010 at 9:41 am

Wow… hardcore… sub-incision… bullet ants… You can kinda laugh at western ‘men’ after seeing these.

34 Trent February 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

The lack of manhood rituals has been one of the things I have always seen as a problem with our society. We continue to push responsibility further and further away. The legal drinking age, voting age, being able to rent a car, and many other things are being pushed further and further back. We must remember that maturity does not come with age, it comes from experience. If we treat young males as men instead of boys they will shape themselves in that fashion. Many boys float around without direction, doing stupid things trying to prove their manhood. As a new generation of men we need to remember to help guide these boys. While it is important to focus on our own manhood, we cannot forget the needs of others.

35 Bruce Williamson February 22, 2010 at 10:10 am

Uh I think I’ll pass on these.

36 DefiTexte February 22, 2010 at 10:18 am

May be we should remain a kid? Play without real war issues? Give some money back when someone has lost everything so the game can continue, just for fun? However, play, of course.

37 uncle_sean February 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

Another favorite is the Luisexo Indian boys had to lay on red ant hills and not cry out in pain as they were repeatedly bitten.

38 Gus February 22, 2010 at 10:51 am

Vigorous military training such as The US Army Airborne and Ranger Schools would count. Being initiated as a Mason or other fraternal order can help. Most importantly a man puts his comfort and security in a subordinate position to his duties or purpose. To protect his loved one or the weak and provide suport to his family.Manhood is the acceptence of your place of responsibility.

39 Jinky Williams February 22, 2010 at 11:09 am

I believe that the “manly” focus of this article shouldn’t be so much the particulars of the rite, but the heart behind it, and why rites of passage for men are so universal.

Men develop in a way wholly different from women. We progress through a series of “defining moments”: Events where we find if we “got what it takes”. Like a young man mowing the lawn, completely by himself, for the first time. Or camping out in the woods with his friends, without his parents’ help. Even something as banal-sounding as making it through a rough day at work with a smile on your face is a defining moment.

Secondly, manliness can *only* be bestowed upon by other men–men whom the one being so bestowed upon believes to be men.

So it only makes sense that a particularly-meaningful defining moment would be reserved for the passage into manhood, initiated by those men who have already been viewed as such.

Times as a warrior and the provider of a family are daunting and certainly not trivial, even in our anti-septic, coffeehouse-laden society; how much moreso is this true in the communities that we got a peek at, in this article? It’s an unmercifully tough life, and to survive in those harsh environments, you must be equally tough. These rites of passage are not cruelties, inflicted by bullies who are finally able to mete out revenge. They were developed as a mandatory preparation for the lives that these boys, soon to be men, would be leading. Now, not all aspects of the rites are functional, and a good deal of ritual is involved. But ritual, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

I want it to be clear that I’m not defending the particulars of each rite, or whether or not they are the best ways to prepare a boy to become a man. Instead, I’m attempting to explain and defend the *heart* behind them, and why rites of passage are so important for men of any locality or demographic, why it’s important that they be done right. The present rite of passage that we as men have is usually drinking yourself under the table at 21 and having to get someone else to drive you home. “All right, pack it in, gents. Good game. Congrats! You’re a man now, son.” This serves no useful purpose, to my mind, and certainly doesn’t aid much in the preparation of a solid foundation of manliness.

What are some of your ideas for rites of passage that would prepare boys to become men, and that would signal to them that they should view themselves as men?

40 Jinky Williams February 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

Just so it’s understood: My first paragraph looks like it might be criticizing Brett’s choice of focus; this is not the case. I appreciate and agree with where he’s coming from. I would have worded it differently, had I read it through before I posted.

My apologies for any confusion.

41 Mike February 22, 2010 at 11:48 am

RE: Mardudjara Aborigines Subincision

“A few months after the circumcision, the tribal elders take the young man again to a fire. An elder sits on the boy’s chest and takes ahold of the boy’s penis.”

You went from calling him a “young man” back to calling him a “boy”. Give him his due and at least call him an adolescent for having already had the most sensitive part of penis cut at 15 years old then eating it.

42 Nick February 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I think these comments are hilarious. Could the title have been any more descriptive of what you were about to read? If it doesn’t sound interesting, you should be more concerned with why you are reading it. I love this blog, but I don’t read every single post just because I like the majority of the posts that I have read. There’s nothing more annoying that hearing someone complain about a blog…by the way, how does a post on how to use a straight razor give them motivation and inspiration?

43 yetibiker February 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for the new A material for my nightmares. I honestly wish that I would have never read this. Some of this serves to confirm the existence of evil and human depravity. I have a vivid, involuntary imagination. I have to keep my eyes open in the dentist’s chair or else a tongues-eye-view of the instruments scraping on my teeth plays like a movie on the backs of my eyelids. This was absolutely terrible to read while eating lunch. I wish that there was a warning at the beginning. “The following content is graphic and you can’t even imagine how depraved and disturbing it is. Seriously, don’t even read this if you are a visual person.”

44 Nick February 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm

“I come to AoM to have my pre-existing beliefs confirmed” – Thanks Brett…brilliant. This is the problem with blogs and the Internet. Everyone knows what they are looking for (what they already know), and complains and rejects everything they don’t know about. To all those in this category, you belong with those spending their entire lives reading articles about GTD, all the while never fully realizing the irony of this conquest. Try Lifehacker, I think they have an awesome post on how to clean your credit cards…that way you can buy a few more self help books as quickly as possible. Personally, I won’t read a blog that only discusses one topic…it’s not a discussion at that point, it’s like going to church.

45 John Sifferman February 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Very interesting and provocative article – thanks for posting.

46 Tom February 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I don’t understand why people think it is a bad article. Yes maybe it’s a bit extreme but it is a huge part of manliness for the man that did go through those rights of passage.

The world is not only the way we live it and see it, there are other cultures and for those people manliness is something very different from what we believe it is.

This blog is about manliness and maybe this article is a bit different than what I have seen here over the past year and a half but it gave me a new perspective on the world we live in.

47 Dr. Rod Berger February 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Fantastic post! The amount of research you did is wonderful!! I can only imagine what future generations will categorize as current male rituals that we take as common place in our present culture.
Dr. Rod

48 Sir Lancelot February 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Daniel C wrote: “Anti-circ people try to paint circumcision as something that just grew out of the Judeo-Christian tradition”

These are sad times full of self-hatred when calling something Judeo-Christian is enough of an argument to oppose it.

My beef with circumcision is quite the opposite: it seems alien an Middle-Eastern rite for a man from a European Christian country like me.

Like they say: “If it ain’t broke…”

49 Earl Hipp February 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm

The movement to initiate boys is alive and well today. I am connected with men from around the world that are inventing culturally relevant ROP experiences. Check out my blog on the topic at:http://journeytomanhood.blogspot.com/ and my Man-Making book that calls men to this work at: http://man-making.com/

I am working with groups of men in both MN and AZ to initiate boys. Check out the AZ group’s website at: http://desertmenscouncil.org I’m happy to help you find a similar group near you.

A commonly quoted phrase in our work is from Fredrick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Come join us in service to young males/future men!

50 Deyka February 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm


51 Jake February 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Dude, we have a couple “interesting and insane” rites of passage in our own culture today!

The first one that comes to mind is the “Crossing the Equator” ceremony in the US Navy!!

52 Marine Mark W. February 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Great Post. The lack of a healthy “Defining moment” in our society for young men has greatly contributed to what I call “The culture of dependency” in young men today. How many men in their 20s have never been employed, still live at home, have mom cook for them and complain that life is too hard for them to make it on their own? I would wager that the number is staggering. I agree with Trent and Gus. The day I graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Training 23 years ago was my defining moment. One needs to look no further than our military for this right of passage. Right now, there are 19 year old men in Afghanistan interacting with indigenous tribal elders, calling in air strikes, caring for severely wounded comrades, putting steel on target and doing things many men in their 40s the United States would not dream of doing or clearly lack the courage to do. Sadly, less than one percent of our current population is drawn to serve. Why should this current epidemic of the feminization of men surprise any of us? Watch “Band of Brothers” to see how our Grandfather’s generation felt about what it took to be a man. Keep these great posts coming, Brett.

53 Gregor February 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Excellent post, with great debates.

Rites of passage are common to all traditional societies. It is only when we move into the modern tech savy realm that these rites are lost, either altogether or in meaning. As in how Jinky Williams brought to light the lawn mowing for the first time, that is big deal for a boy (or a girl) to mow the lawn by themselves, however there is generally no celebration of that act and therefore not seen as rite of passage except in retrospect.

Many rites included a period of isolation or a ritual that was physically painful or challenging for the participants. This was seen as a death of the child out of which the man (or woman) would be born.

It is quite difficult for us in modern society to witness these rituals and easy for us to pass judgment upon these groups. We have laws protecting our youths, in our technologically advanced societies. We prolong adolescence longer than these other groups. It takes a broader understanding to know why, these society participated in these rituals. What stimulus prompted these rituals? What does it mean to the paricipants? Are they willing?

I’d rather jump a bull or land dive than get a sub-incision.

54 Len L. February 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm


Another great article. Yes, I physically cringed reading most of it, but it is fascinating to read about what other cultures define as Manliness.

55 John February 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Since I haven’t seen any comments about the Spartan rite of passage, I thought I’d elaborate a little on it. While definitely gruesome, the annual murdering of slaves did serve a purpose; simply put, it kept the slave population down to a manageable amount. Given that the Spartans were a warrior people who conquered and fought a lot, they could’ve easily (and likely did) have slave uprisings without some kind of recurring event taking place. A necessary, but no less barbaric evil.

56 Michael Kashiktchian February 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Brett, thank you for such an insightful article. Never could I ever imagine some of the things you’ve brought to light in this post as a passage to manliness (because we don’t do these things in Western culture, of course). Still, this opened up a huge door for me to see what men had to go through historically in order to enter manhood. Thank you for helping me to exercise an open mind and learn about these people. This definitely makes me thankful for the “passages” that I have had to undergo (and am still traveling through) into manhood. We have our own troubles and obstacles, such as working, making money, supporting a family, buying a home… the list goes on.

This article made me realize that men, from day one, have always had a rite of passage, be it wearing an ant glove, coming out of debt, or asking a woman on a date.

I am embarrassed for the men who’ve posted comments expressing contempt for these traditional customs. These men have experienced their own rites of passage, and none of us (or them) are qualified to judge each other by any standards, for we are all men alike.

57 Darryl February 22, 2010 at 6:35 pm

It was a great article (definitely cringe-worthy) I think the whole issue is we all live in different countries and therefore different cultures and therefore rites of passage. Something that may sound disgusting and painful (like what’s being described here) to someone in North America, may illicit a response of ‘meh’ to someone who actually went through it or from the same area of the world in which it is practised, and vice versa. I think people need to be more open minded and respectful about other cultures, because from what I’ve seen in some of the comments, it hasn’t happened!

58 Just Some Guy February 22, 2010 at 6:43 pm
59 Hitler February 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Perhaps we should stop and honor the rite of passage known as female circumcision.

Since when is there any virtue in forced genital mutilation?

Thank god some people are starting to emerge from the dark ages.

60 Sarah Joy Albrecht February 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm


How many of you are adults – even with a decent job or married with children – and your parents still treat you like a teenager?**

How many of you had a difficult time transitioning into an adult, riddled with conflicts or stupid decisions fueled by sticking it to your parents?

I would argue that, while some of these rituals are admittedly bizarre, there is no question in the minds of the parents or even in the rest of the community, that a person has become an adult.

61 Kevin (strongandfit.net) February 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Some of these made me cringe–glad I wasn’t born into that “cutting” tribe.

62 Greg K., PA February 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm

That is absolutely disturbing. I think I could have lived the rest of my life happily not knowing that subincision exists. Most of these practices seem like hazing to the extreme. And while I appreciate that I’m being ethnocentric, I don’t see what’s manly about being fellated by younger boys – seems like a pedophile’s dream.

63 Ken February 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I would like to thank Brett for a great article (a little painful, but great). I just have a few issues with some of the comments:
@Na Yeo; not everything has to be ‘inspiring’ something is good as educational.
@Jonathan Potter; I just don’t see how waiting in a garage is a rite of passage, the hiking with your dad and older brother would seem more of a ROP.
@digita_dreamer; the part telling about working is a testament to your manly ability but they are not Rites of Passage.
@Rich and @Dan great point.
@Marine Mark W.; your statement “Sadly, less than one percent of our current population is drawn to serve. Why should this current epidemic of the feminization of men surprise any of us?” Just because someone didn’t or was unable to serve doesn’t make them less of a man. I know people who served and may be physically a man but are not gentlemen.
To all those who said things like we don’t do thinks like that or don’t have Rites of Passages like that you are naïve. Whether you think all of these are good (in your opinion) or not many of these are the rites of passage for many young men. In the United States (as of 2007) there were 800,000 gang members and I would guess that 90-95% of then went through either a ‘jump-in’ or had to commit a crime to get in (similar to the whipping/beating and the Sparta Krypteia. You may not like the idea of using gang initiation as a rite of passage but for many that is what it is (and that number 800,000 is a greater population than the states of Alaska 698,473; North Dakota 646,844; Vermont 621,760; district of Columbia 599,657; or Wyoming 544,270) so don’t think that these “small tribes” are the only ones doing this.
Secondly many of the military rites of passage are not some pleasant walk in the park. Things like ‘The Crucible’, ‘Battle Stations’, ‘Crossing the Equator’, ‘wetting-down’, ‘Victory Forge’, and others have seen their share of causalities.
As for Western Rite of Passage the problem is that many of them are not looked on a celebrations anymore, like Gregor said “there is generally no celebration of that act and therefore not seen as rite of passage except in retrospect”. Here are some that people are forgetting about: Bar Mitzvah (Judaism), First Haircut, Guan Li (China), Graduation, First communion/Confirmation (Christians, Circumcision, Missionary works (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Rumspringa (Amish), and many countries have secular coming of age ceremonies. And some will say the college events like joining a fraternity, honor society, or entering a profession (‘White coat Ceremony’ for entrance into Medicine & Pharmacy or ‘The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer/Iron Ring Ceremony’ for entrance to the profession of Engineer).
I think that one of the main problems with looking at Rites of Passage in the United States is that communities are not as tight as in the ‘tribes’ that many look at and the ROPs are not a unified and in some cases not celebrated.

64 warriorpoet912 February 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Great article Brett. In reading previous comments, what jumps out is the close-mindedness. Too often we only view what suits our needs and skip over what we disagree with. In this case, we have extreme examples of what boys have been put through and though I fidgeted in my seat as I read (male menstruation? ACK!) it personifies the definition of a rite of passage. A rite of passage is a very clear marker in someone’s life; life was one way before, and now it’s different after. The problem with our young men of today is that everything being so insular, they aren’t challenged to venture out of their comfort zone. It’s one thing to go camping with your friends and no parents for the first time at age thirteen, but quite another to go camping by yourself at thirteen. That’s a rite of passage. The examples given focus on the very primal notions of manhood, fighting and virility, but more than anything they force the man to endure when challenged with the seemingly impossible. To many young men today, a day without tv or the internet is a challenge.

65 Marcus February 23, 2010 at 12:48 am

Interesting and well researched article. Rights of passage are certainly important.
However, let’s not romanticize traditional rights of passage too much. We still need to see them in terms of human rights which are absolute and not relative, and some of these rights don’t qualify.
I fully support more modern ideas such as going camping with friends, and no parents etc.

66 Julian G February 23, 2010 at 4:06 am

I thought the article was awesome. Very interesting cultures, and there tenacity and endurance with such rites of passage is a true test to their society’s manliness.

67 David Wilson February 23, 2010 at 7:14 am

17th Annual Demonstration/March Against Circumcision
March 26th – April 1st 2010
West side of US Capitol
March 30th—– march to the White House 4pm

Stop Infant Circumcision Society

68 CB February 23, 2010 at 8:20 am

(This is a lengthy post, so I apologize for that. I hope that it is worthwhile for those that choose to read it.)
I think the key for the rite of passage is it being recognized by men as a step into manhood. I agree that to say there are no rites of passage in the US or Western culture is just as wrong as condeming the rites described above as invalid. However, Western culture does not do well with the recognition part. Consider (as others have commented in other AOM articles) that there is no clear definition of adulthood in the US. If you want confusion think: at 18 you can serve in the military and smoke but you cannot drink. Until yesterday you could have a credit card without proof of employment but you cannot rent a car without rediculous fees for being “inexperienced”. Your auto insurance does not go down until 25 or 30. You cannot drink until 21 but you can babysit at 13 (or younger if your parents feel like being cagey and don’t mind getting a slap on the wrist if “caught”). I agree with those that have said just pick an age already and go with it! I know that these rules and laws were probably created with the best of intentions, but as we’ve all heard before, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In my experience, many times young men (and women) given responsibility will rise to the occasion.
When I was about 13 or 14, I completed a staff training program for a boyscout-like summer camp. At the end of the 3 week program, two things happen. First, you go on a solo, about 24 hours in the woods, alone, where you can reflect ofver the last 3 weeks and spend time with God and nature without distraction. You carry with you a bible, journal, canteen, and a poncho. And it somehow always seems to rain. Also, you were dropped off at a spot and told to stay until you were told you were done.
The second thing was ‘Hell Night’. Now realise that hell for a 13 year old at a Christian camp is much different from hell for a serviceman or college student. It’s hell mostly because you’re woken up after thinking you’re done with everything sometime early in the morning and running around doing exercises and team-building inititives. The culmination is standing around the campfire with the current staff, old staff, and dads and being given a charge to continue growing and learning and an invitation to come back as a staff member the following year. This charge is bestowed upon these young men by their fathers and other men that they lookup to and that is the most important part of the whole ritual. Even if the initiatives were done but there was no ceremony or it was the moms and sisters that were present, it would not have the same bestowment of manliness.
This particular ceremony was by no means the only rite of passage in my life. It was a step that allowed me to realize that I did have what it takes to be a man in this world, with all of the rights and responsibilites. It also showed me that I had what it takes to go through other rites of passage that may be more retrospective in nature such as asking a girl to marry me or deciding on a career path. To me these things have become less of a rite of passage and more just part of the responsibility of being a man and now a husband.
Rites of passage exist in all societies. The meaningful ones for men are the ones that push us, and show us that we have what it takes to be manly and that other men believe that we have what it takes to be a man.

69 Mueller February 23, 2010 at 8:32 am

As soon as I saw this headline, I thought to myself “if Vanuatu Land Diving isn’t on this list, I am about to blow AoM’s minds!”

70 Travis Sevilla February 23, 2010 at 10:37 am

Amazing Article! The comments that followed were “interesting” to say the least. However the cross section seems pretty good considering how large your audience is. All in all, this article got me thinking about rites of passage and whether or not I have had one ( or many). I am a 34 year old male, married (almost 10 years), with a 20 month old son. So by most respects I am considered a “man”. However this is most definitely not the case all of the time. The article and the comments that followed have truly got me thinking about manliness in our society and the pandemic of protracted youth. Many great points were brought up, military service, missionary work, religious rites, etc. I come from a family of service men and women. My youngest brother is just 21 going on 22 and is now a veteran of two campaigns as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. I bring this up because he was decorated with a medal of Valor for holding off a taliban attack with his machine gun. All this and he is barely able to order a beer, yet to most he would be considered a “Man”. But this is just one aspect of my kid brother. He still doesn’t know how to use his checking account, or his cell phone for that matter. My point being that for all intents and purpose he very much a “Man” yet lacks the basic skills that “Men” should have in our society. It seems that due to our society’s size and diversity a definition of manliness will always be up for debate. But one thing is certain in my mind, if we are closed minded to other cultures, beliefs, etc, we will never be MEN.

71 Casey February 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Great post! I know what the site is usually like, and I thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking departure from the norm.
Looking outside of the box is decidedly manly.

72 rich February 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

@Marcus-I’m taking a class on human rights violations right now at my university and I completely disagree with you that these rites violate/violated these rights, much less your assertion that human rights are absolute.

73 Hugo Stiglitz February 23, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Good and interesting article, Brett. While I may not be sticking my hand into a glove full of bullet ants any time soon, I am interested in learning about more rites of passage. What makes the initiation rites in this article interesting is that these ceremonies are held to definitively cross boys into manhood; that is, once a “boy” in these cultures completes his initiation, he becomes a “man.” Those cultures have an actual “definition” of what makes a man. Those people could say, “yesterday I was a boy, and now I’m a man.” What makes Americans (or other Westerners) become men nowadays? Certainly it depends on their upbringing, life experiences, hardships faced, etc. I have been thinking to myself lately, “when did I become a man?” For me (and for most Americans, in my opinion), I think it is a more gradual process. It’s not as “easy” as completing a ceremony — and by “easy,” I don’t mean to downplay the severity of some of the rites of passage mentioned in the article, but I mean that we don’t have a single unifying experience we complete to make us men. For one man, it may be the death of a parent at a young age, and he has to help raise his siblings; for another, it may be a single act of heroism in what may have been an otherwise lackluster life; and perhaps another may reflect back on a single year during high school, and all lessons learned throughout.

I often think of the famous Bible passage, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” The key word in this passage is “became,” yet it is also the most intriguing because the moment of crossing from boyhood to manhood may not be realized until a much later day and time.

74 A.G. February 23, 2010 at 11:20 pm

And I thought blazing swats from fraternity brothers was brutal.

75 Buh February 24, 2010 at 1:16 am

This sounds like typical hazing behavior. Let’s not delude ourselves into believing that ANY of these procedures are done for the benefit of a young man. These rituals don’t build up a strong individual, they build up a weakling who endures the degradation of his society at any cost. This trait of self denial particularly benefits warrior cultures that require a large supply of conformist, hierarchically minded youngsters willing to fight and die at the whim of a chief. Real strength resides in the ability to claim one’s own fate with bravery and live with the consequences, not silently endure abuse at the will of another. If you disagree, tell me how semen drinking or bodily mutilation could ever mold a better warrior and why we don’t use those rites in our modern military.

Conclusion: this article hasn’t shown the necessity of rites of passage in creating manhood as I understand it. It has shown the many ways that warrior societies take the spirit out of young men and turn them into long suffering automatons.

76 Mark February 24, 2010 at 3:01 am

I hear the Aborginal rite is still practised here in Australia, in the remote Regions of the outback.
As for hazing rituals creating “weaklings” the point of these rituals is to build group cohesion, if you were ever in the military you would know that these rituals help the group bond tighter. They may not slit penises anymore, or shove sharp bamboo shoots up their nostrils, but the whole point of physical training in most armies and elite units is a form of torture or hazing, there is no need to be able to perform to that physical level in modern warfare, but the point of the ordeal is to improve group cohesion, since all members performed the same ordeals to prove themselves and gain membership, and it also gatheres and builds mental toughness, a trait as important today as it has ever been.
As for bowing to the submission of a chief, that if exactly what most military units stress, the breaking down of the individuals and the cohesive unit taking it’s place.
These people were very very tough, how many modern military men would be able to endure getting burnt to death by a rival tribe without flincing or showing the slightest pain? Well that exactly what the Native Americans regularily did.
The semen drinking ritual is tied to the belief that they need to imbibe the male “essence” in order to become a man, yes it’s distasteful and archaic but it is tied to their culture.

77 Duff February 24, 2010 at 3:01 am

I don’t think extending adolescence is necessarily a problem. Greater integrated complexity requires a longer time. Just as homo sapiens babies require longer gestation periods than lizards, so do adult males of our complex digital age. Prematurely becoming an adult and the puer aeternas of never growing up are two sides of the same coin. Full adult maturity actually takes time, and cannot be rushed in a dangerous, premodern rite of passage if one is to be initiated into our global and indeed integral age.

Rites of passage actually bond individuals to the specific group that initiates them, not into some larger global community, and thus are the tools of fundamentalist conservatives. Men who undergo rites of passage with groups like the controversial ManKind Project or Promise Keepers often find themselves more bonded to the group and their rigid ideologies of masculinity.

Becoming an individuated adult male who thinks for himself and can integrate the complexity required to navigate the information age requires self-initiation into adulthood by overcoming the rites of passage of the confusion, alienation, and existential dilemmas of living in the postmodern condition. When we speak as if there are no modern rights of passage for men, we are incorrect. The men we criticize for their prolonged adolescence are in fact men who have failed the test of the complex, enduring rights of passage of our age.

78 rich February 24, 2010 at 4:10 am

@Buh- I would disagree with almost all of your statements. You’re looking at this article from a very modern, individualized perspective. In the period that most (all?) of these rites were taking place, they were very much necessary and bringing up strong men. For one thing-many of those societies and cultures did not value or even really conceive of the individual. It is not like modern times where a person can survive individuated: these tribes were absolutely vital. Do you think people who refused these rites, if they even could fathom that thought, could survive by themselves? Probably not. And if they could, it was a much more difficult and dangerous life than remaining in the tribe.

The reason I said “if they could even fathom that thought” is because these societies and cultures ingrained in their member’s heads that these rites were NOT optional. Nor were they degrading. They were seen as the utmost example of one’s worth, honor, courage, ability, faith, and any other “positive” or desirable quality the tribe imbued these rites with. They were an understood cost of living in this tribe and to fail at them/refuse them was almost certainly a huge insult to the tribe, probably life threatening, and more than likely this refusal stigmatized your entire family. Because of these outcomes, participation in these rites was assumed, not debated, and the participants knew that this.

As I said earlier, it seems that you (as well as other people) are assuming that the values our modern cultures hold dear are absolute and applicable to all societies and cultures at any given time when this is simply not true. Hell, up until the industrial revolution in the U.S. there existed very little precedence toward individualized goals! Why do you think family farms and business were passed down through generations? Why do you think sons unquestioningly helped keep those farms/businesses running? Because they were told it was their duty and they believed it was in order to ensure the survival of their family-just like the boys in these tribes did. Now granted, there may not have been extreme rites of passages for this example, but that is a cultural aspect that arises out of innumerable factors.

And finally, if you honestly cannot see how being forced to unflinchingly endure excruciating pain and surviving it would not make you the warrior that the tribe needs then I do not know how to explain it to you.

79 CB February 24, 2010 at 7:44 am

@Duff – I don’t completely agree with you that a prolonged adolescence is a good thing and that rites of passage are obsolete. I agree that it takes longer today to produce a man for just the reasons you state: We are more complex than a lizard and we live in more complex world. However, I believe this is why we have age restrictions on certain activities.
The problem lies in not having a clear definition of what it means and what it takes to be a man. As I mentioned in a comment above (#68), I remember a specific rite of passage in my life. That was a turning point for me. I had talks with my dad, my mom, and others on what it means to grow up and other life lesson both before and after that program, but that program had a specific before and after. Was I a fully matured man afterwards? Not at all! Are there lessons I’m still learning over 13 years later? Absolutely! Have I had other initiations/rites of passage along the way? Yes! And I will probably have others as well. I plan to continue improving myself and trying to become a better man for the rest of my life. But that summer marked the true beginning of that journey. After that, while physically and emotionally, I was still growing, I had begun the journey and proved that I had what it takes to be a man.
Consider that even in the tribes described above, the boy who passed the test was considered a man but that did not mean he was finished learning or improving himself.

80 daniel February 24, 2010 at 9:29 am

I think you have to look at whats normal to each culture. That being said, not one culture is right or wrong. you know the saying ” when in rome…..”, thats because normal is only defined as to what each culture makes it. BRETT thank you for sharing this information with us. Very informative.

81 Scott G.F. February 24, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I was fascinated by this entry. Looking through the glasses of my culture and point of view I cannot imagine the brutality. The rituals are disgusting to me because I can not see it within tribal context.

I cannot remember any male ritual growing up. It makes me a little sad that I cannot recall any one time I felt bestowed. I served in the military, I graduated with a masters degree, the wife and I just had a little boy. At no time did I think I reached a demarcation line of boy to man. Have I had moments that can be clearly considered manly? Yes.

All things being equal I would choose running over the cows.

82 Glendon Cameron February 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm


I though the land diving was insane, but the more I read, the more grateful I was for being born in the good old USA!!! Damn, when I was growing up you got into fights and climbed trees! You kissed that girl, you graduated and got a job. I did grow up in the south with some very clear expectations of what a man is/was during those times. Being cut and sting to the point of painful numbness was not on the list.

I cannot fathom nor imagine the sheer terror and pain these men when through. Perhaps this type of torture is what makes the Taliban so tough.

This shit is definitely for the birds! Pain, humiliation and pseudo homosexuality, C “MON man go kill something, if I had a choice call me a freaking Spartan!

83 NielsBohr February 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm

AoM should’ve combined this article with “In Defense of Nostalgia.”

84 Kurt February 25, 2010 at 2:22 am

Originally posted by Mr. McKay
“But personally, I believe manliness involves understanding not just what you think manliness is, but what other cultures think manliness is. Because it’s a concept that differs from culture to culture. And I think it’s valuable to get a look at other conceptions of manliness even if we might find them strange, uncomfortable, and offensive.”

Bravo sir. It is nice to see that there are still a few bastions of intellectual thought left in the world.

85 Nazreel February 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Makes you glad to be a woman. Only have to go through menstruation (once a month from 10 to 40) and childbirth several times with a good chance of dying every time.

86 Tristan February 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I think some people here are confusing “open-mindedness” and a complete lack of evaluation. It’s one thing to see what others (and other cultures) are/were doing; it’s quite different to assert that they are all equally valuable or right and we can’t judge them because they are part of a different culture. Our own culture can be flat out wrong, and on many issues it is; the same must obviously hold true of other cultures.
If indeed there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and bad, then we have a responsibility to examine things in light of those values. Now, since this website is clearly devoted to the idea that manhood (as defined by our culture, with few exceptions) is good, it obviously holds that there is good. So how can you turn around and judge commentors for reaching conclusions about the goodness (or lack thereof) of what they’ve read here?

For example, the Sambia hold that a boy cannot become a fertile man (producing semen) unless he takes in the essence of male fertility by drinking it in the form of semen. That is objectively wrong. The cultural belief underlying the ritual is in error, and I fail to see how it is “closed-minded” to call it what it is based on facts and logic, a virtue espoused by this site.

The kicker to all of this open-minded talk is this: The idea that no culture is better than another (generally or in specific categories) is a Western one. Other cultures do not hold to it. So we actually come full circle to believing (if subconsciously) that our culture is best because, after all, we’re the enlightened non-ethnocentric culture that doesn’t think our way is best. Read “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom if you would like this point spelled out at length and in considerable detail.

87 Kevin February 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Ok, so I’m just wondering which came first, this article here, or the strangely similar article at http://www.sloshspot.com/blog/02-25-2010/American-Rites-of-Passages-Make-Other-Cultures-Look-Soft-287 ?

It looks a lot like they ripped off the post from AoM and added a few things, then somehow made the frontpage of Digg.

I’m calling Shenanigans here on Sloshspot! Shenanigans!

88 Tristan February 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I have to say, Basic is the only true Rite of Passage I can think of in Western culture, in the sense that it is an institution in our society, and the understanding of it is that boys go in and Men (or Marines) come out. Outside of this, people generally come up with an ROP that is informal, only within their family, etc.

I was planning on this, but turns out I’m an asthmatic flat-foot. I’m soon (soon enough anyway) to be married, so I figure that will have to serve as the official outward “this guy’s an adult now” manifestation.

89 Kurt February 25, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Tristan, I disagree with your assertion that we are justified to judge other cultures based on our values, because values are culturally defined. Any judgement that you make is simply defined by your western frame of thought. Concepts of right and wrong, good and bad are defined by culture.

From the western viewpoint, which values science and logic over tradition, the Sambians are incorrect in believing that a boy must ingest semen in order to become fertile. From their viewpoint, our abandonment of tradition in favour of science is equally incorrect. Our ideas of right/wrong conflict because each are defined by separate cultures.

90 Sir Lancelot February 26, 2010 at 5:28 am

Kurt, I’m sure you’re familiar with the anthropological concepts of emic and epic. Let’s not fall into the trap of fundamentalist relativism.

91 Sir Lancelot February 26, 2010 at 5:29 am

Sorry, I meant etic, of course!

92 Kurt February 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Excellent point Sir Lancelot. However, I still feel that emic vs. etic applies more to impartiality than it does to making judgments about whether or not a culture is “correct” in it’s assumptions. It is the anthropologist’s job to try and understand a culture, not judge whether aspects of it are “right” or “wrong.”

93 Sam February 27, 2010 at 2:08 am

I guess I’m a little late reading this article, but I have to say: I think this is inappropriate for this site. This is the type of thing which pops up now and then on AoM that makes me not recommend it to my brothers–and sisters–(in the 10-15 range).
I think I see what you had in mind when posting it, Brett, but I really just don’t agree that it belongs on this site. A little too explicit and detailed–if you know what I mean….

94 Brett McKay February 27, 2010 at 2:21 am


This site is catered towards men, as in adult males, people that have the intellectual maturity to handle (sometimes offensive to our Western sensibilities) descriptions of other cultures. Not young boys and girls.

95 dj kelley March 1, 2010 at 2:08 am

I am about 5 months in to an eleven month mission trip going to eleven different countries around the World. Although it might seem a little less macho than some, I see it as a rite of passage of sorts. I am learning all sorts of things that I probably wouldn’t learn elsewhere as well as living in all sorts of conditions, off of a relatively small budget (our food budget is $3.75 US a day, and I have learned that you can eat a lot more than you would think off of it). I am also being pushed to further develop my relational skills as I am constantly surrounded by my team and our contacts. We first lived out of our tents (and froze our buts off) in the mountains of Guatemala where we helped to construct a church. We spent a month living at an orphanage on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua where we helped a local ministry build a kitchen to feed the starving children on the island and helped on the farm to help the orphanage become more sustainable. Our third month we flew to Thailand where 17 of us men camped out and helped to clear land for the construction of an Orphan home. We then went to Cambodia for a month, where we taught English, and I got to sleep on the roof of a building getting the best view of the stars I have ever seen. We are getting ready to fly to W. Africa in a week, where we will spend three months, before we head to Eastern Europe where we will spend 3 more. We have done everything from climbing active volcanoes, hiking through jungles to find waterfalls, and bathing in rivers, to rafting, staring down angry tigers (ok, so maybe he was behind a chain link fence) etc. on our days off. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I definitely think I will have learned a thing or two about being a man by the time we are done.

96 Connor Milos March 2, 2010 at 2:27 am

Wow… Just wow. I feel a strong appreciation for growing up in The States right about now.

97 tobi March 3, 2010 at 5:32 am

‘leave them alone – they live in perfect harmony with nature and themselves…children of paradise’ – anthropologists hogwash….man i am thankful for monotheism, christian morals and values and the enlightenment. praise the lord.

98 Bob March 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

Many sub-Saharan African countries have similar rites of passage to those described for the Masai. 20 years ago, when I was a university student, I spent my summer in South Africa doing assorted voluntary work. For a few weeks I helped out suburban ghetto/shanty—the practice of isolation, circumcision, and temporary self-sufficiency was maintained, if adapted to the in a state school in the Cape township of Khayelitsha where—despite living in a modern environment.

The weird thing was, working with adolescents (and not much older than them myself) you could really tell who had moved into manhood. The new men—usually 17+ among the predominant Xhosa people there–were often identifiable by a quiet confidence not seen among the younger kids. Or among most boys that age in the western world. You could leave a young man in charge of a class of his juniors with far more confidence than I would in my local school here in London. They tended to show respect and responsibility with kids and teachers alike. And when they had something to say, you had to listen.

They were also brought up in a christian environment, tobi.

99 Bob March 11, 2010 at 9:38 am

Sorry – that first para should read:

Many sub-Saharan African countries have similar rites of passage to those described for the Masai. 20 years ago, when I was a university student, I spent my summer in South Africa doing assorted voluntary work. For a few weeks I helped out in a state school in the Cape township of Khayelitsha where—despite living in a suburban ghetto/shanty—the practice of isolation, circumcision, and temporary self-sufficiency was maintained, if adapted to the modern environment.

100 Joe March 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Oh, man. I just stumbled upon this website by accident, and I gotta say I LOVE it.

I agree that we live in a society where guys have basically been castrated. Either we’re too freakin’ effiminate, or we’ve been infantilized to the point where we’re confused about what manhood is.

We’ve been over-Oprah-ed, and over-The View-ed. Not that I’ve got anything against women’s rights, yadda yadda yadda; but at the same time don’t break my balls over it!

Now to the point of rites of passage, I’ve studied them for quite a while now and yeah in a society where reality shows substitute for real life, and you tweet your business everywhere and your best friend is not someone you know personally, but a Facebook “friend”; it’s easy to cringe when we hear of people going through pain and risk their lives to sit at the table of men.

Am I willing to have the family jewels slit or have splints hung inside my pecs? No! But I do believe that we should have something in our culture that let’s young boys know that they are clearly men and are expected to behave that way.

If not, they will either look for their own rites (i.e. gang initiation, drug abuse, prison) or regress into childish and androgenous behavior (i.e. Michael Jackson — sorry Mike I loved ya, but your appearance was part of the problem); or complete effiminization (like that YouTube video with the guy crying over Britney Spears – yeah, sure his dad’s proud).

Not that I’m advocating jumping off a 100-foot tower (although bungee juming is a rush if you haven’t tried it), but there should be things we have in America’s varied cultures that tell boys that once they’re deemed competent, then they can compete as alpha males.

I just don’t see what’s wrong with it.

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