Coming of Age

Practicing at an early age. (Photo by Steven Kierstad)
Practicing at an early age. (Photo by Steven Keirstad)

Young Fulani boys in Benin 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, and 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.

The Matausa tribe of Papua New Guinea believe that a boy will never realize his true strength unless his body is 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.

Deep in the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon young boys from the Satere-Mawe tribe are made to wear woven gloves lined with countless bullet ants with their stingers pointing inwards as they dance for 10 minutes without flinching. The bullet ant has the most painful sting of any insect; it causes paralysis and throbbing pain for up to 24 hours.

And 15-year-old male members from tribes along the banks of the mighty Connecticut River in Vermont take a first step towards initiation by attempting to pass a written test of occult knowledge at the DMV. The questions number twice nine and two, of which only four may be answered incorrectly. Thus, before attempting the ritual, several grueling hours must be spent studying the training manual, which means that Xbox time must be sacrificed and chillaxing with the posse must be turned down.

Successful completion of the ritual at the DMV results in the issuance of a temporary talisman, indicating that the youngster is still a learner. But it brings that most coveted symbol of potency, independence and male competence, the (parent’s) automobile, tantalizing close to the boy’s grasp. However, for a further twelve grueling moons the initiate must remain supervised by a clan elder whenever he embarks on a journey by car, and he must agree to undergo ritual indoctrination from one schooled in the dark art of driving. He is banned from cruising with his homies, and mandated to remain within the tribe’s territory while he learns and practices the sacred ways of the road.

Then, and only then, may he attempt to pass the final test of his newly acquired skills, by demonstrating to a wise man from the tribe his competency at the helm of his “ride.”

If the boy does so satisfactorily he will be issued with a new magic talisman bearing his image, and with that he may at least venture out into the world at large on his own – provided, of course, that he can afford to fill up the tank and promises to be back home before 11pm.

Congratulations on the learner’s permit, Lucas. Way to go.