The History of Rites of Passage

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“The History of Rites of Passage”
Stacey M. Robertson ANT101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology July 29, 2013
We are all familiar with the term “Rite of Passage” in one way or another. But do we really know some of the extremes that people in other countries go to in order to achieve that coveted goal that most have waited so long for? Rites of passage can range from a simple Baptism all the way to Sepik scarification, depending on the part of the world, religion and tribes, and even gangs. This paper will explain some of the history behind Rites of Passage and why they are so important for some people to achieve them. Ceremonies that mark important transitional times in one’s life, such as birth, graduation, marriage, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, and death just to name a few. Rites of passage usually involve ritual trials and teachings intended to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles. Rites of passage can be coming of age, religious, academic, military, professional, and cultural. People in tribes and certain societies take these rituals very seriously and most go through tremendous amounts of pain to prove themselves worthy to reach that next status. For most, it is all about the respect of their people and the dignity of their family. Now of course there are some of the more harsh rituals such as Vanuatu Land Diving where boys as young as five jump from heights up to 100 feet with twine around their ankles. The goal is to only touch their shoulders to the ground and any miscalculation could end in serious injury or death. (Feb. 2010) Doing this successfully will lead them into manhood. However, different societies have different rites when it comes to conquering childhood. (May 2010) In the Jewish society a boy becomes a man at a celebration called a Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. Similarly, a Jewish girl will have her Bat Mitzvah at the age of twelve to enter womanhood. The Catholic religion has The Seven Sacraments and they include a popular rite of passage which is Baptism. Several other religions have this as well. The Catholics also perform what is called a First Communion usually around the age of seven or eight. They receive “The Body of Christ” in a ceremony held in the Catholic Church. In yet another rite of passage in the Mexican community there is a quincinera. This is a celebration held in honor of a fifteen year old Mexican girl in order to transcend her into womanhood. The Godmother of the girl traditionally presents the girl with a gift like a Bible or a last doll, etc. In America, sometimes these entrances into adulthood are not so elaborate, other than a sweet sixteen party. Some just go through life not even having an event to mark that day when they officially “grew up”. Maybe they remember a day when someone asked them for identification at the market or when the lady at the bank called the boy ‘sir’. Whatever our background, location, race, creed, religion, or education, we have all gone through at least one rite of passage at one point or another. In some families it is very important for the child to go through these rites, sometimes whether they want to or not, because in certain tribes it would bring shame to the family of the child if the ritual is not completed. A harsh example of a ritual that a child might not want to go through but will go through is Sepik scarification, as previously mentioned. Although scarification is practiced all over the world, it is practiced in quite a unique way by the tribesmen of Papua, New...
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