Fulani – Whipping Match
For the boys of the Fulani tribe of Benin to be considered men, they have to complete a ritual called sharo, which requires them to participate in a whip match meant to test their strength, self-control and bravery.
The Fulani are a nomadic people from West Africa. As a test of bravery and an initiation into manhood, two young boys from neighboring tribes are pitted against one another in a violent whipping match.
With help from their fathers, each boy chooses and sharpens a long, thin, branch that they think will inflict the most pain on their opponent. The boys then take turns striking their opponent three times across the ribs and back as hard as they can. The whole tribe will gather to watch the battle, and the winner is chosen by the crowd. The “winner,” by the way, is the one who opens the deepest, bloodiest wounds on his opponent, and who flinches less when his own insides are being exposed to the elements.
The Sateré-Mawé Bullet Ant Initiation
In the Brazilian Amazon, young boys belonging to the indigenous Sateré-Mawé tribe mark their coming of age when they turn 13 in a Bullet and Ant Initiation. The tradition goes as so: they search the jungle for bullet ants which are sedated by a leader who submerges them in an herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves with the stingers pointed inwards. An hour or so later, the ants wake up angrier than ever, and the initiation begins. Each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes.
Enduring the pain demonstrates the boys’ readiness for manhood — so few cry out as doing so would demonstrate weakness. Each boy will eventually wear the gloves 20 times over the span of several months before the initiation is complete.
Mardudjara Aborigines Subincision
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.
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.
Sambia Tribe – Semen Drinking
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.