For the modern American boy, one of the few rites of passage in life is the first shave. He gathers his shaving supplies, applies the lather, and grooms away what little peach fuzz he had upon his chin. Save for the occasional nicks and cuts, it’s a pretty tame process that becomes just another part of everyday ritual. Shaving your newly grown scruff is nothing compared to other rites of passage in the world. Let’s take a look at some unique transitions into manhood in other parts of the globe.
1. Lion hunting with the Maasai
For us, the most nerve-wracking, stress-inducing part of “becoming a man” is asking a girl out on a date. Sure, the potential rejection hurts, but you head back home, swallow a few pizzas and several cartons of ice cream, and you get right back on that horse.
For the young men of the Maasai tribe, rejection is the least of their worries when they have to go toe-to-claw with a full-grown male lion. The modern American might think, “That’s a cinch,” and reach for his long range, semi-automatic rifle, but the Maasai youth don’t exactly have it so easy. They are armed with nothing more than wood spears, rawhide shields, and bells around their legs that deliberately annoy the lions.
The initial idea was the to steal the lion’s tail, but with the (unsurprisingly) high mortality rate and the dwindling lion population, the Maasai elders have discouraged solo hunts and allowed the youth to take lions in groups of 10.
2. Huskanaw with Eastern Native American Tribes
Huskanaw, meaning “he has a new body,” was a rite of passage held once a year by Native American tribes all over the eastern half of the United States.
It started, as many manly rites of passage do, with a separation from ordinary society. Boys were brought into the forest for a few days before returning to the tribe. The first stage included some dancing, some body painting, some wearing of antlers—you know, stuff that men and boys do when they’re alone in the woods.
After a couple days of that, the boys were painted white and taken to a clearing. Men danced around them while mothers painted themselves black and openly mourned, preparing materials suitable for children’s funerals. Pretty dark stuff. This was followed by the shamans’ attempts at shielding the boys from beatings and whippings.
And at the end of it all, a great feast! Except the boys weren’t allowed to participate. Instead, they had to lie under a tree and act like corpses because, you know, it’s the death of their childhood and everything. After the feast that they weren’t allowed to partake in, the boys were whisked away to nine wonderful months of starvation and drinking of questionable hallucinogenic potions under the guidance of the village elders.
At the end of the huskanaw, the boys returned to the village as men, ready to take on marriage and serve in the council and probably eat some food and take a nap.
3. Land Diving with the Vanuatu
Just thinking about bungee jumping makes your heart beat a little faster, but the Vanuatu have taken bungee jumping to whole new extremes with land diving. The ritual starts with villages building crude wooden towers that reach over 100 feet and look about as sturdy as a chair made of toothpicks.
Once the tower is finished, young men volunteer to scale the tower. At a certain point, they will stop, tie one end of a vine onto a platform on the tower, tie the other end of the vine to their ankles, and leap headfirst to the ground below. The objective is to land as close to the ground as possible without turning yourself into a human pancake. Ideally, you should be close enough that your head or shoulders graze the dirt.
This is an ongoing ritual throughout a man’s life. The higher he goes, the manlier he’s considered.
These are just a few of the rites of passage in the world. Asking a girl out or getting through high school doesn’t look so hard now, does it?