Agonizing Adolescents: Painful Rituals of Different Tribes

Published: 24th July 2008
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Adolescence is typically a difficult, confusing stage for any individual. Angst and raging hormones almost never miss a growing teenager. Media today has an immense concern for the supposedly hellish high school life. But other teenagers in other parts of the world experience more severe types of pain. There are certain tribes that require adolescents to undergo traditional rites of passage, which can be excruciatingly painful.

Initiation for the youth in Suriname, South America involves wasps. These agonizing stingers are locked in a weave that is to be tied to the adolescent. The teen should not whimper during this initiation. For the Wayana culture, the boys are the ones subjected to the pain. For the Carib, however, it is the girls who undergo the ritual, but with ants instead of wasps. This rite of passage is not exclusive to Suriname. The tradition is practiced in other tribes in South America to signify strength and bravery.

Finger mutilation is another agonizing rite of passage. Some tribes in Africa have different reasons for chopping off their fingers. For the Dugum Dani tribe of New Guinea, the practice is a must for young girls. Few grown women have their complete 10 fingers. There are some men who also have incomplete fingers, but they were not forced into the practice since most of their jobs required complete fingers (i.e., hunting). This tradition, though agonizing, has cultural significance for the dead. It is mostly done as part of grieving for the deceased.

Papua New Guinea also has a painful ritual for young boys. Nasal mutilation is a common practice for the Gahuka-Gana tribe. Mothers cover their sons with mud before they are sent off to the river to live with warriors for six weeks. The warriors use sticks and leaves to injure the adolescent's nose. Inducing nasal hemorrhage is repeatedly done until the boy is welcomed to manhood. The practice has something to do with cleansing and girls' menstruation.

There are many other tribes which induce pain as part of coming of age. But come to think of it, these tribes are not that different from modern societies. Human seems to have an innate yearning for self-inflicted pain. Hazing, for example, is a common initiation rite for fraternities around the world. Others choose to adorn their bodies with tattoos no matter how long and painful the needle will prick the skin. Pain is prerequisite to achievement wherever you come from. It simply takes many forms and various meanings for different societies.

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