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Rites of Passage Essay

rites of passage essay

Example #1

Every person begins their life with a birth and ends it with death. In our lives, there will be other rites of passage that will still have great importance; celebrating birthdays, graduation from school or college, getting jobs, marriage, having kids, the transition from child to adult, and even divorce. Rites of passage help many people feel part of their respective societies. Making their lives sweeter or bitter. Easier or harder. Better or more difficult.

Their changes are huge, but not only for the person itself, but for their new roll-on society as well. For forever, people want to be accepted. They even feel the need to be accepted in their society and it has always been the same but in so many different kinds of societies.

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A rite of passage is a ceremony and this ceremony marks the transition from one phase of life to another. Although it is often used to describe the tumultuous transition from adolescence to adulthood, it does refer to any of life’s transitions (Births and Beginnings, Initiations, Partnering, and Endings or Death).

Rites of passage aren’t always just to be in a social society they also are to become part of the culture or even their religious society. Some of the cultural rites of passage fall into three main phases: separation, transition, and incorporation, these ones are the toughest ones.

A rite of passage can even be dangerous, disgusting, or sometimes fun and hygienic. A rite of passage can be one day long, like a bachelor, a marriage, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, and others, or they can take a month like, in the Sambia tribe, a guy for becoming a man has to do a 3 stage passage of a month-long.

I personally believe that being part of a society is important to daily life everywhere. Even in tribes or cities or smaller groups. Rites of passage take place on getting accepted in society by showing or proving or doing something or sometimes the rites are for them to learn their new roll-on society and all that marks a person’s lives changing its whole self and turning it into something that belongs somewhere, in a certain society. Even though the rites of passage aren’t always the best ideas, people think they are necessary.

People who make social rites of passage do it for a better acceptance or to be appreciated in a different way so that in the future they can be respected. Sometimes a rite isn’t for you to be a part of a society, sometimes its for you to feel like you are part of one such as a first communion or getting a job, and sometimes is for you to make your own community. Such as when you graduate, celebrating your birthday, getting married, and creating your own family is a rite of passage.

Cultural people do rites to honor their families and to take place in their culture, in some of these cultures it is necessary to do some rites to be on them, in most cases is the rite of passage that prepares you for marriage and the rite of becoming an adult. But when it comes to religion, some rites are very important because it doesn’t only mean that you are accepted in their religious community but that you truly believe in that religion. Such as the confirmation or bar mitzvahs.

There are also smaller but important rites that belong to small things such as work. For example, there’s a rite called “the white coat ceremony” for doctors; that is when you finish your studies and have your first official coat.

Some rites of passage aren’t exactly as easy or as sweeter as others. Some are even dangerous and really nasty. There are rites that can hurt and be difficult to do. But in the end, they are worth it. On the Sambia tribe, doing homosexual acts and digesting another man’s semen is as important to the Sambia culture as a simple confirmation to a Christian community.

In other tribes doing jumping from a huge mountain being held only by a rope on your feet, doing circumcision to women and men, let themselves get hurt and bleed and other terrible stuff are huge deals for their societies that sometimes is not an option. You either do it or you’re out. And that isn’t the only thing that matters to some but to honor their families or friends.

I once heard of the rite of passage of a culture that woman had to be circumcised and I just thought that it was unnecessary and ridiculous for it to be the transection for a girl to a woman. But in the end, this culture has its own beliefs and the fact that for them its important I think its always worth it.

Some people think that some rites are dangerous and violent and should be stopped because it involves things like murder. What I’m saying is that they are not right and are not ok, but it’s their way of proving themselves and the others something, that they are as worth it as each of its partners. These rites are violent in a way that they end up teaching them something that any other experience as that one can.

So, as I’ve said before. Doesn’t matter how hard, silly, big, small, easy can a rite of passage be. It would always be important. It is always going to be worth it, remarkable in your life. It would always in some way make you feel part of a community. It makes you realize and connect with other people that have been through the same that you have.

A rite of passage also helps you to be prepared for your new role, or new beliefs, or new work or new people, or new responsibilities. And by all of this, you can say that a rite of passage is a way of making yourself and others feel like you are a new different changed person.


Example #2 – Rites Of Passage In Baldwin

Maturity falls into two categories, physical maturity, and psychological maturity. For most people, physical maturity occurs in any case, whereas only those who quest for self-identity achieve psychological maturity. James Baldwin depicts this kind of maturity in Go Tell It On The Mountain via the protagonist John Grimes.

From a literal level, Baldwin develops the theme of rights of passage through the sub-themes of racism, religion, and paternalism and compares and contrasts them in order to illustrate John Grimes’s metamorphosis from a young boy to an adult within his society.

The sub-theme of religion deviates from the main theme, rights of passage. Baldwin performs this through John s experiences with religion. John s earliest memories bore semblances of a church and a hurry and brightness of Sunday mornings (Baldwin 11). Thus, Baldwin creates the fact that religion plays an important part in John s life. In fact, the rest of John s life would become dominated by religion.

Baldwin foreshadows this through a quote: Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father (Baldwin 11). John however must undergo a number of tests in order to become one of God s servants. In the beginning, John had a fierce hatred of God and his father. John s anger acts as a response to his father’s abusiveness; this anger erupts into such a fiery hatred that he hopes for the day when his father would be dying (Baldwin 21).

In order for John to complete his rites of passage, he must forgive his father and thus accepts Christ s doctrine of love. Elijah aids John through his trial. He advises John to fall on your knees one day and ask him to help you pray (Baldwin 55). With this help and guidance, John found God more easily. John only achieves his salvation and religious acceptance at the end of the novel. In this scene, John experiences a vision in which he encounters an impasse of deciding to become saved or to become damned.

John cries to the Lord for help and for salvation. In a few moments, which seem like an eternity for John, he cries, Takes me through (Baldwin 204)! Through this last step of initiation, John becomes saved; he described this feeling as if his drifting soul was anchored in the love of God (Baldwin 204). In one way, John became more mature and aware of himself in matters of religion.

Baldwin uses racism as a sub-theme of rights of passage. John Grimes portrays a typical African American in a white-dominant society. Through this portrayal, Baldwin exposes the prejudice that a black man would experience. John s first encounter with this racism occurs when white boys stabbed his brother Roy. At that moment, John realizes that his race is ostracized by white society. When his mother says that Roy played in the wrong part of town, it further supported this realization.

Furthermore, his father instructs John about his race s mistreatment. He verbalizes, It was white folks that tried to cut your brother s throat (Baldwin 45). This statement makes John thoughtful; he begins to understand that society contains many white people that hate the black race. John begins to diverge away from the downfall of internalized racism. This type of racism exists, according to Http://, when the kind of thinking produced by African Americans–or any group targeted by racism– believe the stereotypes about themselves and imagine that European Americans are superior.

Ultimately, John experiences a vision during a moment of prayer. In this vision, a voice calls out to John and reveals to him about the black curse. The voice then whispers sardonically, all niggers had come from the most undutiful of Noah s sons (Baldwin 197). John does not comply; instead, he questions this curse and here, John s strength stands out. Through this passage, Baldwin makes evident John s rights to be African American. John shows signs of taking part in society as African Americans.

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One last sub-theme that John must pass to achieve his rights of passage takes the form of patriarchy. John must conquer the right of his manhood through his family. This begins on the morning of his fourteenth birthday; upon awakening, he comes into contact with a feeling of rebellion. This rebellion comes about from the feelings he feels about his father and the way his father controls the family with an iron fist. Through the course of the novel, however, he undergoes a change that makes him further understand his family.

One example of this occurs when John commences a dialogue with his mother in which he learns that his father beats him because he loves [him] (Baldwin 25). Although at first John does not comprehend this message, after some time, he begins to understand the role of his father. He realizes that his father is mean at times, but only to protect his family. This contributes to the ending of the novel in which John forgives his father. In addition, John also begins to realize the importance of his mother.

Her love is exemplified in her recognizing of his birthday. Furthermore, when John s mother gives John his birthday present, John s heart broke and he wanted to put his head on her belly where the wet spot was and cry (Baldwin 31). These proceedings add to John s definition of his family. Through this definition, John earns his spot in his family and his spot as a man.

Baldwin also compares the three sub-themes in order to display the similarities of John s passage. The sub-theme of religion and patriarchy interrelate because it affects John on the microcosm level. After John completes his rites of passage for religion, he finds himself part of a larger community. According to Van Gennep, he identifies this as incorporation (97).

His definition of rites of passage constitutes three rites: separation, transition, and incorporation. In the sub-theme of patriarchy, John also experiences incorporation because he becomes part of the family. On the macrocosm level, racism and religion exhibit signs of similarities. Upon facing racism, John creates his identity and therefore he separates from the foreclosure.

The same also applies to religion; he undergoes authentic conversion. John leaves his current state to become part of the church. In addition, a transition occurs in patriarchy and religion. Transition in patriarchy primarily takes the form of changing from an order-accepting child into an order-giving adult. In the field of religion, John transforms from residing in the pews to one commanding in the pulpit. Baldwin incorporates relating sub-themes in order to measure collectively John Grimes growth.

James Baldwin contrasts the sub-themes in an effort to gauge maturity in all aspects of John Grimes’s life. Referring back to Van Gessep s analysis of rites of passage, the analysis drawn can show that incorporation and separation exist as opposites. For example, in the sub-theme of religion, incorporation, and separation occurs. John becomes part of the holy family but he must separate him from the sinful world. Religion also contrasts with racism.

In religion, John accepts the doctrine of love; in contrast, racism causes John to comprehend the hate that his race encounters. The conflict, however, does not affect John much because one affects him on the micro-level and the other on the macro level. Patriarchy provides many dissimilarities from racism. This takes place because although John can help control his family, he has no authority whatsoever about the topic of racism. By contrasting the sub-themes, Baldwin effectively describes the multitude of ways in which John progresses.

John begins a boy and ends as a young man. The story does not take place for longer than a couple of days. However, Baldwin makes it evident that John completed his rites of passage. John Grimes now take part as an adult in his society. He has successfully achieved authentic conversion.


Example #3

Many different cultures around the world have traditions and rituals to celebrate milestones in life. According to Kottak (2011), These “rites of passage are culturally defined activities associated with the transition from one place or stage of life to another”(p. 354). These rituals can be performed individually or collectively. In traditional rites of passage quests, it usually involves A male moving from boyhood to manhood by being separated from his family and village and enduring periods of isolation and tough challenges to see if he can survive on his own and once he sees this vision that will become his guardian spirit, he then returns back to his village as an adult.

According to Kottak (2011), “All rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In the first phase, people withdraw from ordinary society and leave behind their old status, In the third phase, they reenter society, having completed a rite that changes their status. The second, or liminal, the phase is the most interesting. It is the limbo or “timeout” during which people have left one status, but haven’t yet entered or joined the next (p.354)They mark a change in social status, place, condition, or age. . In this paper I will be discussing two rites of passage, one from a society in Brazil and one from personal experience.

Among the Kalapalo of Central Brazil, there is a rite of passage for boys that involves ear piercing. Most of the boys in this culture participate in this ritual. The Kalapalo call this ritual ipoñe and it is very important to them as it symbolizes the differences between men and women. The preparation for this ceremony beings two months before the actual event starts.

Every day men and women of the village would prepare the boys for the ceremony by singing and dancing with them and applying an herbal infusion to their earlobes which is to prevent them from bleeding. By putting this herbal infusion on their earlobes, this is considered a liminal symbol, which marks the condition of this ceremony as extraordinary. With the dancing still being held, the fathers of the boys collect expensive ceramics so they can pay the ear piercers.

Then, there is a date set for the ritual and only hosts and assistants usually attend the ritual itself, although other village groups are invited. Separation occurs when the decision is made by an anti, which is a village representative, for a boy to enter puberty seclusion and is of a proper age to get his ears pierced. There is a sponsor that is assisted by a nonanetu, which is a common villager, who has sons between the ages six and nine, and they also participate in this ritual.

On the first night of the ritual, as the boys continue to be danced around and sang around their liminal symbols are the cotton belts, shell collars, and yellow feather headdress worn during the ritual. On the second night, the boys are undressed from the decorations and the singing continues by the host village and the agifoñati, which is a medicine used to help the bleeding, is applied.

The participants go to bathe and immediately after the ear piercing begins. The boys sit on stools and the guardians begin to cut the participant’s hair and placing them on the mats that are in from of the boys and the hair is disposed of in the forest.

The fathers of the boys begin to place portions of food in front of their sons and instruct them to share the food with the crowd. There is a break in the ritual where the boys are allowed to relieve themselves so they will not urinate or defecate on themselves while being pierced. Once they return they have to go to the sponsor’s house where they are seated again and painted with soot and the ceramics that were given to the ear piercers and guardians are displayed for several minutes and returned back to the house.

The boys are put back into their original seating and the sponsor imitates the cry of the bird in which the feathers for the headdress were taken. He hops on one foot to his house and from there he removes the ear-piercing sticks and hops back to where the boys are. The ear-piercing sticks are given to the ear piercers and they begin polishing and making instruments.

As the instruments are being prepared the guardians stand behind the boys to hold them down for the ear piercing. Once the tools are done being prepared, the ear piercers hold a stick in their hand, and then as the tempo and intensity of the chanting continue, they are given a sign by the sponsor that the ear piercing should begin. The ear piercers work quickly as in less than a minute the sticks have been jabbed into both ears of the initiate and tobacco smoke is blown on the boys’ ears to ease the pain.

Although the boys have their ears pierced, they still have not reached the third phase. Instead, they remain secluded for three months. During this seclusion, they can not leave and they can not be visited. The father can only give food to them through an opening. Also, they have to fast the first five days and during the first month, they can only eat wild fruits.

In the second month, they are allowed to eat anything except for fish and in the third month, they are sent on a fishing trip with their father and other adults. On their return, they are officially released from seclusion and are able to return back to their homes. This ceremony represents the coming of age and is one step towards manhood for boys. Two important symbols of adulthood are conferred by having their ears pierced. It enables them to wear toucan feather earrings, which is an important male ornament, and the acquisition of adult names.

More contemporary rites of passage from my own experience would be graduation. It is a time where your social status changes from high school student to a high school graduate. After graduation, you have so many choices to make and figure out what you want to do in life such as find a higher paying job with more benefits, go to college, enter the military, and so on. In order to prepare for graduation, there are some steps I had to take in order to make it through this process.

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The first phase begins by being withdrawn from ordinary society. After spending four years as a high school student, everyone gets dressed in their white or green cap and gowns, which are liminal symbols, for a ceremony known as graduation and are separated from the rest of the crowd who attends the ceremony and have to wait in a different area for our cue to come out and be seated. We were not allowed to sit with our families. Instead, all 500 of us had to be placed in our class ranking order according to GPA and sat accordingly.

The second phase known as the liminal phase is the time where you have left one status, which is your high school student status, but not yet have entered the next status, which is high school graduate. While in the second phase, I had to spend the next two hours in the ceremony sitting by people I didn’t even know went to my high school and while in that chair, I sat and listened to the administration and faculty speak about our class and how proud they were and other announcements they had.

I heard the school song being sung for the last time as a high school senior, which showed pride about where you were graduating from and speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian about how far we have come. After the speeches are done, four of the faculty members begin to call out names by rank if you wore white, which means you had a 4.0 GPA or higher, and in alphabetical order, if you wore green.

The third phase is when you have reentered society and have completed a rite that has changed your previous status. After your name had been called and you shook hands with the administration and faculty that were standing up there, you were now considered a high school graduate.

After the ceremony, many people would have graduation parties to celebrate this rite of passage of coming of age and changing the status of a high school student to a high school graduate. As a high school graduate you now have the right to apply and go to college, learn a trade, get a higher paying job with more benefits, volunteer, travel, attend community college, or join the military, and so on.

In conclusion, the length of the ritual of the Kalapalo and the length of my graduation differ greatly. My graduation was only about one to two hours compared to the Kalapalo, which lasted for months. The taboos that the Kalapalo faced were that only men can participate in ear piercing and while they were secluded for three months they were not allowed to leave and they were not allowed to be visited. Also, during the first month, they were only allowed to eat fruit and in the second month, they were not allowed to eat fish.

Taboos that I had faced while participating in the graduation ceremony is that I had to attend a rehearsal in order to graduate, I had to wear my liminal symbol, which was the cap and gown, and I had to sit in arranged seating by rank with my class instead of with my family.

Both rituals had a collective experience, in which the ceremony was done as a group rather than an individual. It was more enjoyable knowing that your friends were graduating with you and that you were not going through this experience alone. Although the ceremony was tedious, I would rather share the experience and enjoy it with my friends and family. A rite of passage is a valuable ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another and creates milestones in that person’s life. New or old traditions, they are important and valuable to many different cultures.


Example #4

Rites of passage were first described by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1960) as a way of accepting the many rituals and rites observed in conventional cultures, and their significance to the dynamics of both individual and group life within the culture. He identified sets of habitual behavior that accompanied changes of place, state, social position, and age. This included common life events such as childbirth, puberty, marriage, and death (Lundberg, 2016).

A rite of passage can be further divided into three stages; these stages include the pre-liminal stage which is related to separation from an initiate’s previous life, the liminal stage where the initiates are separated from the society and have to undergo various rituals before they reach the post-liminal stage which is related to their new status or state of life (Lundberg, 2016).

This essay will focus on the aspect of social position in Van Gennep’s definition, as rites of passage are essential to transform an ‘outsider’ into an ‘insider’ (Raybeck, 1996); and analyzes rites of passage and studies examples of the rites of passage of the ethnographer, Douglas Raybeck, and of the women in Kelantanese culture.

Concept of rites of passage

In the pre-liminal phase, there are symbolic behaviors to indicate an individual’s detachment from their current social structure and their previous social status (Froggatt, 1997). This may include a change of dress, a change in the geological area, or ritual cleansing. The liminal phase is a mediating transitional phase between the initial status and the new status achieved at the end of the ritual (Kunin, 2002, p. 208).

It is a threshold or boundary as well as a ‘space’ in its own particular right, as the time and place where the people going through the rite are cut off from the broader structure of society, and placed in brief, negligible positions. It is often described as an ambiguous state as the individual is no longer in his/her previous state nor is he/she is the new state, and as Leach suggests: “it becomes temporarily an abnormal person existing in abnormal time” (1976, p. 77, as cited in Froggatt 1997).

It is often a period in which the initiates are taught those things that will be needed to function in the new social position. Finally, it is during the post-liminal phase that the individual returns to his/her social settings, and attains new rights and commitments. The ritual concludes with the individual performing some ritualistic act that reflects his/her new status, thus showing the community that they are ready to embrace their new position and the responsibilities that come with it. A commonality in all phases is that transformation is a key element in shaping the individual as they go through these rites of passage.

A typical example to demonstrate the concept of a “rites of passage is a Jewish wedding. Firstly, in a Jewish wedding, it is traditional for the bride and groom to remain separated for the week before their wedding. There are several rituals such as reading of the Torah and going through a ritualistic bath that should be done by the groom and bride during the week.

Therefore, these would be the pre-liminal phase in the rites of passage. Additionally, the liminal phase occurs during the wedding ceremony when both groom and bride’s status changes from single to married. Finally, the post-liminal phase is when the groom and bride are incorporated into society with new identities as a married couple.

Rites of Passage: Douglas Raybeck’s fieldwork in Kelantan

At the start of Raybeck’s fieldwork in Kelatan, although he did some minor preparation such as learning the language and culture in the hope of understanding the new culture prior to the actual fieldwork, they proved to be of little help as Raybeck and his wife, Karen still experienced multiple culture shock during their initial weeks (Raybeck, 1996, p. 21). After much deliberation, they decided to stay in the village of Wakaf Bahru where most of his fieldwork was conducted. As he was not part of the people, the villagers generally viewed Raybeck through hostile lenses and treated him as an outsider. This portrayed the pre-liminal phase where he left his initial society and dove into a new culture.

The liminal phase started when Raybeck participated in the village guard duty, “Jaga”, which allowed him to gradually integrate into the society. Through this new role, Rayback started to gather information and he thought he had accessed the inner workings of the village.

However, he found that everyone was giving him the same information; a picture of village life as the villagers wanted him to see (Raybeck, 1996). Raybeck (1996) noted: “I realized that I was still not sufficiently trusted to be made privy to the sensitive and sometimes less-than-ideal social life of the village” (pp. 63-64). This situation where Raybeck changed the villagers’ views of him but still did not gain enough of their trust to talk about the internal affairs of the village, perfectly represented the process within the liminal phase; the individual is neither in his initial status nor his new status.

However, after being in the patrol team for some time, Raybeck developed close friendships with the other males, notably Mat and Yusof. Yusof conveyed friendliness by started holding hands with Raybeck. This act symbolized warmth and enhanced friendship between the two (Raybeck, 1996, p. 65). Raybeck was also brought to a bar by Yusof and Mat for a drink which was against their religion. The act implied that Mat and Yusof had faith in Raybeck as they had shared their misdoings (Raybeck, 1996, p. 67).

Consequently, Raybeck was able to query about village issues which were initially kept from him, and hence, he could use these insiders’ knowledge to get more information from other villagers. Knowing that Raybeck did not share or exploit the knowledge that was given to him, the villagers began to trust him and were more willing to share sensitive information with him. Additionally, he and Karen adopted Malay names and wore the Kelantanese Malay traditional costumes to assimilate better into the culture.

He had also given up alcohol and pork consumption in the village as it was deemed as a sin in Islam. Through his efforts to learn proper societal behaviors and participating in village events, Raybeck had completed his post-liminal phase by transforming himself from a foreigner to a fellow villager; an outsider to an insider. This was a great chance for Raybeck; Lundberg (2016) stated that all major periods of life change involve rituals. Therefore, it includes people from the Kelantanese culture.

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Rites of passage: Kelantanese woman

The women in Kelantanese culture also underwent a rite of passage as they transformed from adolescents to adults. In the pre-liminal phase, which begins in their youth, Kelantanese women are removed from the world of men and are expected to stay home to assist with household activities and to learn skills needed to contribute to society. Therefore, their involvement in village matters is rare as they were preoccupied with their household duties and preparation for married life (Raybeck, 1996, p. 181).

As the women age, get married, and give birth, their participation in economic and social life increases is when the liminal phase begins as they begin to learn more norms and go through rituals such as childbirth and the gathering of information through social interactions.

For example, Kelantanese middle-aged mothers have control over family finances and intricate network of connections through their trips to the market, which holds extensive information of current affairs in the village (Raybeck, 1996, p. 181). The information further empowers the women to make important decisions and be more influential in village issues, thus becoming more independent and completing their transformation.

Finally, in the post-liminal phase, the Kelantanese women are able to gain higher social status and are eligible to participate in village affairs by going through the symbolic nature of marital status, age and childbirth. After which, they are seen as full members of the society and have an equal or in some cases more powerful voice than the males, as they had the knowledge of current affairs within the village and the understanding of the dynamics of village behavior due to their preparation in the earlier stages.


The examples of Raybeck’s fieldwork in Kelantan and Kelantan women’s transition through life well illustrated the concept of rites of passage. Both examples consist of similar structures – the process of separation, transition, and reincorporation.

There are also different types of symbolic rituals involved in both examples, such as Jaga, names, costumes, age, marriage, and childbirth. In conclusion, rites of passage are an essential part of every culture and they have significance in how they help an individual to find their individuality and purpose within the society. Additionally, an intended rite of passage offers the space for the society to convey its core values and grant the role obligations appropriate to the initiate’s stage of life, thus assuring cultural endurance.


Example #5

Bridging the Gap: Adolescent Rites of Passage General Purpose: To inform. Specific Purpose: At the end of my speech, my audience will understand how cultures use adolescent rites of passage to help people mark the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Central Idea: Adolescent rites of passage have marked the passage of children into adulthood around the world, and elements of those rituals are being used in modern American society. INTRODUCTION How did you celebrate your eighteenth birthday? Do you recall your graduation ceremony?

If you’re like most Americans, such events marked the moment you became an adult. It may have been the day you walked off a lighted stage, clutching your diploma to your chest. Yet if you were an Arunta from Australia, it might be the moment you rose off of the smoking tree branches you were lying upon and were proclaimed an adult. Regardless of which are the most personally significant, we all have moments in our life that we would consider “rites of passage” — moments that carry us across the threshold between two lives.

In societies around the world, collective rites of passage have been seen as ways to initiate young people into adult life. In researching this topic, I have discovered the important role rites of passage play for youth around the world, and I would like to share this with you this afternoon. Today we will look at the ways in which cultures throughout the world have used rites of passage to mark the transition to adulthood for both boys and girls, and how elements of those rituals are being used today in American society.

To begin, let’s look at some of the different rites of passage from around the world that show traditional coming-of-age ceremonies in other cultures that are the basis for new American rituals. BODY I. Rites of Passage in Cultures: Puberty is often a signal in most cultures that a boy or girl is ready to become an adult.

The Navajo of the American Southwest celebrates this milestone with the vision quest.

1. The ritual begins when a fifteen to a sixteen-year-old boy is taken into a sweat lodge, where he will be purified in both body and soul before he begins his quest.

2. During the period before he leaves he will also be advised by a medicine man regarding his coming quest.

3. Finally, he ventures into the wilderness or desert on his own, fasting until he receives a vision that will determine his new name and the direction of his life.

4. When he receives his vision, the community welcomes him back as a man (Transition)Like their male counterparts in the Navajo, females also have a special coming of age rituals.

B. The Okrika of Nigeria celebrates coming of age with the Iria ceremony for seventeen-year-old girls.

  1. The highlight of this ritual is when the girls enter the “Fattening Room. ”

2. Only leaving to travel to the river, the girls stay in the rooms to gain the weight that the tribe considers attractive. Girls are forced to eat large quantities of food.

3. Female friends and family teach the girls how a woman should act.

4. When a girl leaves the Fattening Room, she is considered a woman. (Transition)These examples of the rites of passage for Navajo males and Okrika females show us how different cultures mark the transition from childhood to adult status in the community.

Now let’s look at the increasing popularity of traditional rites of passage in the United States.

II. Increase in Rites of Passage in the United States: The United States is an ethnic melting pot of cultures and traditions.

A. Yet our diversity prevents us from having a single experience, common to all, that celebrates our entrance into the adult community.

1. Some ceremonies are religion-specific, such as Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvahs or Christian baptisms and confirmations.

2. Many children, without religious or ethnic heritage, have no sort of recognition outside of high school graduations—if they choose to graduate.

Yet Cassandra Delaney writes about graduates, “They often are not equipped with the necessary components of a stable adult personality such as a well-reasoned moral code, a faith or world review which sustains them during the crisis, and perhaps most importantly, a positive and cohesive self-image. ”

B. With this problem in mind, many Americans are turning to tribal traditions like the ones described earlier to help their children have a positive rite of passage.

1. The African-American community is turning back to its cultural roots to aid social ills among young males.

a.The MAAT Program attempts to instruct at-risk African-American males on social behavior through sessions with older mentors that incorporate African tribal tradition.

b. Program sessions begin by prayer and an offering of a drink to the ancestors.

c. At the end of the program writes Aminifu Harvey and Julia Rauch of Health and Social Work magazine, the boys “mark their passage to manhood by giving themselves another African name, based on their personality, at the final retreat. ”

d. In this way, African-Americans use the rite of passage concept to develop a positive sense of identity for youth.

Even in Washington State, rites of passage are growing.

a. An article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review by Jeanette White tells of Stan Crow, who runs a three-week program called “The Coming of Age Journey. ”

b. Here activities include challenging hikes and “vision quest” style nights alone in the wilderness in an attempt to promote self-reliance.

c. Rites of passage like these, says psychologist Michael Gurian in the Spokesman-Review article, promote positive self-image because they force children to develop skills to meet challenges, to reflect on goals, and to learn leadership.

In Washington and the entire United States, rites of passage are becoming more popular as a way to fulfill the spiritual and moral needs of youth while identifying them to a community.


In conclusion, adolescent rites of passage mark the transition to adulthood. In the United States, questions have been raised as to whether rites of passage like those used by Africans, Native Americans, or others might be useful in helping with social problems. Some programs have attempted to experiment with the positive potential impact of rites of passage in modern American society.

Though coming-of-age ceremonies do not automatically make us adults, they are the milestones of a maturing process we are all on. Think again about what you consider to be your “rite of passage. ” Did the license, the diploma, or the keys to your dorm or apartment make you an adult? Perhaps some are yet mired in that no man’s land called adolescence. Yet it one day might be different. Your child might one day swelter in a Western-style sweat lodge or eat in the Fattening Room; your child might depart on a vision quest.

Regardless of the method, bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood is , and will always be , one of the most universal and important milestones of human life.

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Rites of Passage Essay. (2020, Oct 03). Retrieved February 7, 2023, from