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The 5 Most Intense Rites of Passage from Around the World

The process of becoming a grown-up is confused and muddled these days. Sure, we have small milestones that mark our progress toward adulthood, like driver's licenses, drinking, voting, clumsy sex, adult sentencing, and legal drinking. But none of those accomplishments gets us all the way there; we still have 20- and 30-somethings who live with their parents, working dead-end jobs, avoiding marriage. We're becoming adults at a slower pace than ever, with no clear point at which we can definitively say we've made it.

Throughout history, different cultures have handled this transition into adulthood in a much simpler fashion. After reaching a certain age, typically after certain parts of the body drop, the elders would round up all the adolescents and, over the course of an afternoon, turn them into adults. They would do this with rites of passage -- tests used to demonstrate the adolescents' toughness and courage.

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It'd be like if you had to pass your driving test with a whole bunch of snakes in your lap.

And although toughness and courage aren't perhaps as useful as they once were, there is something impressive about a teen composed entirely of elbows standing up, facing his fears, conquering them, and emerging on the other side a man.

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"Today I am a man!"

So, in the interest of celebrating any process that results in less-elbowy teenagers, below we present a list of some of the bravest rites of passage from around the world, which we encourage you to admire from the safety of your computer chair, not thinking too much about the irony.

#5. Hunting Lions

Lions are called the kings of the jungle for a reason. They're about 500 pounds of teeth and claws, can run 50 miles per hour (in bursts), and hate everything that isn't in their bellies. They're the perfect example of an apex predator, and until about 40 years ago, humans existed on this planet only because the lions let us.

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"You're welcome."

Basically, if you run into someone who isn't scared of lions, they're lying, or a lion in disguise. Everyone but the Maasai, that is.

Viault via Wikimedia Commons
And not just because they can hover away from the lions, although they can also do that.

This nomadic group of African tribes has long used a lion hunt as a rite of passage, one of a few steps in the process of turning teenagers into something useful. Using nothing more than spears and shields (and what must be spectacularly large testicles), the young Maasai venture out into the savanna to kill some lions.

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In the exact same way our teenagers don't.

This is starting to be phased out of modern Maasai life, as the number of lions dwindles (because of disease, not the Maasai's huge balls). In the future, "getting a degree" is going to be the new "lion kill" for the young Maasai, and while we guess it's nice that they're acknowledging concepts like sustainability and working to adapt to the modern world, it's still a little sad to know that there will be fewer trained lion killers on our side when the lions do eventually rebuild their populations and rise up against us.

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"Hey, uh, you got any lion in you?"

#4. Ritual Beatings

Throughout history, various tribes have used beatings in order for their young men to prove their toughness and courage. The Spartans, for example, appeared to do little else but beat their children, a process that ensured that any who survived to adulthood would be pretty tough.

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"FLY OR PERISH."

The Matis people from the Amazon have a similar ritual called mariwin, in which village elders dress themselves up as important spirits, enter the village, and whip people. They whip children if the children are naughty, they whip warriors to make the warriors stronger, and they whip pregnant women to make the babies stronger. Obviously, we don't see this too much anymore, and certainly not officially, as we've collectively decided that we prefer our adolescents doughy.

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"Man, why am I taking so much guff in this article?"

But one area where the tradition lives on is in Konomiya, Japan, where a very special villager is selected to traverse a sea of enraptured loincloth-clad men. At the Naked Men Festival, the chosen one, or the Shin-otoko, is battered by thousands of men in giant nappies trying to touch him for good luck. It is, obviously, a great honor.

Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty
Obviously.

#3. The Hand in a Hole

The way this test of bravery works is that the subject is made to put his hand in a hole. If that doesn't sound too scary, then consider that this hole or hollow stump or haunted crevasse or whatever is also often filled with critters. If you're still not getting it, it's perhaps best illustrated by this scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in which Indiana's shrill friend has to stick her hand in a bug-filled hole to stop a deathtrap.

How much of a test this is varies a lot from person to person; for many, the threat of these little critters evokes some pretty primal fears. If you don't like bugs or snakes, it might be impossible for you to complete this kind of fear-based glory hole.

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Stock Image No. 256734. Keywords: golf, ball, glory, hole.

As a rite of passage, this practice is best exemplified by the father/son tradition of noodling. In the American South, where both free time and limbs are readily disposable, it's been discovered that by diving into the water and sticking your arm into any old hole, you can trick the catfish (who happens to call that hole its home) into clamping onto your arm. Then you just haul it out and bask in the glory.

Wikimedia Commons
That's a terrifying hole.

This is only mildly dangerous if everything goes right, like if the catfish doesn't pull you under, or the catfish isn't a catfish and is instead a nest of poisonous snakes. At which point it becomes mildly lethal, and your dad gets in trouble with mom for losing another one.

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Chris Bucholz

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