The 5 Most Terrifying Rites of Passage from Around the World
Most cultures attach a special significance to reaching puberty, whether it's celebrated with a bar mitzvah, a first Holy Communion or your dad buying you your first six-pack. Then again, there are some cultures out there that still don't consider it a real rite of passage unless it involves something so gruesome that most of us wouldn't do it as adults. For instance ...
Mentawai Girls File Their Teeth into Points
Look, we know that different cultures have different standards of beauty, and one culture's George Clooney is another culture's Mike Biernhaus (he's a really ugly guy who lives near the office, you don't know him). So it gives many of us hope to think that somewhere there might be some remote Amazon tribe that considers the beer gut and neck-beard combo irresistible. Don't tell us it's impossible; after all, the Mentawai tribe of Indonesia think that having pointed, daggerlike teeth is the epitome of sexy.
"My rotting, razor-sharp dental work brings all the boys to the yard ..."
The Mentawai are so convinced that pointed teeth are more attractive than flat that the men would probably be more interested in your canines than your cleavage. And for the women of the tribe, it means that once they reach adulthood, it's time to have their teeth chipped away and filed down to points, because how else will they catch the eye of a potential husband?
"It's cool, guys dig this."
As you might expect, having someone hack at your pearly whites with a hammer and chisel wasn't exactly a pleasant experience, and the process left the teeth damaged and prone to infection. Sexy infection.
The process is less common these days, since the march of Western culture has pushed out a lot of obscure tribal traditions in favor of cigarettes and HBO, but high-ranking females like the wives of tribal chiefs still prefer to have the procedure done, because nothing says "status symbol" like the ability to cleanly bite the head off a small mammal.
Boys of the Fulani Tribe Whip the Crap Out of Each Other
Hey, remember when your whole family gathered to watch you and another kid from the next neighborhood beat the living shit out of each other with whips while everyone cheered? And then nobody called the cops? If so, you probably grew up among the North African Fulani tribe (or in certain parts of Jersey).
We guess one day he'll remember this fondly?
Fulani boys become men by engaging in an epic battle of wills with members of rival clans. The sharo ritual consists of two young boys entering a ring shirtless, each carrying a long cane or whip. (Warning! Do not Google that last sentence.) 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.
But it's not just the boys who have all the fun in Fulani culture. In the spirit of gender equality, girls have their own coming-of-age ritual to endure, which involves receiving an elaborate facial tattoo like little pubescent Mike Tysons. Once again, it's important to the ritual for the girl to show no discomfort during the hours-long session of being stabbed in the face. Because that's the kind of thing that only a child would do.
Maasai Boys Hunt Lions
For most of us, the most stressful thing about our transition into adulthood was asking someone to the prom. In other words, the worst case scenario was that you could have your heart ripped out figuratively. Young warriors of the Maasai tribe in Kenya were less lucky. That's because an important coming-of-age ritual for young Maasai hunters for centuries was hunting lions. As in fully grown, male, flesh-ripping lions.
"Haven't you seen The Lion King? I'm friendly enough to just walk right up and pet."
Now, if you asked us to choose an appropriate weapon to hunt a fully grown lion with, we'd probably pick the world's longest-range sniper rifle or, ideally, a predator drone. But the Maasai chose to take on Mufasa with nothing but a spear and a rawhide shield. The objective was to steal the lion's tail, which was the surest sign of a badass. And, you know, it's kind of hard to argue with that.
Also, just to ensure that the lion was nice and pissed off, young warriors had to wear special bells on their legs in order to annoy the beast. Unsurprisingly, the mortality rate for attacking the king of the Serengeti with nothing more than a sharp stick and youthful enthusiasm was pretty high.
"All those raging hormones make the meat really tender."
In recent years, though, the Maasai elders have discouraged solo hunting, and instead the young men will now do it in groups of about 10 or so. We should clarify that they didn't decide this out of concern for the hunters' safety -- it's that lion populations have dropped so much that there's no longer enough lion to go around.
For Various African Tribes, Female Puberty Means House Arrest
At this point in the list, you have to wonder whether the boys or girls have it worse in these coming-of-age rituals. We can say that while the boys' rituals are often brutally dangerous, at least there is an element of badassery to them. The girls often just get locked up.
"You have been found guilty of felony possession of a vagina."
For instance, in the Baganda tribe of Uganda, girls who go through their first menstrual cycle can expect to have about as good a time of it as Carrie. It's believed that menstruation is the result of an invisible (and apparently pleasureless) interaction with a ghostly spirit. As soon as they're blessed with the first of what will become a monthly ghost visitation, the girls are locked away in a shack for two weeks, during which time they're not allowed to handle food and their grandparents educate them on sexual matters, which we're sure isn't at all an awkward experience.
Later, when the women find mates and give birth, they are secluded again for as long as 18 months to raise the baby alone, just in case they had any wise ideas about getting pregnant again. Hopefully they have Sudoku.
"What's a six-letter word for screwed from birth?"
Meanwhile, on Okrika Island, Nigeria, young females learn about the responsibilities of womanhood through the enlightening power of imprisonment and ritual humiliation. Girls who are eligible for the ritual (only virgins need apply) have their legs shackled to restrict movement, at which point they are isolated in a room in their parents' house for three weeks. Then, when they are good and stir-crazy, they are wrapped up in huge cloth skirts so that they can dance and sit in the market square in booths known as the "house of memories" decorated by the participants' families, with happy photographs of the very people who just shackled them in a room for nearly a month.
Then, on the final day of the ceremony, the girls (whose feet are still shackled together) are forced to run away from a bunch of men who chase them and hit them with sticks, allegedly to beat the water spirits out of them so that they can be free to start a family with a human. Of course, after weeks of constant trauma, there's probably nothing they're less interested in doing anyway.
The Native American Trial of Horrors
The Mandan tribe really didn't mess around when it came to proving their manhood. Their rite of passage, called the okipa ceremony, basically came about when a bunch of them sat down to brainstorm the most horrible things that they could possibly do to a person.
First, the young men weren't allowed to eat, drink or sleep for four days, after which they had a friendly-sounding celebration called the bison dance. When the dance ended, that's when they had wooden poles driven through their flesh and were suspended screaming from the ceiling until they passed out, which for us would have been the moment that we heard about it happening to somebody else.
"OK, I'm unconscious."
"We haven't even put the hooks in yet."
It was only when the young warriors fainted that they were allowed to come down from the rafters. When they awoke, it was seen as a sign that they had gained approval from the spirits, and they were from that moment men. And that's when they had both of their pinkie fingers chopped off and were made to run around the camp a few times while still impaled with wooden rods and spurting fountains of blood from their hands.
It's the worst Super Soaker fight ever.
Having already won the spirits' approval, we have to assume that they just did this part for shits and giggles. And come to think of it ... we're pretty sure that's why all of these ceremonies existed.
For more terrifying rituals from around the world, check out The 5 Creepiest Death Rituals From Around the World and 5 Cultures With the Most WTF Wedding Rituals.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 5 Most Offensive Attempts to Cash in on Hurricane Sandy.