Writes of Passage
Among my most vivid memories from high school is a documentary about tribal life. In a test of manhood, boys no older than myself were presented with their own spears, and instructed to go off into the jungle on their own and return with some wildlife they had slaughtered to feed their tribe.
I was fascinated, because it was so far removed from anything that anyone I knew had ever experienced. The closest I ever came to anything similar was when my mother gave me a dollar to bring back some eggs from the SuperValu. And she even wrote the item down for me. But I didn’t have to leave my family for days on end, travel through a perilous jungle, or slaughter anything.
Since then, I’ve been captivated by the concept of boy-to-manhood ceremonies.
In the United States, we’re probably most familiar with the Jewish bar mitzvah. On this day, a boy receives the two things most desired by every 13-year-old: savings bonds and chopped liver molded into a swan.
By investigating the rich variety of manly ceremonies globally, I have been able to do more than just deepen my knowledge. I can also share an appreciation of other cultures with Lavender readers—and deduct any future around-the-world boat cruises as a research expense.
Here’s some of what I found:
Qatar In this Arabic country, boys must memorize every film Omar Sharif has ever made, including Funny Girl and Funny Lady, and reenact them, portraying all the roles—yes, even Barbra Streisand’s. Boys who are not yet prepared for the rigors of this challenge may be accepted into a secondary, less-respected group of men by portraying all the roles in the films of George Hamilton, Ben Stiller, or Abe Vigoda.
Monaco What could possibly test the manhood of boys born in this principality, known primarily for its tourism, gambling, breathtakingly beautiful vistas, and royalty? Not much. So, 13-year-old boys are airlifted to New Jersey, where they must survive on their own for three months with indigenous persons called “Snookie” and “The Situation.” Some don’t make it. Those who return invariably have the tortured, haunted faces of those who have looked into the eyes of the Beast. Nonetheless, the question “Have you been Jersied yet?” is considered the hip way to ask a Monacan boy if he has become a man.
Fiji When a boy reaches age 13 in Fiji, he is stripped naked, smeared with ox dung, and made to perform an exotic dance through cane fields, singing a medley from South Pacific wearing nothing but a tropical fruit hat. This colorful manhood rite was also, coincidentally, the exact same initiation ceremony used by Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity at the University of Minnesota—until 1997, when the music publishing company owning the rights to South Pacific demanded royalties.
Liechtenstein On the Day of Manhood, boys are blindfolded, then made to identify each of the 67 varieties of German sausage merely by smell. Hence, the expressions of admiration for men: “He can sniff a bratwurst from six kilometers away”; and “You can’t pull the knackwurst over his nose!” Conversely, one who is not considered a full man is often referred to as a “little weenie.”
Honduras Boys in Honduras are hooked into a device that measures pulse rate. First, they are shown a video of several children enjoying a wild food fight in a banana grove. Next, they are shown an old Jane Fonda workout video. If their pulse while watching Fonda exceeds their rate while watching the banana fight by at least 25 percent, they are considered men. If it exceeds it by more than 75 percent, they are still considered men, but are sent to the Honduras Center for Testosterone Stabilization for two weeks of observation.
Bhutan Boys about to become men are given this problem: “A team of pack mules leaves its Himalayan home at 9 AM, traveling west at approximately seven miles per hour. Another team of pack mules leaves the Duar Plain at 10 AM, traveling west at approximately five miles per hour. Which team will reach Thimphu first? At what time? How much later will the other team arrive? Show all work.”
Well, consider the source here, but I think boys in Minnesota have it pretty lucky. Here, manhood is measured by a boy’s ability to pee his full name in the snow.
Bye for now.