Cultural Influences on Rite of Passage Beliefs and Rituals

Last Updated: 13 May 2021
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Cultures throughout the world honor the passing from childhood into adulthood with special celebrations and rituals that coincide with religious or social traditions. World civilizations pay homage to this rite of passage differently, ranging from jovial and lighthearted galas to the barbaric rituals frequently associated with remote African tribes. There are also other sects of the population where their youth enter a transitional phase that lasts from months or years, such as the Amish and the Aborigines.

Their youth use this time as a period of learning to think and act as adults and for decision-making about their future. Amish or plain people as they are also known migrated from Europe in search of religious freedom. They were originally part of the Mennonite religion and follow many of the same practices today. They are governed by the unwritten rules known as the Ordnung. They live by principles of simplicity, reject arrogance, embrace humility and socialize only within their community and avoid other parts of society as much as possible.

Amish children only attend school until they complete 8th grade and higher education is discouraged or forbidden. At the age of sixteen, Amish teens are given the choice of participating in Rumspringa, a German term that translates into run-around in English. During this time Amish adolescents are free to explore life among modern American society. It is believed that at this age that they have reached a maturity level where they can act responsibly as well as having the skills for making rational informed decisions.

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This time of reflection is for the youths to decide if they want to remain in modern society or return to the Amish community where they are baptized as adults and are expected to follow the church for the rest of their lives without question. Rumspringa is also a catalyst for Amish teens to socialize and meet prospective marriage partners. They congregate with other young men and women of Amish faith, experiment with alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, automobiles, cell phones, and video games. (Welcome to Lancaster County)

Studies of rumspringa have concluded that approximately 85% of teens willingly return to Amish life and forfeit all conveniences of technology and English ways of life. The small percentage of those choosing to remain in modern society, do so with the understanding that they are shunned by all Amish people including their immediate family. There is no further contact or connection to their past and must live the rest of their lives as though they were strangers or non-existent to everyone they ever knew.

The Australian Aborigine tribes are believed to have migrated from Asia more than 20,000 years ago and are native to the barren outback land of Australia. In ancient aboriginal culture, the rite of passage into manhood started at age 12 with a series of ceremonies and rituals held over a course of a few years. The Alkira Kiumi as it is called, started at age 12, and involved the boy being repeatedly tossed into the air and caught by their male relatives of the tribe. Next was the circumcision procedure, which took place by a fire ring.

The chief of the tribe sat on the boy’s chest and cut the foreskin of the penis off with a sharp stone or knife. The boy was given a boomerang to bite on for the pain. After the circumcision, the boy was made to kneel close to the fire so that the smoke would rise up and purify the wound and then the elders of the tribe fed the young man his severed foreskin to symbolize the devouring of boyhood. Months after the initial circumcision, a fireside sub incision ceremony was held. A stick was inserted into the urethra to brace the knife as it cut from the urethra to the scrotum.

The boy then rose and allowed his blood to drip into the flames of the fire. The second circumcision made it necessary for the boy to thereafter assume a squatting position in order to urinate. Anthropologists theorize that this ritual was performed so that young males would better understand and sympathize with a females’ menstrual cycle. After the circumcisions came a ceremony in which a chisel was used to knock out the front tooth of the young man as it was believed it made him more physically attractive. The next step toward manhood was to serve as a test of his courage by having him walk barefoot across a bed of fire.

The final phase of the rite of passage into manhood was known as a walkabout and is also noted as a time for dreaming hence the name Dreamtime. “ According to Aboriginal belief, all life as it is today is part of one vast unchanging network of relationships which can be traced to the Great Ancestors of the Dreamtime” (Rose Marina) It involved young men leaving the safety of their childhood homes to roam about in the barren desert to live on their own for a period of up to 6 months. During the walkabout; the teen boys were only permitted to rely only on nature and the spiritual guidance of their ancestors for their survival.

As they roamed through the uncivilized land it was believed that if they followed the guidance of the spirits they would return to their tribes safely and would from then on be considered men. And if they succumbed to the deserts elements, then it was believed that they failed the test of manhood and died shamefully as a boy. Due to contact with the modern world, the ancient rituals of the aborigine tribes have disappeared or have been replaced by more civil ceremonies that merely symbolize the original rite of passage practices for becoming a man.

As validation for becoming an adult, Rumspringa and Alkira Kiumi differ vastly. Rumspringa offers the opportunity to live carefreely and seductively in what the Amish refer to as The “devil’s playground” without reprisal upon their return. Alkira Kiumi was a painful and grueling experience that served to prove a boy’s loyalty and faith in his heritage. Despite the overwhelming differences in these rites of passage, the completion of either of these ritualistic practices indicates a true allegiance to their respective religions and as paying homage to their ancestry.

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Cultural Influences on Rite of Passage Beliefs and Rituals. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from

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