In his seminar, “On Being a Man”, David D. laments Western culture’s lack of a ceremonial transition to manhood. Sure, we do all right commercially and technologically, but socially, we’re detached from our intrinsic nature. David points out this disconnection means adolescent males have to figure out the meaning of manhood for themselves - and a lot of them never do. He wouldn’t be in business otherwise, right?
A lot of what the man says is true. I mean, it’s stuff he’s read about so it must be… Seriously though, a tradition of ushering men into the rights and responsibilities of manhood has many obvious benefits. For one thing, giving young men a clear idea of their social role would prevent the kind of confusion and alienation that leads to them becoming old men still living in their parent’s basements. Sure, the trend of the basement troll is partly economic, but if all those guys were given a thorough grounding in channeling and controlling their masculine force, it’d be the World of Warcraft economy crashing rather than the real one.
Of course, male initiation isn’t all fun and bris knives. Being a man thing, it has the potential to reach wild extremes of cruelty and brutality. And, around the world and throughout history, it often has. We now present the dark side of male initiation:#1. The Sambia of Papua New Guinea
The fairy tale of cultural relativism tells us all tribal cultures live in absolute peace and harmony. Witness the Boasian a(nthro)pologist, Margaret Mead’s, “Coming of Age in Samoa.” It’s pure fantasy, completely glossing over the harsh realities of - dare we say it? - primitive cultures. The Sambia people, found close to Samoans in nearby Papua New Guinea, are a good example of just how harsh, and even unnatural, those realities can be.
The Sambia are, for want of a PC term, a bunch of women-hating whoopsies. In their villages, the genders live separately, with men in the centre and women on the outskirts. Sambia boys go through a phased initiation process that makes a military hazing look like a picnic.
Starting around age five, the boys have sharp sticks poked up their noses until their blood runs freely. This process, a kind of male menstruation, is repeated regularly - but that’s far from the worst. The boys are also forced to uh, ingest and otherwise take in what the Sambia think of as “male milk.” You can fill in the unpleasant blanks.
When they’ve undergone enough years of having various things poked into them, the boys are finally allowed to marry. Sex within marriage is a mechanical act for both genders, with the men so scared of contamination from their wives that they “cleanse” themselves with mud afterwards.
For more on the charming practices of the Sambia, check out this essay on Helium. It goes into far more disturbing detail on the Sambia, and features equally disturbed Freudian/Feminist psychobabble. In closing, the author admonishes us to “keep in mind the viewpoint of cultural relativism, as each culture is unique, yet equal.” So, a culture of backwards, child-molesting mysoginists is equal to yours. Nice.#2. Satere Mawé Bullet Ant Glove
Bullet ants are the nastiest species of ant found in the Amazon Rainforest, and that’s saying a lot if you know anything about fire ants. They’re not, as you might think, called bullet ants because of their size, although it is comparable. They’re called bullet ants because their sting feels like getting shot.
Now, some of you may think that’s an exaggeration. Well, bear in mind, bullets are designed to injure or kill, not to hurt. The venom of the bullet ants has been “designed” by evolution over aeons to persuade other creatures to steer clear of bullet ants. According to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, bullet ant stings are the worst in the insect world: “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.” So, it seems quite strange that the Satere Mawé people inflict hundreds, if not thousands, of these stings upon their young men.
This Rainforest tribe have an ingenious method for ensuring their initiates into the cult of manhood don’t flinch away from the agony of the ants. They sew the ants into pairs of wicker gloves, stingers pointing inwards, then have the men don them like oven-gloves with the oven on the inside. Initiates, some as young as twelve, then have to dance around with the gloves on. This lasts between ten minutes and half an hour, and happens not just once but twenty times.
If this all sounds a bit surreal, check out National Geographic’s coverage. The Satere Mawé initiation into manhood is even more hardcore than it sounds. Let’s again discard the cultural relativism to say the Satere Mawé are infinitely braver and hardier than Westerners for enduring this ritual.#3. The Spartans of Ancient Greece
Spartan warriors were famous for the unforgiving initiation to their young men had to undergo. Failure to withstand the deprivation, beatings and difficult challenges would result in shame and exile at best, and death at worst. Nowhere is the “militocratic” rule of the Spartans more apparent than in the Krypteia. This festival took place annually, and involved the torment and murder of Helots.
Helots were the Spartan slave-class, who basically supported the military power of Sparta by farming its field and performing other such labours. Come the Krypteia, young Spartans were unleashed onto this oppressed caste in a bid to prove their worth as Spartan warriors. Helots found in the countryside without good reason were killed, Helots known to be rebellious were killed, and sometimes even random Helots who’d never stepped out of line were killed. It may sound brutal today, and it is, but perhaps not all that different from the gang initiations of today, in which innocents are often killed as unjustly as the Helots. The difference is, the Helots eventually revolted and allied with other Greek peoples to overthrow the Spartans.#4. The Zulu of South Africa
A lot of cultures feature ritual male circumcision as a necessary rite of passage. Tradition aside, there are minor medical reasons both for and against circumcision, and it seems a relatively harmless practice - just not as practiced by Zulus. See, there’s a big difference between a surgical circumcision performed in a hospital under anaesthetic by a sober doctor using a scalpel… And having a drunken witchdoctor hacking at your business with a sharp rock.
But let’s start at the beginning: Zulu teens are rounded up and sent off on “man camp” once the village chieftain decides enough of them have come of age. Amid much excitement, the youngsters are sequestered from the rest of the tribe in a secret bushveld location. Elderly tribeswomen bring them food and booze during this transitional period, in which the youths are daubed in white dust until they resemble, well, whites. Various other ceremonial rites, which one’s inner Victorian might refer to as “heathen mumbo jumbo,” are performed in accordance with the wishes of the ancestors. The process then culminates with the removal of the youngster’s foreskins, using either a spear blade or the aforesaid sharp rock.Now, all this “surgery” obviously doesn’t take place under very sterile conditions. The leaves, mud and dung given the recovering patients to staunch their bleeding often fails to prevent infection - dung’s funny that way. As you might expect, serious damage or disfigurment of the genitals is a regular occurence and, with proper treatment usually several day’s travel away, death is not an unusual outcome. Even if all goes well, healing can take three or four months and the pain is, obviously, terrible. So, next time you feel tempted to adjust your manhood with a hand-axe… Don’t.
#5. The Masai of Kenya
The Zulu aren’t unique in their circumcision minus anaesthetic ritual. The famous blood-drinking Masai are quite fond of the practice too, and even apply it to their female children. Of course, female genital mutilation is another perfectly acceptable practice once the wand of cultural relativism is given a quick wave.
Anyway, Masai men go through a whole battery of initiation rites beside the foreskin thing. Theirs is a warrior culture poised on the knife-edge of extinction, so many of their rituals are designed to weed out weaklings. One of the most extreme examples of this is lion-hunting. Though it’s no longer a common practice, mostly for reasons of wildlife conservation, Masai men were only considered true warriors once they brought down a lion using only a spear and shield.
You may remember thinking the bit from 300 when Leonidas takes down a wolf was prettybadass. Now, imagine a culture that sends lone warriors after fricking lions as a matter of course. Needless to say, Masai either returned men or not at all.[VIA]