The Long Road To Manhood


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The Long Road To Manhood

While most people might think that becoming a man is much easier than becoming a woman, this is not true of all cultures around the world. According to Gilmore, becoming a man is problematic (1990). Accordingly, in some cultures, such as the Sambia of New Guinea and the Samburu tribe in Africa, becoming a man constitutes a tremendous amount of rituals. In other cultures, such as the Mundurucu tribe of Brazil, becoming a man, while a lot more complicated than becoming a woman, is not as ritualistic as the Sambia and the Samburu. In most of the societies discussed in class, the road to manhood involves such rituals as circumcision, blood letting, and living in seclusion for a period of several years.

The Samburu tribe of Africa force their boys to engage in several rituals, on their voyage to becoming men. “Samburu males must pass through a complicated series of age-sets and age-grades by which their growing maturity and responsibility as men in the light of these tribal values are publicly acknowledged” (Gilmore, 133:1990). The first initiation into manhood is the circumcision ceremony, which is preformed at the age of fourteen to fifteen. The young boys of the Samburu tribe are taken away from their mothers after the circumcision ceremony, and sent out onto their voyage to manhood. There are a series of different ceremonies that the boys must engage in before they are allowed to move onto the next level of their voyage. Their voyage ends after about twelve years, in which the boys have proved themselves as men, by successfully completing all the different tasks asked of them, they are allowed to take on wives and start their own families. However, the tests of manhood are not limited to the rituals in which the young boys engage in. Even after completing the rituals, a man must always prove his manhood to the others in the tribe. The Sambia, which are similar to the Samburu tribe in their manhood rituals, engage in a majority of the same acts in regards to the transforming young boys into men. However, while circumcision is a major role for the initiation into manhood, the Sambia believe that in order for a boy to start maturing as a male, he must swallow semen. The Sambia “are firmly convinced that manhood is an artificially induced stat that must be forcibly foisted onto hesitant young boys by ritual means” (Gilmore, 147: 1990).

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The young boys are forced to perform fellatio on grown men, because it is believed that “if a boy doesn’t eat semen, he remains small and weak” (Gilmore, 147:1990).

The tribes of the Sambia and the Samburu are not the only tribes that engage in rituals concerning manhood. As illustrated in the slide presentation by Glenn Yocum (March 19, 2001), the boys of Turkey also enter manhood through the initiation of circumcision.
However, with the Turks, the boys can be as young as six when circumcised as shown in the slides presented in class. While the age of the young boy does matter greatly, being that they must be between a certain age range, a younger boy might be initiated at the same time as an older sibling who is ready to be circumcised. According to Glenn, this occurs because the circumcision ceremony is a big event in the lives of the young boys, and it is treated as such by their families. Festivities are planned around the circumcision ceremony, and it is treated as if it were a wedding ceremony (Yocum, 3/19/01). The young boys are dressed in special “costumes” to indicate that they are being initiated into manhood. After the circumcision, a lamb is slaughtered to celebrate the event, and a big feast is enjoyed by the family and friends of the young boy(s). It is through these different events which occur to celebrate this occasion that the importance of the ceremony is illustrated to us.

Of all the different societies we have discussed in our class, the Mundurucu people talked about in the Nadelson article, are the least ritualistic in regards to manhood. While it is held that manhood is very important in their society, and that there are certain rites given to men and not women, they do not suffer the great pains illustrated in other societies. “For the Mundurucu, one mode of “maleness” is achieved by shunning women, while another mode consists in seeking them” (Nadelson, 240: 1981). They do not perform any rituals which constitute their voyage onto manhood. It is only believed, that when a male child is old enough, he moves from his mother’s hut into the male house. A symbol very much similar to the Sambia and Samburu tribes who send the boy away from the mother’s hut for several years. Within the Mundurucu traditions, however, they are not required to engage in any rituals which would transform them from boys to men, or from the mother’s hut to the men’s house. The only thing that constitutes young boys turning into men, is their move into the men’s house, and when they take on a wife in which they must provide for. It is through these types of rituals in which the young boys of the Mundurucu society become men.

The different societies mentioned above all seem to illustrate a universal understanding of what occurs there. In order for a boy to become a man, he must engage in vigorous activities and rituals to prove his manhood. Manhood is not something that is just developed naturally, it is a process in which a young boy must earn the right to be called a “man”. It is through these understandings of other cultures, that the Western way of life seems to be much easier when it comes to manhood in the making. Whoever said that becoming a man was an easy task, must not have ever studied about the different societies around the world who can prove them wrong. Thank goodness I am a woman!


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