8 Coming-of-Age Ceremonies, Rites and Traditions You May or May Not Know

8 Coming-of-Age Ceremonies, Rites and Traditions You May or May Not Know

Image: Himanshu Singh Gurjar, Mumbai, India

As they often say, growing up is hard to do! International Youth Day falls on August 12 this year, and to celebrate all things youth, we thought we’d take a squiz at some traditional coming of age traditions and passages around the world.

Bullet Ant Initiation, Brazil

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Image: cameranaturalist, Bullet ant

This rite of passage is a cultural tradition for young males wanting to join the Amazonian Sateré-Mawé tribe. After displays of singing and dancing, young boys put on gloves filled with biting bullet ants and must resist the stings and pain for around 10 minutes. After the gloves are removed, the effects are severe and long lasting, but respect is earned. Once the boy has worn the gloves around 20 times, he’s then allowed into the tribe.

Ji Li and Guan Li, China

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Image: Anthony Devencenzi, Traditional Chinese Outfits

The coming of age ceremonies Ji Li (for girls) and Guan Li (for boys) are practised by the Han Chinese. The practice is Confucian in nature and is thought to stem back to BC times. Generally, participants are around 18-20 years old (though in ancient times, girls were only 15) and the ceremony itself involves wearing traditional dress, listening to several speeches and engaging in moments of worship, as well as the allocation of a ‘grown up’ name.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Various Countries

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Image: Or Hiltch, Tomer’s Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvahs (for boys) and Bat Mitzvahs (for girls) are a strong tradition within Jewish communities around the world. Both involve weeks of preparation and practise, and observation (and often memorisation) of the commandments of the Torah. Once the official ceremony and initiation is complete, a huge reception with family and friends often ensues to celebrate adulthood.

Debut, Philippines

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Image: Rusty Ferguson, Traditional Dress

In the Philippines, women acknowledge and celebrate their 18th birthday with a traditional Debut. This ceremony-come-party is similar to that of a wedding, encompassing a family procession, prayers, traditional dress, and 18 tributes or gifts from the birthday girl’s 18 specially chosen friends. Later, a party with formal dancing and even fireworks usually follow.

Beard Shaving, Ancient Rome

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Image: James Stringer, Rome: Fontana di Trevi

How did young boys in Ancient Rome show they were growing up? They shaved their beards! They also removed any amulets, which were worn as protection during youth, and dedicated them to the god Lares. They would then begin wearing the toga, like other adult men, and soon after the initiation, they would enrol in the military.

Sweet Sixteen Party, U.S.

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Image: Marisa Roman, Ryan’s Sweet Sixteen

It might sound like something made for spoiled, rich kids, but the Sweet Sixteen party can be seen as an important coming of age passage for Americans, and it can be held by either a boy or girl. Parties can be as big or as small as the participant likes, but formal wear (gowns for girls, tuxes or suits for boys), lavish venues and even tiaras for the girls have become commonplace. In some families, a car is also bestowed upon the 16-year-old by their parents as a way of acknowledging their adulthood, responsibility and freedom.

Cattle Jumping, Ethiopia

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Image: Turmi, Ethiopia: women of the Hamer ethnic group dance among the cattle at the jumping of the bull ceremony.

In the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, young boys – known as Ukuli – take part in a three-day-long coming of age ceremony that comprises of dancing, singing and whipping. But the biggest feat is one where the boys must prove they can run across the backs of the tribe’s cattle. If they can accomplish it, they’ll become a respected Maza, proving they are grown up enough to be married and have a family.

Seijin no Hi, Japan

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Image: Laura Tomàs Avellana, Seijin no hi

Turning 20 is a significant step in Japanese culture, and both men and women commemorate this landmark with Seijin no Hi or ‘Coming of Age Day’ on the second Monday of January. Both genders dress in traditional-style kimonos and attend ceremonies at local city or prefecture offices, where they listen to official speeches and receive gifts. A party with family and/or friends is held afterwards to mark the occasion.