Rites of passage Essay

Submitted By Jswan0828
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Rites of Passage; Influence Cultures
James Swanson
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Kristin Akerele
18 Aug 2014

Across the world there are many different ways of defining a rite of passage. The textbook definition is that it is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. In my mind that is open to a very broad interpretation. A rite of passage can be anything from being given your name at birth as in the Inuit society, to a promotion at a job. Each of those events fit the textbook definition of a rite of passage, do they not? Even the gruesome ritual performed by the Massai culture fit this term. Believe it or not they circumcise their women as a way to show they have become a woman. How does that compare to the sweet sixteen we throw for our daughters in the American society? No matter if it is a simple name, or an act of body mutilation; rites of passage are held as very important times in a person’s life; not only that these same rites of passage are important for cultures to survive. For the Inuit people of the Canadian artic they are welcomed into the society as they take their first breath. The ritual is that of receiving their name. It may not seem like much but receiving their soul name is one of the most widely recognized transmitters of Inuit identity (Searles, 2008). The atiit (names) an individual receives is believed to shape who the individual will become, and can come from the biological kin, distant relatives and even people of no genealogical ties (Searles, 2008). In the American culture a child might be named after a parent or grandparent. The Inuits also get their names from those lines, but sometimes will name a child after a prominent, unrelated, deceased member of the community. One way of think of this is re-incarnation, but the Inuit do not believe that to be the case. They do not believe that the deceased individuals soul is inhabiting the body, but yet that the spiritual element is the name- the name soul- that joins the child, remaining with them and protecting them throughout their life (Searles, 2008). For the Inuits, something as simple as naming a child is a huge rite of passage that can shape an individual’s life. The Inuits believe that when the name souls are bestowed upon a child, that child assumes some of the traits as the deceased. This thought process can help a society keep from getting too discouraged when an individual passes. If the best hunter in the village passes away, you give his name to the next in line. From my understanding this allows the Inuit’s to never lose those that are important to them. The practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Female Circumcision (FC), or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) entails the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious, and other non-therapeutic reasons (Esho, Enzlin, Van Wolputte, Temmerman 2010). That sounds like a gruesome idea, but for the Massai tribe in Kenya it is a very special rite of passage for young women. The Massai society believe that circumcision is a must to make the transition to Maasai-hood or womanhood (Esho et al. 2010). Only those that have been circumcised may participate in the rituals due to the fact that those who haven’t are seen as unclean, unfit, and not a complete woman (Esho et al. 2010). There is not real medical reason to conduct this ritual but the spiritual reason is clear to the Massai; FGC serves as the element that legitimizes womanhood which opens the door to matrimony and motherhood (Esho et al. 2010). Conducting this ritual sounds like it could be end with a woman losing her life, but for the Massai it is exactly how they believe their life will begin. Even though the Inuits and the Massai have very different methods of rites of passage does not mean they do not have similarities. With the soul name being given to an individual the Inuits believe that inherits certain traits by way of the names. For the…