Growing up ‘rite’: Traditional practices offer passages to adulthood


As he climbs up the 98-foot tower, he prays for God’s favor; his friends and relatives below sing and dance.

He is nervous, but it is the only way to prove his virility and ensure a successful harvest. He crosses his arms and jumps off the spiked tower. With only jungle vines tied around his ankles for support, he hurtles head-first to the ground at about 45 miles per hour.

This ritual, called the Naghol, is a land dive performed by males of the Sa tribe in the Southern Pacific, according to Believed to secure the gods’ favor and mark a boy’s transition into manhood, this dangerous dive is one of many cultural rites of passages worldwide.

Many communities have developed traditional rituals and ceremonies to celebrate transition from childhood to adulthood. In Hispanic cultures, a traditional ceremony called the Quinceañera is held to honor a young woman’s 15th birthday. According to, the celebration often begins with a religious ceremony, followed by elaborate festivities.

The young woman is able to select her closest friends and relatives to participate in the Court of Honor, a special group that joins her in celebrating. Wearing a traditional ball gown, the Quinceañera commemorates her journey from childhood to maturity while also embracing religious customs and family values.

In another rite of passage known as the Bar Mitzvah (males) or Bat Mitzvah (females), members of the Jewish community celebrate the coming of age of a child.

According to, when a Jewish boy turns 13, he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, or “son of the commandment.” For girls, their 12th birthday marks this milestone.

A ceremony is held to signify the obligations they now have, along with the right to lead religious services and perform other duties. A reception usually follows the religious ceremony.

In addition, various national communities have developed coming-of-age celebrations. For example, the Seijin-no-Hi, also known as the Coming of Age Festival, has been a hallmark of Japanese tradition for approximately 1200 years, according to

Held on the second Monday of January, the Seijin-no-Hi recognizes the age at which Japanese youth become responsible members of society.

On this day, 20-year-olds often dress in fancy traditional clothing, attend a ceremony in local city offices, receive gifts and attend parties with friends and family members. The age of 20 also marks the year in which Japanese citizens may vote and legally drink.

Although each community has developed distinct cultural, religious and national traditions, all share one main similarity: the marking of a passage towards adulthood.

Photo courtesy of KIANA HERNANDEZ

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