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10 of the Most Brutal Rites of Passage From Around the World

While becoming an adult is a natural process for everyone, most cultures around the world believe in the one ultimate act that acts as the bridge to adulthood. Civilization has since forced some communities to abandon some cruel rites of passage and rituals that endanger people’s lives, but these practices have not been wiped out. Some communities still hold onto traditions that threaten children’s lives, believing them to be the ultimate sacrifice of childhood. Of the most dangerous rites of passage practiced, these are the ten most brutal ever done on teenagers.

Enduring 1000 Cuts

Famously referred to as the crocodile initiation ceremony, this is one of the most painful initiations ever invented. This tribe in Papua New Guinea believes that human beings evolved from crocodiles before swimming from the Sepik river to become land dwellers. This rite of passage is meant to pay tribute to the crocodile and the male members of the tribe as young as 11 have to participate. The boys are taken to a spirit house for 30 days before the tribe leader starts the cutting. The boy’s body is covered in many 2cm cuts made without anesthetic, a process that often leads to death. If they survive, they are allowed to chew on some plants with healing properties. After the cutting, elders fill the cuts with tree oil and clay to retain the crocodile scale shape. The boy is believed to be disciplined and strengthened enough to endure life if they come through the process.[1]

The Whipping Competition

The Fulani are a large tribe in West Africa with a rich culture, but their initiation rituals are nothing to joke about. Once a boy is deemed eligible for marriage, he is matched to an opponent from a neighboring clan or village with whom they will compete on who can endure strong whips without flinching. The process of choosing the best tree branches for the most deadly blow is done with the help of family members. The whipping process involves staying calm while your opponent lashes at you at least three times. The crowd then decides who was the bravest of the two to become the winner. The bride-to-be also undergoes a tough initiation involving painful tattoos on her face which she has to endure without flinching to be declared a woman fit for marriage.[2]

Memory Wiping Hallucinogen

While other communities stick to proving adulthood, Algonquin Indians of Quebec go as far as wiping all childhood memories. The reagent in this initiation is wysoccan, an extract from Datura Stramonium, a herb believed to be 100 times stronger than LCD in hallucinogenic properties. The initiates are forced to take the hallucinogen up to 20 times enduring dilated veins and violent episodes and seizures accompanied by vomiting which may cause death. This process is one of the most dangerous in the world because it can wipe your memory making you forget your own family if it doesn’t kill you. If the man can’t remember their childhood memories in the first round, they forced to undergo the ritual one more time despite the risks.[3]

The Whipping Challenge

This is one of the most interesting initiation rites in Kenya still practiced among the traditionalists of the Pokot culture in Western Kenya. It is nearly similar to the Fulani whip challenge except here; the man raises his army of clan boys in an all-out war over the bride. There have to be two men contesting for the same woman for the fight to happen which is why it is rare. The two men choose the most durable sticks and whips for the fight and invite friends and clansmen to come along and help beat the opposing man’s clan. The two groups then meet in a public square in a brawl that no one in the community can interrupt. Injuries are common as the young men whip each other randomly until one group surrenders. The first group to give in to the painful strikes automatically loses the bride.[4]

The Dangerous Land Dive

In The South Pacific Island of Vanuatu, once voted the happiest place in the world, adulthood is all about taking one for the team. Young boys as young as five can participate in this ritual which comes after the yam harvest intended to thank the spirits for the harvest and also viewed as a sacrifice for the next planting season. The test involves the young men freefalling from a tower more than 90 feet high with only two vines wrapped around their legs as protection. The diver has to jump as far away from the wooden wall of the tower as possible while ensuring they fall on the dug patch of ground below to escape certain death. Brocken hips and necks are common as volunteer after volunteer make the risky jump to make the spirits happy. According to the locals, higher jumps are considered to please the spirits more despite endangering the young men even more.[5][6]

Lion Hunting

Lions are considered the strongest and most dangerous cat in the world made of 500 pounds of pure muscle that can bring down great land beasts like buffalo and giraffes. It is dangerous enough hunting for lions while hiding in the back of a truck with a hunting rifle, but the passage for the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania involves hunting alone for these dangerous beasts and killing one with nothing but a spear. It is almost like the test of the biblical Samson who had to kill a lion with bare hands. The warrior who intends to prove maturity will select a group of brave agemates for the hunting trip or may choose to set off alone hunting the lion down by following their footprints. The greatest danger comes when the warrior encounters a pride instead of one lone lion in which case he would be mauled even if he threw the spear. To prove his bravery, he had to come home with the lion’s head or skin. Conservation measures have however led to a decline of the practice.[7]

Surviving Crucifixion

This is still one of the most condemned initiation ceremonies in the world today because of its gruesome nature. This ceremony, once famous in North Dakota is not mandatory, but if you don’t participate, you are not considered a man. It involved seclusion of the initiates into the Okipa lodge where they were forced into a 4-day fast. Women and children were not allowed anywhere close to the site of the initiation. The ritual started with a violent bison dance believed to connect the people to their creators. During the four days, the man’s skin was cut on the back and chest then wooden skewers are inserted below their muscles before they are hanged on them until they faint. The young men, too weak to endure the torture were also subjected to other painful practices to induce bravery and strength. The painful skewers under the calf, shoulders, and thighs were supposed to be endured without crying before one could be called a clan leader. The ritual was last observed in 1889 before the US government banned it.[8]

Tongue & Nose Stubbing

Papua New Guinea is home to a wide range of cultures, and extreme initiation methods are not foreign. This one involves proving manhood by withstanding one of the most painful piercings imaginable. The Matausa community is one of the most remote in the world located deep in the Islands of Papua New Guinea. They believe that all of the mother’s blood that remains in a child at birth has to bleed out before they can be called men. The first level of cleansing involves shoving long sticks down the initiates’ throats until they vomit their stomachs out. The elders then shove sharp reeds down their nose until they bleed to cleanse their nose from anything dirty they may have breathed. The last stage involves picking the tongue with a sharp arrow bleeding it into the stream. You have to withstand this torture without flinching to be considered a man.[9]

Teeth Chiseling

Not all painful rituals are done on men. Like FGM, a mostly illegal practice that has declined over the years, many ceremonies for girls are very painful, and the Mentawai people of Pulau Siberut in the forests of Indonesia have one of these. They believe that sharpened teeth make women more attractive, and the process of achieving this involves chiseling. The pain felt in the process, including the risk of losing all your teeth, largely depends on the sharpness of the chisel and the experience of the person handling it. The women have to withstand the pain without crying as their sheep are sharpened using a harmer and a chisel before being filed. The process of becoming more beautiful is meant to make the woman prettier for her husband and also make her spirit happier with her body.[10]

Breast Ironing

While many tribes try to make women more beautiful for their husbands, these work to make girls less attractive to men. They believe that early breast development in young women triggers unattracted attention from men. While previously believed to be practiced in West Africa alone, studies have shown that women living in Diaspora including the US and the UK still practice it. It involves rubbing a hot metal rod or stone against a girl’s breasts to limit their growth. This brutal process can continue for weeks as long as the breast tissues keep growing until the growth is entirely suppressed. Although this has since been banned in many countries including the U.K., some communities still practice it.[11]

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