The Bloody Rite Of Manhood
The Mardudjara Circumcision
Above we see the Kungara men tossing the young birri-birri boy soon to be man in the air to initiate the beginning of the ceremony. The white body paint they wear signifies nature and their ancestors.
The Mardudjara Australian Aborigines rite of passage is very important to become a man or women in their society. The rite of passage happens at the first sight of puberty, this can include pubic hair, facial hair, and acne. The religious ceremony bora which is when boys go to young men to men begins with the males of the tribe throwing the boy or birri-birri which is what they call them in the air.
The ceremony of the circumcision then begins in a sequestered place of the aborigines land. A bare, sandy spot, surrounded by mulga trees and salt bushes, an area where the women are always careful to avoid. If the women go towards where the ceremony is taking place they will be killed. The place is usually excluded from the rest of the tribe for privacy reasons.
When the boy is put onto a rock by the elders and the process begins. They also sing/dance and produce a sort of music by hitting boomerangs on the ground. This calms the boy before the circumcision and somewhat hypnotizes him. The dancing, singing, and environment let the boy access Dreamtime. Dreamtime is the time when their ancestors raise from the ground and create life and nature. The stories of Dreamtime are thoroughly preserved for upcoming generations and it helps the current generation identify themselves.
When the boy is put on a rock by the elders and the process begins. The elder sits on the boy’s chest while he begins cutting the foreskin of the penis with a sharp stone knife. Once the circumcision has taken place the tribal elder tells him to just swallow some of his own foreskin without chewing because it is said that he has eaten his own body, it will grow inside him, make him powerful, and become a true man. Finally, once all of this is done the boy must squat over a smoky fire built by the elders because it is said to purify his wounds and take away the bad spirits/omens.
A few weeks after the circumcision has taken place the boys must now undergo the process of subincision. Subincision in the Aboriginal culture is when a small wooden rod is put into the urethra to be used as a backing for a flint knife. The elder takes the knife and uses it to make a split on the underside of the penis from the frenulum to near the scrotum. The procedure is very similar to the circumcision procedure as the elder also sits on the boy’s chest while the singer’s hit boomerangs on the ground to make hypnotizing sounds that create a path to Dreamtime.
Once the first incision was made by the Wandjina (the aboriginal gods of rain and clouds) the first lightning bolt is released is released from the incised penis as well as fire. The Kurangara turn the red inners of their incised penis outwards to create a fire effect. The Kurangara’s believe the wandjina can direct the lightning bolts by them taking their penis with their hand and pointing a club towards the direction that the lightning bolt should take. The lightning is used to defeat their enemies and break down trees to gain firewood.
After the subcision has taken place the boy must again stand over a smoky fire while blood drips to cleanse the wound. After the wound has healed the boy or now men now must pee like a women. Some say the Aborigines do this to try and relate to the women of the tribe.
Later, after the subincision, the now Kungara men can perform the Kuntamara ceremony where they re-open their subincision. In this process, the urethra is cut further by the elder to extend their relationship with family.
(images the left) Stone knives used for sub/circumcision as well as other daily uses. (image in the center) the cover where the knife is put in when not in use. Both objects are from after the influence of Norwegian explorer Carl Lumholtz. (image on the right) The Kungara man’s penis after the process of circumcision and subincision.
Women’s Rite of Passage
The aboriginal women of the tribe also must be inducted into womanhood. It is a somewhat similar ceremony to the boys but still has its differences. Like the boys ceremony, the initiation begins at first sight of puberty, which in this case is first sight of menstruation. The ceremony begins with the elder of the tribe along with other men from the tribe surrounding her. The ceremony is taken place in a secluded place similar to the boy’s ceremony
The Ceremony begins when the elder sits on the girl’s stomach while the other men hit their boomerangs on the ground and sing aloud. The elder then uses a sharp flint knife to cut the woman’s chest open. The cuts are then filled with sand as to enlarge the scars when they are healed. After the ceremony has taken place the women rest in their huts for a month before they can begin the second part of the initiation.
To fully become a woman in the aborigine tribe the woman that had been already scarred must be deflowered. The men that were at the ceremony while it was taking place must have casual sex with her until she is married. Until one of the men chooses to marry her she can cohabit with all young men who are classed as possible husbands. After she is married she is then considered a women in the tribe.
Young aboriginal women after she has gone
through the first initiation of scarring her chest
Importance of completion
When the rite of passage is complete the Birri-Birri boy’s become Kungara men and obtain their new place in their community. They also receive the right to marry and start their own family. However, if a boy fails to complete the rite he is looked down upon by his tribal members and loses the ability to become a man. Aside from this, failing the rite will prohibit him to enter his father’s hut, marry within his tribe, and participate in any religious ceremony. As you see, the rite is mandatory for all boys of the tribe unless they want to receive disastrous consequences and not be a participating member in their community.
Apart from the disadvantages in the tribe, the possibility of the sub/circumcision going wrong can be critical for the person’s health. There have already been a few cases that the boys get their wound infected or bleed out. In case of the girls, their scars can get infected and she can also get STD’s by the men she has casual sex with.
(Here is an image of a member of the tribe dancing before the Birri-Birri rite of passage. He wears his traditional clothing and white body paint that lets him access dreamtime and connect with his ancestors.)
How the boy’s transition into manhood
The elders of the tribe lead this rite of passage and transform the boy to become a Kungara man. This is mainly because they are the wisest of the tribe and have fully experienced this process as well. The young boys don’t only change physically but have a new participating role in their society. This rite is very important for them because it marks a clear cut to a new part of their life.
In the initiation stage of this rite starts at 11-33 years of age. The boys are excluded from their parents and leave behind a world of freedom and compassion. They perform the rite and show that they are ready to become men. Following that they die from their current place in society and are reborn into an era of new responsibilities and cooperation in their community. Now they are active, participating men in the tribe and can start their own family. They will further explore the deepest secrets and stories of life that ensure the continuance of their society.
In this image, an Australian aboriginal child is being painted for a dance festival in
Northern Queensland, Australia.
About the Ceremony
The mardudjara tribe is located in North-West Australia. The aboriginals complete the rite of passage in the desert areas because it has a special environment that includes rocks, bushes, and Mulga trees. The subincision and circumcision themselves last only about 10-20 minutes. What takes longer is the singing/dancing before and after the sub/circumcision which takes a couple of hours. This ceremony is formal and involves expressions of faith to their ancestors and special beings. It has been practiced for many generations and is well organized. Thanks to this, almost all members of the tribe can successfully complete it.
After the Rite of Passage is Complete
When the rite of passage has finished the lives of the now adults change remarkably. The boy’s, as well as the girls of the tribe, lose their childhood. Aside from their childhood, the girls have to make a very big sacrifice which is losing their virginity. The way this happens is after the ceremony of making scars, the men present during the ritual are allowed to deflower her and have casual sex with her until she marries one of them. For the boy’s it is very difficult to go through a big change like his, both mentally and physically. Even though it is very painful, they believe it is the best way to identify themselves as men.
It is very easy to figure out if a man has passed their rite of passage or not. If they passed it, they will be participating in many important ceremonies and will probably have a wife. Another less obvious way to tell is whether their penis has changed. For the men having a circumcised penis is better if they want to marry, because over 95% of females prefer men that are sub and or circumcised.
Aboriginal Culture this day in Age
This day in age the Aboriginal culture is struggling to stay alive because of the colonization that happened in Australia between 1910 – 1970. Many of the indigenous children were stolen from their homes because of government policies regarding assimilation. It was in 1937 when the Commonwealth government of Australia held the conference which stated that Aboriginal people that were not of full blood would be absorbed or assimilated into the Australian population. The forced assimilation was based on white supremacy in Australia which proposed that the indigenous would die out through the process of natural elimination. Many of the children taken from their family were taught to forget their heritage and accept the white culture of Australia. The children removed from their indigenous homes due to these policies became known as the stolen generations. Finally, this culture is slowly disappearing from what once was a tribe with many sacred traditions and rituals.
Due to the rapid colonization of Australia, the Bora ceremonies are no longer performed in most parts of Australia.
This is a graph showing where the Australian aborigines live. As you can see, most of them live in major cities and inner regional areas rather than in desert areas. This shows that they have been influenced by the modern world and are not like how they used to be.
Birri-birri: The young boys before they have gone through their rite of passage.
Kungara: The men after they have gone through their rite of passage.
Dreamtime: the belief of the creation of the world.
Bora: The rite of passage as a whole.
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1.When do you feel like a grown-up?” “What affirms this?”
I feel like a grown-up when I am able to take care of unfamiliar situations without help with others. For example, getting from place to place without someone needing to assist you. I believe that this makes you a grown up because when you step into adulthood your life changes fast and involves many situations that you didn’t see coming. That is why you need to learn to handle these situations over time.
2.Do we still need rites of passage?Do we need the physical and mental ordeals? Do we need the formality?
I think we should always have rites of passage because they are very important to mark a transition period. If we wouldn’t have them we wouldn’t consider major parts of our lives to be significant. The physical and mental ordeals can be done because for some people it might mean much more to them than for others. It also depends on what culture certain people were raised in. Although it can be very important for some to have harsh rites of passage there are limits and some should not be considered acceptable in my opinion.
Keeping a rite of passage formal helps to show that it is a serious event and should be remembered. Also, it lets the person going through the rite understand that it is a big moment in their lives.
3.Do the old ones still apply, or do we need entirely new ones that make sense in today’s world? If so, what would they look like?
Old rites of passage can still make sense in today’s world without them having to be remade. All they have to do is adapt to how people are in today’s society. Unfortunately, these adaptations can take parts away of a rite, for example, in the Latin-American society, the quinceañera rite of passage is slowly starting to exclude the religious side to it. In case that the current society takes the most significant parts of a rite away, then new one’s can be made.
4.Have you gone through a rite of passage?
I have gone through the most general rites of passage like birth and puberty, but I never experience it in a formal way. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am not religious and that many rites of passage are done because of religion and the in the belief of something/someone.