Initiation to Adulthood Marked in Different Ways Among Cultures
Initiation to Adulthood Marked in Different Ways Among Cultures
  • 민 주 기자
  • 승인 2007.05.01 00:00
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The adolescents of Congolese Kota paint their faces in ghostlike masks of blue, signifying phantom of their childhood. It is erased off for the child to symbolically die and adult to be born. 

             As in Korea, other countries around the world have a certain marking point for when an adolescent becomes an adult in the society. Whether this is through a celebration for their eighteenth birthday or a special tradition that has been maintained since the past, adolescents came to know when their childhood ends and adulthood begins and understand what their culture expects of them as full members of their society. In contrast to the current habit of receiving roses, perfume or a kiss during Coming-of-Age Day in Korea, foreign students from different parts of the world share how the coming-of-age is marked in their countries.

             “I think Japanese people tend to put more value in the Coming-of-Age Day than Koreans,” said Choi Hyang-ri (Aichi Shukutoku University, 3), who celebrated her Coming-of-Age Day on the second Monday of January in Japan last year. On the Coming-of-Age Day in Japan, young women beautifully dressed in furisode, a special kind of kimono and young men wearing suits gather to hold a festival marking their coming-of-age. Choi held her coming-of-age ceremony in the middle school that she used to attend. She says that ceremonies are usually held in the elementary or middle schools, or in the region of Mihama, a huge ceremony is even held at Disneyland. She added, “The day makes me feel like a special person as I am dressed up really nicely and receive attention from people all around that congratulate my coming of age.”

             As in Japan, Indonesia also celebrates the coming-of-age in a unique way even though the tradition differs from tribe to tribe. Novrida Pasca Sarjanastuti (International Studies, 2) held a maturity ceremony in her Javanese at Indonesia. “We have a maturity ceremony for girls when they begin their menstruation. White porridge with a red circle in the middle is served for girls on that day. The white represents the pureness and the red in the middle is a sign of maturity,” explained Sarjanastuti. She said that the age of becoming an adult in her tribe is quite young, as it is the case in Africa, compared to Korea.

             On to the African continent, Mozambique has its own tradition that marks one’s coming-of-age. Nadia Utui (Architecture, 2) explains that in the northern providences of Mozambique which are quite traditional and underdeveloped compared to the southern parts, they hold intriguing ceremonies to mark the coming-of-age. “At the Coming-of-Age period which begins at the end of December to the beginning of January, young men and women who come of age wear their best clothes and then stand in front of their doors at night to join in the line of young adults that are walking to a camp where their initiation rites are held,” said Utui. At the camp the young men are circumcised and are taught ways to be tough and masculine by older men. Women, on the other hand, are taught to be respectful to men and some rumors are told that they lose their virginity there.

             A similar tradition can be found in Kenya. “Young adults that make their transition get circumcised or remove their front teeth. They cannot show pain in this process because enduring the circumcision is a sign that they can bear whatever pain is necessary as they become an adult,” said Adelide Kamanthe (International Studies, 2). Kamanthe and Utui said that girls are not usually an important part in these ceremonies because their society does not value women as highly as men. “There is a traditional dance called Mapiku in which young adults participate to celebrate their coming-of-age. Special masks are designed for each adolescent by a respected person in their village for them to wear during the dance. However, this dance is only for men,” said Utui.  

             Amidst these coming-of-age ceremonies in some parts of the world, with the exception of rituals surrounding high school graduations or birthdays, western cultures have largely abandoned the initiation rites that some countries in Africa or Asia still celebrate. “There is no special ceremony marking our transition from an adolescent to an adult except our 18th birthday because that is the age when we can get our driver’s license and the right to vote,” said Laurene Boissac (International School of Business and Management, 3), who is from France.

             Similarly, in the Philippines, birthdays that mark the coming-of-age is celebrated in special ways. “People turning eighteen in the Philippines hold their eighteenth birthday party called the ‘debut’ and dance with 18 people of the opposite sex. Eighteen friends also come and say a word to you in front of the guests at the party to congratulate your transition of becoming an adult. I guess it is similar to the prom dedicated to you,” said Regina Maria (Advertising & PR, 2).

             The ceremony of initiation to adulthood seems to differ according to the tradition, norms and values that certain cultures emphasize. Nevertheless, the marking of the transition from a child or adolescent to an adult is prevalent worldwide whether it is in the form of a birthday celebration, test of courage, or receiving gifts. “Rites of passage are significant phases during our course of life and the understanding how people in other countries celebrate their transition from an adolescent to an adult along with other passage rites is an important part in fully understanding other cultures,” added Utui from Mozambique.


The adolescents of Congolese Kota paint their faces in ghostlike masks of blue, signifying phantom of their childhood. It is erased off for the child to symbolically die and adult to be born. 

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