PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S INITIATION RITES
Initiation for the young men of the Iatmul tribe in Papua New Guinea is a rite of passage. Believing that they are descended from a crocodile, they undergo an initiation ritual that involves having crocodile patterns cut into their bodies with ultra sharp blades. John Fearfull, the captain of the “Sepik Spirit”, a riverboat on which I traveled, is one of few white men ever initiated into this tribe.
On a steamy night as the “Sepik Spirit” rocked gently against a pit pit covered riverbank, Fearfull told us of his initiation ordeal. Following a lengthy period of sleep deprivation and numerous painful and frightening rituals – many of which he would not describe because of sworn secrecy – hundreds of incisions made with ultra sharp blades were cut into his body. As the painful ceremony was underway, elders beat garamut drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks elaborately carved to resemble totem animals.
For days afterwards the incisions were scrubbed to open them up, then mud was packed into the cuts to cause infection making the resultant scars more prominent. In Fearfull’s words, “It was a serious commitment for me. I felt strongly about the initiation, I still do, but the cutting and what followed, made for the worst pain I have felt in my entire life. At one point the elders thought I would bleed to death.”
Posted by Anne Gordon on 24th September, 2010