Traditional Rites of Passage

Understanding the history and origins of rites of passages is an important step towards developing effective solutions for the problem of hazing. This Black History month is a great opportunity for us to explore the significance of rites of passage in traditional African culture and how that connects to what we see today in many initiation processes. Human problems are best understood by viewing people within their social, cultural, economic, geographical, and historical contexts. Culture can be defined as the components of a people’s history, values, and behavioral norms that become meaningful in social interaction. Lets change the culture of hazing together.

In today’s society, there are not many formal procedures that symbolize a youth’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. These processes, commonly referred to as rites of passage, were customary in traditional African cultures and were considered a necessary part of human growth and development. One of the central rites of passage is the rite of adulthood, which takes place at the onset of puberty. The purpose of the rite of adulthood is to develop community responsible adults by instilling principles such as cooperation, purpose, and self-determination. These are some of the same values that many college students are expected to learn during initiations into fraternities, sororities, marching bands, and other campus organizations. The act of hazing is sometimes perceived as a rite of passage. However, acts that involve physical and psychological abuse are not consistent with the purpose and methods of traditional rites of passage.

The lack of organized processes devoted to instilling the cultural values and core beliefs that are inherent to traditional African rites have become a focal point for complications including hazing. How do we incorporate these principles and traditions in our society today?

What we see in many Greek letter organizations’ initiation processes have parallels to some African customs. Elements such as being separated from the broader society for a period of time, learning information that is relevant to your community, and being tested mentally and physically are seen in both the pledging processes and tribal initiations. However, components such as excessive alcohol consumption, paddling, abuse, and humiliation are not consistent with traditional rites of passage.

As we move forward to combat hazing, I find it critical for us to go back as well. Let us examine history and incorporate practices today that will serve as tools for group empowerment as opposed to destruction.


Devon Marrett

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