The Rite of Passage

So I have a younger cousin, she turned twenty a couple of months ago, and now she wants her first tattoo. Personally, I love tattoos. I have a couple and I like them. My mom gave me her full support even though she doesn’t have any tattoos. My cousin, however, had to convince her mother that getting a tattoo was a part of her growing up and being able to make her own decisions.

Her argument made me think of rites of passage. I wanted to understand the phrase a little more, so I did some research. A rite of passage dates back beyond ancient Native American culture. It is a ceremony that marks the transition from one phase of life to another, typically adolescence to adulthood. Rites of passages usually involve ritual activities and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles. For example, some African tribes hunt lions. The Matis people from the Amazon participate in ritual beatings. Other cultures practice noodling, a fishing technique that requires the fisherman to wade into water, feeling around for a hole and wait for a fish to take the bait, which is the fisherman’s hand!

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoos as “Tattaow,” which comes from the Samoan word “Tatau.” Traditionally, society calls it “ink,” “skin art,” and “tats.” In today’s society, tattoos are an outlet for individuals to express themselves; you want a manifesto? Put some ink on your body. Native tribes like the Samoans and the Borneo were among the first cultures to devise this sort of expression. The Borneo tribe in Indonesia believe in the same of rite of passage that most Americans believe in: tattooing. In Borneo tribes, very similar to other tribal cultures in Indonesia, the elders are responsible for the tattooing. Most times they have an assistant and someone to play the music or hold the “au tau,” or the tattooing instrument.

Traditionally, when girls think of tattoos, they think of colorful markings that permanently rest in the skin, but why do girls get tattoos? Traditionally, when a girl becomes of age, one of the most rebellious things that they want to do is get a tattoo. Maybe, to them, it seems cool. Maybe they think that it will surprise Mom and Dad. Maybe it represents a rite of passage. Attraction to tattoos is customs that have been unconsciously passed down since tattoos were initially invented. So what are other phases of our lives that we can call a rite of passage? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


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