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Rites of Passage among Native People of America and Australia: Analytical Essay

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Primal Traditions are the first traditions of humankind. They have been handed down from generation to generation through stories, songs or specific rites of passage in their tradition. These primal traditions are generally from non-literate people which indicates that they do not depend on scriptures or written teachings (oral) instead, trees and plants, water bodies, cliffs and mountains are believed to have spirits or be deities. The roots of these traditions are so distant that accurately detecting them can be difficult. In this, primal traditions are diverse. It is therefore crucial that we avoid making sweeping generalizations about them. There is three separate, unique ancestral tradition now remaining on three continents scattered across the world, including North America, Africa and Australia.

Based on the primal traditions, we are going to comprehend two factors that influence these primal traditions. Those two are rites of passage and ancestor veneration. Rites of passage are where, ceremonies that reflect significant stages of change in a person's life which is from infancy, puberty, getting married, having children and death. These rituals are done through certain activities primarily conducted by the shaman or a messenger who can make contact with the deceased among other abilities. Ancestor veneration refers a common practice in primal traditions of a memorial of one’s departed ancestors by various rituals such as an offering of sacrifices. Besides that, the people believe that the deceased still exists in a subtle form and can either help or trouble the living. Thus much effort had been taken to pay honour to the departed for various purposes, such as to benefit the living and to prevent them from harming the living.

The first primal tradition that I would like to discuss is the Native American experience. The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, their descendants, and other ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are also known as 'Native Americans' or 'American Indians,' although such terms are broadly implemented to those tribes who inhabit what is now, the United States. The term 'Indian' was a creation by Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly thought that he had landed in the East Indies. The misnomer was then persisted and has helped to envision a sort of racial or spiritual harmony for the American indigenous people. The 'Indians' unitary action wasn't one embraced by most indigenous peoples, who saw themselves as varied. The 'Indian' then provided Europeans with a defined individual that could be identified as 'primitive' or 'heathen', as a granted a legal category. Therefore, the word 'Indian' provided Europeans with a potent colonizing tool for Europeans. Not only that, most of the indigenous people today have accepted 'Indian' as an imagined spiritual, ethnic and cultural unity.

The Native American has three fundamental beliefs, which are Polytheism, Monotheism and Monism. These three principles carry the sense where it is possible to reduce everything in the world to one basic thing. The mind, God and energy can be an example for those beliefs. Most of the indigenous tribes are animistic, where they assume that all the nature that includes plants, animals, and objects is alive in the spirit. Those spirits have the power to help or harm people. The Native Americans claim that abusing nature can be abusing oneself and they also hold the belief that it can be irreligious to waste resources. Not only that, the indigenous of Americans think of the High God or the Great Spirit as their personal God, while others see the High God as more abstract.

Besides that, Native Americans have one of the oldest and most common forms of religion that emphasize their relationship with nature, the world of spirit and personal religious experience. If we look into their tradition, their rites of passage will be the “Vision Quest” and “Sun Dance” is their ancestor veneration which is still practised today.

The 'Vision Quest,' is a rite of passage to adulthood where it is started by a group that makes interactions that lead the spirits to acquire special powers. This ritual may be conducted as a practice before significant events such as marriage, battle and hunting take place. For an instance, children that have reached their puberty are sent away from their families to wilderness to endure fasting and wait for a vision from a spirit that often comes in the form of an animal, who then becomes a special guardian for the children. Not only that, the reason children takes fasting is to appear respectful to the spirits.

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The 'Sun Dance' on the other hand, is a ceremony that revives the bond between the spirit world and human beings which allows them to make contact with the spirit world and works as preparation during a specific occasion. In that way, the Native American religions encourage to have personal contact with the spirit world.

According to (Britannica, 2018), the 'Sun Dance' is an ancestor veneration of The Native American, where it is a worldwide common religious custom of the Native American people seeking power or getting inspiration from the supernatural powers. The development of community-wide involvement in this ritual is guided by tribal and religious leaders. The main reason for this ceremony is to increase the devotees during the prayers and offerings from the devotees that indicate how this ritual served the religious interests in a tribe. Sun Dance will usually take place in a large camp or near a village and those who wish to pledge to dance are required to undergo training for a year. Besides that, usually, the spiritual leaders of the pledges and extended families were mostly involved in this ritual, as they were obliged to provide most of the supplies needed like gifts or payment for the ceremony. Those who vowed to endure the Sun Dance usually did so in upholding a vow to seek spiritual power or wisdom. The tribe will then start dancing at a preferred hour and will continue for several days and nights. During this period, those indigenous will not consume food or drink. For instance, some of the tribes will go beyond fasting and exertion to undergo sacrifice like self-sacrificing or self-mortification where the piercing is done on the supplicant's skin. Only the most dedicated people will undergo piercing, and as with the rest of the ceremony, it was done to ensure tribal well-being and fulfil the unique vow of the tribal people.

The second primal religion that I would like to discuss is the Australian Aboriginal experience. The Australian Aboriginals prefer to refer to themselves as Koori or Anangu, which means human being or person. There are also variations of this word, including Noongar and Murri, depending on the area from which the tribes originated. Besides that, Australia's indigenous culture is the earth's oldest continuous civilization. The tribes are deeply spiritual and have continuously remained attached to nature and land, adapting and adjusting amazingly to their climate and environment over the centuries. For them, the term 'spirit' brings various meaning, such as the immaterial part of a human being (or soul), representing human or animal attributes, or referring to supernatural good entities and evil manifestations, such as ghosts.

According to (Encylopaedia Britannica, 2016), The Dreaming is a mythological time that had a beginning but no expected end, during which the actions of mythic beings influenced and humanized the natural environment. Many of these beings took human or animal form of a totem and others changed their forms. For instance, an unborn child becomes “animated” by a particular ancestor. The dreaming then regulates all the rules of the culture and in reality any facet of life that their oral history or 'songlines' kept alive. The songlines (yiri) convey stories of the ancestral beings ' travels, especially the creation of sacred sites, which are left behind as records of certain events.

The rites of passage for the Australian Aborigines will be Dot Paintings on the tribe's body which was the part of the involvement of their ancestor beings. The involved dots create symbolic patterns to explain various stories and legends. Not only that, another important part of many rituals is the decoration of the body using ancestral designs. One of the main themes the tribe draw is the cycle of birth, life and death, symbolized by the morning star and signifying a transition for spiritual transformation from one level of existence to another. For instance, an unborn child becomes animated by a particular Ancestor when the mother or another relative makes some form of contact with a sacred site. Usually this animation involves a ritual that draws the Ancestor’s spiritual essence into the unborn child.

An example that will relate the ancestor veneration through initiation ritual is by Wilyaru. This ritual will take place when the tribe stood close with the boy's eyes as men take turns to cut their forearm until he gets covered with dried blood. Then, the neck and back of the boy had been riddled with wounds intended to leave scars, yet another sign of death. Such rites of initiation were followed by a period of months during which the boy lived alone in the forest until his wounds healed and his skin shed off the blood. As he returned to his tribe, he will be celebrated with full of joy because the tribe believes that the boy had become a man once he completed his initiation rites.

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Rites of Passage among Native People of America and Australia: Analytical Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
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