Manning Up

Being in the 21st century and living in a civilized and modern world, when we hear of those weird and sometimes even hair raising rituals being conducted to initiate a boy coming into manhood, all that comes to our mind is that they have lost their marbles. In short, they must be crazy!

In this video, a tribe in Papua New Guinea conducts a ritual for boys to assume the title of a man by donning the marks of a crocodile on his body. It is not just 1 or 2 limbs that have to get scarred by his entire body. This ritual lasts for approximately 6 weeks where initiates would be kept in a hut known as the spirit house, which is inaccessible to women as only men are allowed to enter the hut. With no age bearing of the initiation ritual, initiates range from ages 11 to over 30. Therefore, regardless of your age, even if you are 40 and part of a tribe, you are not considered as a man until you have the marks of the crocodile, which is considered sacred to them carved onto your body.

Culture is defined as “templates for living”, and that it tells us who we are, what groups we belong to and how we live our lives. We can see how true the characteristics of culture are, especially for these tribe members. It is evident that their cultural beliefs represent their understanding of what is true to them and that culture is also passed down from generation to generation. Also, we can see that culture involves the programming of the mind. These tribe members think that it is only normal to go through such an initiation process whereas if you put someone who has been born and raised in America for the past 20 years, it would be unlikely that he would be able to accept this form of initiation and may even regard it as a form of torture. Through this 6 week long initiation process, which the carving of the skin being the final stage, we can observe the collectivist culture of this tribe. Social norms and duties are defined by the group, in this case the tribe members, rather than for self pleasure, beliefs are shared with the ingroup rather than to distinguish oneself from the ingroup and there is great readiness among the tribe members to cooperate with the ingroup members. This tribe also demonstrates the characteristics of a collectivist society being high interdependence, conformity, readiness to be influenced by others, and self sacrifice for ingroup members are just a few examples.

All around the world, there are many different countries embracing different cultures. In the United States of America, however, individualism is definitely more evident in their society as compared to collectivism. In America, social behavior is largely determined by personal goals, attitudes and values of collectivities, where the citizens create their own ingroups, rather than conform to tradition. There is low dependency on one another and many ingroups all across the country where only specific aspects of a person’s life is influenced by an ingroup. I believe that the USA is one of the most individualistic societies today as freedom, honesty, comfort, social recognition and reward distribution which is based on individual performance in almost every aspect of their lives.

With so many different cultures in the world, I personally feel that as Singaporeans, we should expose ourselves and learn to embrace the different cultures out there to avoid having a myopic view on any aspect of our lives.

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5 Responses to Manning Up

  1. Foo Ye Wei says:

    I believe that whether a society has an individualistic or uniform culture really is part of the culture itself!

    Think about it: the American society has such a diverse and vibrant range of cultures, but that -is- the American culture — freedom to speak and be whoever you want, to pursue your version of the american dream etc. Singapore’s, on the other hand, is to instill control to also control the growth and progress.

    Every approach has its pros and cons; I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn any of them. But I would say this for Singapore, since I am most qualified to do so as a citizen: As “despotic” as it seems, the current method of rule has certainly, certainly reaped a lot of benefits. To condemn the entire system is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. Agree very much with your first sentence! That is why I always believe that Singaporeans will never be able to experience freedom and well life in general as the Americans do. Children in Singapore are subjected to long school hours, compulsory CCAs, tuition, music lessons and that leaves them hardly any time to be creative and to explore the world in ways they would like. To be honest, I don’t see much benefit in allowing our future children to grow up this way… so restricted and driven in life by mostly academics. It’s too suffocating and just such a chore to grow up that way. Though it teaches us yes to be more disciplined etc, I feel that there should be a balance between the American culture and the Singaporean culture.

  3. June Tan says:

    Indeed. That would promote a peaceful world. I agree.

  4. EMINEM says:

    Wow OUCH! that video was painful to watch. Not insulting their culture or anything but i must say that is way too gangsta even for me. There must be better way to prove that you’re a man that have come of age. And i thought tattoos were crazy. Time to get a drink

    • Tattoos are a part of American culture or something? I’m not too sure but I remember seeing it somewhere. Guess cause this is something foreign to us so I think we just have trouble accepting it but without a doubt, the video was definitely painful to watch!

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