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.