Coming of Age Ceremonies for Women

In my family, passing down a solid, jade bangle bracelet upon reaching the age of 18 was the women’s rite of passage into adulthood. The superstition that revolves in my family is that the jade is supposed to protect you. From stories I’ve heard from the maternal figures in the family, my great-grandmother, perhaps great-great-grandmother was up in the mountains once and had fallen and tumbled down a steep hill. The bracelet had supposedly broken her fall–she was perfectly fine without a scratch and only the jade had shattered. Another grandmother supposedly also had a near death experience, but her life was cushioned by a jade bracelet.

Rites of passages are prevalent throughout many countries and take many forms. Many cultures still practice these coming of age ceremonies for women, and while some are a violation of rights, others contain more of a symbolic nature.

Credit: Noelle Lamasanguiano’s Youtube

Common coming of age ceremonies that are well known include the American Sweet 16 celebration and the Hispanic Quinceañera. Sweet 16's are celebrated on a girl’s 16th birthday and usually entail lavish reception-type parties. This ceremony takes place on the 16th birthday because, in the U.S., the age marks a significant time at which they are legally allowed to drive, which translates to newfound freedom. Similarly, in areas such as Mesoamerica and South America, girls celebrate their Quinceañeras on their 15th birthday after mass, which is then followed by a fiesta. The fiesta holds features that are comparable to a Sweet 16 with its similar lavishness and prom-like dress for the birthday girl.

Credit: Elle.com

On the eastern side of the world, coming of age ceremonies take many forms for women. In Indonesia, an ancient Balinese custom called Mepandes is practiced. Mepandes is a teeth filing or grinding ceremony that files down women’s incisor teeth. The procedure is only performed on girls who have had their first period. The Balinese believe that smoothing away the sharp incisor teeth symbolically purifies the soul by getting rid of savage human instincts.

Credit: TheJapanTimes

Another adulthood ceremony in the Eastern hemisphere is Seijin No Hi, Japan’s annual Coming of Age Day. On the second Monday of January, women who turned 20 years old the year prior, adorn themselves in their kimonos and visit Japanese shrines, as well as celebrating with family and friends afterward. The ceremony isn’t only limited to close family and friends. Oftentimes local Japanese government city offices hold ceremonies and even prepare gifts for the new adults to receive.

Credit: Save the Children 

On the other hand, instead of overzealous coming of age celebrations, the Nepalese “adulthood ceremony” is more of a condemnation than a celebration of newfound womanhood. In Nepal, a girl’s first period symbolizes her transformation into a young adult. Chhaupadi is a tradition based on the belief that menstruating women are “impure” and need to be isolated from everyone else in the household to prevent the house from contamination. The tradition takes place from a girl’s first menstrual cycle. From their first period, an important transition towards adulthood, onwards, menstruating females are forbidden to enter their homes, kitchens, schools, and temples and are rendered to a “menstruation hut” that is usually made from wood/stone or a separate room or tool shed attached to the house. Chhaupadi has gained more public attention as the health risks involved in this age-old tradition are made more aware.

Tradition is important to maintain as it is a deeply ingrained part of every culture, and many coming of age ceremonies are simply a reflection of this. However, if the aftermath is an overt change in an individual’s way of life, for instance being exiled every month into unspeakable living conditions, or having to adjust dietary needs as a result of dulled down incisors, that coming of age ceremony may need to be more thoughtfully carried out.

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