I live with the Gulmance people of West Africa. Said to have originated in Chad, they can now be found in Chad, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and of course Burkina Faso. Rather traditional in culture, they are revered around the world for their mastery of voodoo, reading the past/present/future in the sands, as well as for their respect of nature. When asked about the Gulmancema people, most Burkinabe from other ethnic groups will admit to either respecting or fearing the Gulmance for their control over voodoo and nature. Ils son't fort!
Gulmance men begin to develop their mystical prowess from a young age. Sometime between the ages of 10 and 16, boys are taken into the wilderness in order to learn how to live off the land, tribal secrets, and to be circumcised. Now this is not a simple father son camping trip, this is something a lot bigger. Recently 101 boys were approved to take part in this annual tradition and yours truly, me, was invited out to join them in the camp(though not to get circumcised).
The boys live in the wilderness camp for at least 2 weeks and can spend up to a month there. Tradition says 3 months, but seeing as the kids have school, the camp was shortened appropriately. During the camp, the boys enjoy a college fraternity like environment complete with booze(local alcohol), big brothers (past initiates), hazing (mass beatings), and finally branding(circumcision). The boys live outdoors and are tied down at night to keep them from scratching or irritating their new brands. During the day, the kids attend class-like-modules where they are trained in traditional arts and "the secrets to being a good man". Although I was not allowed to attend the classes, I can definitely say that beatings were appropriate responses for wrong answers. Looking at the faces of these boys, I could not help but to respect them. It was obvious from the looks on their faces that they were not enjoying this and that they may even carry scars, both physical and mental, from this experience for many of years.(After initially writing this post an adult male showed me his scars from his initiation beatings)
Although we started with 101 initiates, one "aborted" and another died from a snake bike. Even with the two missing, the 99 remaining initiates became full male members of their society today. In what could only be described as a college probate; the young men paraded around in make-up and masks, accepted gifts, and then performed a traditional dance unique to my village. Each young man's clothing corresponded accordingly to his family and social status. Although their masks were unique to each family, their dance was uniform. There is definitely something awe-inspiring to watch 99 young men dancing in sync to the beats of their ancestors. They formed a tight circle around the men of the village and began rotating around us. Their steps and moves were then mirrored by their older brothers/fathers who made up an inner circle between the initiates and village men. As the new initiates faced their mentors and danced in a circle around us, one could not help but to see this as a passing of the torch. These 99 boys had become 99 men, and judging by the cheers/tears of joy from the thousand or so women and children outside the circle, these men have been well received by their village; despite the grimaces of pain from the exertions of dancing with a newly and crudely circumcised penis.
Let the 3 days of non-stop partying