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Rites of passage

Rites of passage

By Dr. Christa Clarke, for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Male and Female Poro Altar Figures (Ndeo), 19th–mid-20th century, Senufo peoples, Korhogo region, Bandama River region, Côte d’Ivoire, wood, pigment, 60.2 x 14 x 11.8cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
In many African societies, art plays an important role in various rites of passage throughout the cycle of life. These rituals mark an individual’s transition from one stage of life to another. The birth of a child, a youth’s coming of age, and the funeral of a respected elder are all events in which an individual undergoes a change of status. During these transitional periods, individuals are considered to be especially vulnerable to spiritual forces. Art objects are therefore created and employed to assist in the rite of passage and to reinforce community values.
The birth of a child is an important event, not only for a family but for society as well. Children ensure the continuity of a community, and therefore a woman’s ability to bear children inspires awe. Ideals of motherhood and nurturance are often expressed visually through figurative sculpture. Among the Senufo, for example, female figures pay homage to the important roles women play as founders of lineages (the direct descent from an ancestor) and guardians of male initiates (example left). The importance of motherhood is symbolized by a gently swelling belly and lines of scarification radiating from the navel, considered the source of life. In other societies, such as the Bamana, figural sculptures are employed in ceremonies designed to assist women having difficulty conceiving (example below). They serve simultaneously as a point of contact for spiritual intercession and as a visual reminder of physical and moral ideals.

Mother and Child, 15th–20th century, Mali, Bougouni or Dioila region, Bamana peoples, wood, 123.5 x 36.6 x 36.5 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Initiation, or the coming of age of a boy or girl, is a transition frequently marked by ceremony and celebration. The education of youths in preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood is often a long and arduous process. Initiation rites usually begin at the onset of puberty.
Boys, and to a lesser extent girls, are separated from their families and taken to a secluded area on the outskirts of the community where they undergo a sustained period of instruction and, more typically in the past than now, circumcision. At the conclusion of this mentally and physically rigorous period, they are reintroduced to society as fully initiated adults and given the responsibilities and privileges that accompany their new status.During initiation, artworks protect and impart moral lessons to the youths. The spiritual forces associated with this period of transformation are often given visual expression in the form of masked performances.
During the initiation of boys, male dancers wearing wooden masks may make several appearances. Their performances can serve diverse purposes—to educate boys about their future social role, to bolster morale, to impress upon them respect for authority, or simply to entertain and relieve stress. The initiation of girls rarely includes the use of wooden masks, focusing more on transforming the body through the application of pigment.

Headdress, 19th–20th century, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yaka peoples, wood, cane, raffia, pigment, 45.1 x 61 x 54.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The women’s Sande society, found among the Mende and their neighbors, is one of the few organizations in which women wear wooden masks as part of initiation ceremonies (example here). Many initiation organizations continue in today’s Africa, often adapting to contemporary lifestyles. For example, in the past, the Sande society’s initiation process could take months to complete; now, Sande sessions have adapted to the calendars of secondary schools and initiation may be completed during vacation and holiday periods.
In many African societies, death is not considered an end but rather another transition. The passing of a respected elder is a time of grief and lamentation but also celebration. In this final rite of passage, the deceased joins the realm of the honored ancestors. While the dead are buried soon after death, a formal funeral often takes place at a later time. Funeral ceremonies with masked performances serve to celebrate the life of an individual and to assist the soul of the deceased in his or her passage from the human realm to that of the spirits (example here). Such ceremonies generally mark the end of a period of mourning and may be collective, honoring the lives of the deceased over a number of years.

Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble: Seated Female, 19th–early 20th century, Fang peoples, Okak group, Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, wood, metal, 64 x 20 x 16.5 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Figurative sculpture is also employed to commemorate important ancestors. Representations of the deceased, individualized through details of hairstyle, dress, and scarification, serve not only as memorials but also as a focal point for rituals communicating with ancestors (example here).
In some central African societies, certain bones of the deceased are believed to contain great power and are preserved in a reliquary (a container or shrine in which relics or objects of related importance are kept). In such cases, figurative sculpture attached to the reliquary does not represent the ancestor but honors and amplifies the power of the sacred relics (example above).
By Dr. Christa Clarke, for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© 2006 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (by permission)

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Coming of Age Rites of Passage

Historically, Rites of Passage ceremonies and rituals have taken place in many cultures all over the world. These rituals solidified a new identity helping individuals to function and fit into the community as responsible adults. The understanding of the cycles of change was passed down from the wise elders of the tribes, who reinforced these necessary role changes in our lives with ceremony and ritual. These rituals all had much symbolism affecting the initiates on both conscious and subconscious levels. There was a death of one role and a rebirth to begin another. Due to the symbolism and dramas of these ceremonies, and the way they were undertaken, they left an everlasting and indelible imprint on the psyche. They evoked a sense of awe and created a lasting and powerful image on the whole community. These milestones were never forgotten and most importantly, they were understood, accepted and supported by the community at large. These ceremonies greatly enhanced the initiate’s ability to move forward into their new role with pride and respect during these important transitions. This Ceremony also greatly affected the community or tribe by reminding them of there responsibility in responding to the initiate in a new way, in their new role as an important member of the community.

Rites of Passage, which are the soul’s evolution by incremental changes in consciousness, always involve the following 3 stages:

1. Separation:
Separation from the existing limited awareness of all that is familiar and secure. Acknowledging the fear and resistance, we have no choice, but to separate and face the fear of the unknown. At this stage, the community has to see that the initiate is ready for the transition. This is where our western society has been lacking, therefore the final stages become problematic. Where this support is missing it can help if we are totally open to Great Spirit and the mystery that is unfolding.

2. Transition Rites or the Adventure:
This is a hazing period when we are in full flight of the adventure. This is where we face the fears head-on, as the grip of old consciousness fades, and in time merges with new revelations. This is a time when our faith is tested, a time when the community support was needed for wisdom and clarity. This is the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. This is a time to surrender to The Great Spirit and His mystery.

3. Rites of Incorporation – the Return:
The return of the same person, but forever changed. The deed has been achieved, the boon or gift gained and has led the initiates self-recognition and deep understanding of surrender. Celebration and community support enhances the individual’s experience to trust in the cycles of life.

Traditionally Rites of Passage ceremonies marked the turning points in life, such as those for the transition from child to adult, marriage rites, death rites etc.

Nowadays we have added a few more transitions because in present-day western society with its absence of rites of passage we still resist change. We need assistance in dealing with divorce, separation, empty nest syndrome, menopause, and retirement, and any major turning point or soul call. These latter rites have become problematic because the earlier rites have not paved the way for our psyches to accept the letting go processes, as they did in the traditional primitive cultures.

Rites of passage ceremonies offer assistance in helping us to move ahead, letting go of the pre- existing roles. Then we move smoothly, with wisdom and trust, into the natural cycles of life that everyone must experience. These ceremonies help us to embrace life and move into a new role with acceptance and gratitude, knowing that we are supported.

During these times of intense acceleration, many people are being called to take their place, change their paths, and for many, this is frightening.

Watch these two writes of passage and compare them to the ones in your culture. Think about the defining characteristics of each, and what effects those characteristics had on the adolescents becoming adults.


Benin West Africa

How does your culture mark adulthood?

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Movie Review

to_kill_a_mockingbird_stillNow that you have seen the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Compare it to the book. What is left out or altered in the movie version and what effect does that have on the story? Did you enjoy the film, why or why not? What rating would you give it?
Use the mentor texts when writing your review.
1) Introduction with T.A.G and thesis statement

2) Synopsis

3)body paragraphs -Things changed or altered and their effect

4) Conclusion This section acts as the climax of your review. Again, your review will have an argument/thesis, and this is the section in which you will articulate it clearly and succinctly. Do you think this movie is a valuable contribution to debates and discussions surrounding the topics and genre? Did the director achieve what she/he set out to achieve?

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Character’s response influencing our choices







  • How can the characters’ responses to the dilemmas they face in a society characterized by sharp divisions around race, class, age, and gender help us think about our choices in the face of similar dilemmas in our own lives?
  •  What models of moral and ethical behavior do the characters offer to us that we might adopt, modify, or reject in our own lives?
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Writing from a different perspective

Consider how a different character might have described the jailhouse scene.  Ask them to rewrite the scene from the perspective of another character who was there: Tom Robinson, Walter Cunningham, Atticus, or Jem.  


  • How does the character understand what the men intended to do when they arrived at the courthouse?


  1. How did the character feel when Scout ran to Atticus?  How did he respond?
  2. How would the character explain why the men decided to leave?  To whom does the character give credit for convincing them to back down?
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To Kill a Mockingbird reader’s response


Atticus explains to Scout: “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”

Are there some fights you can have with friends that make it impossible to remain friends? What types of fights are those? What does it say about Atticus that he doesn’t view the insults he receives for defending Tom Robinson as reason enough to end any friendships? How can you respond when friends or family members express views that you find abhorrent?

Post your response here.


Link all of your journal entries on the bottom of that post

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A Bildungsroman of a book review



Goal: A book review is a thorough description, critical analysis, and/or evaluation of the quality, meaning, and significance of a book, often in relation to prior research on the topic. Your goal is to write a book review for a bildungsroman that you have read.

Role: You are a student who was selected to write a book review for the middle school newspaper.

Audience: Your audience consists of middle school students who are interested in supplementing their required genre study (bildungsroman) reading with an independent book in the same genre.

Situation: Middle School students are required to have two books that they are reading concurrently, but they are having a hard time choosing a coming of age novel since there is no librarian to assist with the selection. The school newspaper has decided to include a special section for book reviews, written by students who are experts in the genre, to aid in the book selection.

Product: You will write an engaging book review for either The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Your one page (minimum) 2 page (maximum), Times New Roman, size 12 font review must include an illustration of the book, the review, and a rating from 1-5.  You must show how two coming-of-age themes are evident in your story. You must provide information about the author as it relates to the text and explain the author’s stylistic choices. You must talk about the genre using the terminology of coming-of-age characteristics.


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Poetry Friday: Coming of age


As I was going about my morning ritual: listening to NPR and eagerly waiting for The Writer’s Almanac to begin, I scrolled back to an episode that I had missed. To my delight, there was a sweet poem about coming of age; a poem filled melancholy and resignation.

Read this poem by Charles Rafferty and then share yours.


by Charles Rafferty

Long ago, the old friends stopped calling. I used to think they had
lost my number. Now I forgive them their children and their jobs,
their wives and their divorces, their cancer and their lawns, the fifteen
minutes they allow themselves at the piano every night. I am able to go
on without them—a kind of orphan from the life I used to live. This is
what I’m thinking as I get in the car to take my daughter to her voice
lesson. The ride is a quiet one. She is getting older and has learned to
keep things to herself. When we arrive at the lesson, she makes it clear,
without saying so, that I should wait outside. So I stay in the car—doing
the bills, doing the things I hate—as her high notes drift through the
studio door, the glass of the car window, the air that will be between us
now from here until the end.