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Walkabout and other Rites of Passage by Fran Parker

January 4, 2011

This was an article that I wrote at Tom Matlack‘s request for the Good Men Blog as a guest writer. It was posted back on October 13, 2009. Recently, I noticed that the link no longer worked that would take you to the article. I am not sure why, but some folks may still enjoy reading it, so I am re-posting it here on my My Passion Is Books Blog. It was very rewarding reading books, stories, articles on websites, etc. preparing for this blog posting. Here it is:

Walkabout and other Rites of Passage
by Fran Parker

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Wikipedia says that Walkabout refers “ to a rite of passage where male Australian Aborigines would undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. In this practice they would trace the paths, or ‘ songlines ‘, that their people’s ceremonial ancestors took, and imitate, in a fashion, their heroic deeds.

According to another web page Aboriginal Australia – Come WalkaboutA country is not just a collection of hills, cliffs, creeks, rock outcrops and waterholes. It is a magical network of land and living things, elements and seasons, Dreamtime stories, spirits and songs. ” They have lived this way for 50,000 years

From another website , “ According to Aboriginal belief, all life as it is today is part of one vast unchanging network of relationships which can be traced to the Great Ancestors of the Dreamtime. The space between nature and man, life and death, and the past, present, and future is seamless. All time is related. Everything exists for a reason. There are no misfits or accidents — only misunderstandings and mysteries not yet revealed to mortal man. …

Yes, there were other parts of this rite of passage that seem barbaric to modern sensibilities, but when every other population was struggling with unwed mothers, the Aborigine actually had in place a crude form of birth control; one that was reversible when the man got married so they could have children. That is amazing in itself since it was accomplished with no modern anesthetics or modern medical knowledge.

But that is not the part of this rite of passage that I want to talk about in particular. I want to talk about the move from boyhood to manhood, from carefree child to man of responsibility and a deeply spiritual awakening and self awareness that happens with solitude, aloneness, exercising survival and instincts, personal growth and other aspects that are fundamental to Walkabout and other rites of passage in various tribes around the globe.

But before we go into that, I thought it would be fitting to see where the Aborigine are today. Things are changing even in Australia Aboriginal communities according to Tyson Yunkaporta in the article, “ Native Rites of Passage Today Aboriginal Manhood Roles when Traditional Initiation Is Gone — “ The odds are stacked against our young Aboriginal men, with higher suicide and substance abuse rates, and lower standards of health and education than other demographic groups in Australia.

And why is that? As it turns out, Walkabout and other aspects of the initiations into manhood are increasingly not practiced among most of the Australian Aboriginal communities. The young men are struggling to come to terms with the changing tide of social structure, religion, and who they are as a people and individually. Who they are and their connection individually, spiritually and in nature. Is there a connection between the loss of the Aboriginal rite of passage and this disillusionment and dispair among so many Aborigine young men today?

So what is Walkabout really? It would seem it is not just some simple celebration, but a deeply spiritual time of life, a time of reflection, a time of gaining confidence in one’s own person and abilities, having a sense of their own spirituality, and realizing and experiencing their connection to the land and nature. It is a part of them as a person, a people — it connects them to the land, a higher purpose, and somehow to a higher plane of existence in some ways, and individually it is part of their identity as a man.

Around the globe, many peoples have different rites of passage marking major life changes such as moving from a boy to a man. They are generally connected personally with important life stages. Most consider birth, the beginning of puberty, marriage, even life altering things like death, or life threatening illness and injury as markers for these rites of passages. In modern society you can add graduation, divorce and retirement as rites of passage. Although in modern society people are pretty much left to their own devices during these traumatic experiences of life, with no clear path to move through them. To their credit, many religions do have some demarkation and at the very least ceremony staging these transitions such as Jewish Bar Mitzvah, Catholic Catechism, Christian Baptism and others. But today these are not the all encompassing rites of passage that have been associated with some cultures.

Is Aboriginal Walkabout and associated rituals so different from any other rite of passage in other tribes of people around the globe?

Being from the United States, it is more close to home to talk about another deeply personal and spiritual rite of passage from the foundations here in America. The ones that were practiced among the members of First Nation, formerly referred to as Native Americans, mainly before they were banded together on Reservations by an insensitive government system. When they roamed the land, one with the land and nature in a very real and spiritual way.

Native American young people’s identities could also be considered to be wrapped up in a deeply spiritual, physical and emotional rite of passage. In many Native American tribes there were rites of passage for both boys and girls. Again like some aspects of Aboriginal rites of passage, some may have been considered to be barbaric to modern sensibilities, however, those were just some aspects of these rites of passage which ran deep in the heritage of each Native American nation. There may also be ones for girls as well among the Aboriginal communities, but we are manly focusing on the rites of passage for young men today.

ShaunaSay WhiteFeather Tate (Eastern band Cherokee from the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina) wrote a very illuminating article entitled “ Native Coming of Age or Rites of Passage Ceremony In that article WhiteFeather refers to it as ” giving honor to their youth as they pass from childhood into young adults.

Native Americans make use of Smudge in their sweat lodge ceremonies as, “a blending of physical and spiritual together, to create a “bonded prayer” that is sent to the Creator of all from our spirits to His spirit” to help put them into a “focused prayerful frame of mind” and removing any and all evil or negativity around them and inside them. They also use Sage, Cedar, Tobacco and Sweet Grass in many ways including healing and in their ritual ceremonies like rites of passage.

In reference to the coming of age rite of passage, if you were to compare it with other cultures, the Native Americans have similar beliefs and ways of conducting these. The Cherokee believe there are ‘four cycles’ of Life in every human being: infant, youth, adult and elder.

Like with the Aborigine in Australia, the young Native American boy (12-13 yrs of age) is taken aside with the elder men; father, grandfathers, uncles and Elder men and if possible, the main Medicine Man/Holy Man of the Nation or Tribe. He will learn his new responsibilities and what is expected of him as a young man. He will be instructed in how to be a provider and protector of his immediate family and all of his people. The Elders will teach him in the “Ways” of his Ancestors and Fathers that have walked before him. He will then go through his first sweat lodge ceremony and be presented to the people and given his “New Name” — the name for which all will know him and call him from that day forward.

But it doesn’t stop there, the Holy Man/Medicine man continues to work with the young adult man throughout his entire life; instructing him and providing “Spiritual” guidance on how to stay on the Red-Road for his sake, for his family, and his people.

On the main page of the website (Voices of the Red Winds Column), we learn that ShaunaSay WhiteFeather Tate is a woman who is a “Legend Keeper (Story Teller)” of her people and a cultural teacher. She talks of her “responsibility to remember and carry on to the next generations that what was taught to me at an early age. ” She also notes that she “ came to the realization, the absolute need to share each others wisdom and knowledge of each Nation and tribe to preserve what is left of that known knowledge of our ancestors of the past.

To show how important learning from the Elders is among the Native American peoples, she writes,

“The Native Americans have a special way of honoring our elders still to this day. We listen to their council and wisdom in our gatherings and communities, and by allowing our children to be taught by them on a daily basis, especially when we as young parents then and now, were busy making provisions for the family as a whole.

We took the young boys to the elder men to learn of the responsibilities of manhood and the social ways of the tribe, as well as the young girls to the elder women to learn what they needed to know as a young woman and what her responsibilities would be in life as a woman to her husband and people.

The reason we did this is because of their wisdom and “Elder-Standing” with the people or Nation. For even a more simpler reason, they as elders have walked on this earth longer than we, and have experienced so many things of this world we have yet to experience. As some may say, like my sweet Grandmother; hope and pray there are a lot of things we will never have to experience.”

Is it little wonder in modern society, that our own young people often struggle with these same things? Often children are — in many ways — left to their own devices instead of being nurtured by parents and grandparents the way they used to be. Often being old is simply being feeble, not a wise elder to be respected for their knowledge and treasured. Children may well spend time with them, but what are the children really learning from their Elders in our modern society?

Like the Native Americans, I hope that the Aborigines in Australia will figure out the importance and try to recapture their heritage — to give hope, confidence, oneness with the natural and spiritual worlds, and identity back to their youth.

Rites of passage can take many forms – One doesn’t necessarily need to spend 6 months in the Australian Outback to achieve it — in the Bible, Jesus spent 40 days off by himself to achieve spiritual oneness with his Heavenly Father. But I think in this world of fear, uncertainty and doubt, and closeness of living conditions in cities or even suburbs, a child of 12-13 yrs of age often doesn’t get the instruction needed that would give him the confidence and knowledge needed to allow for stretching his wings as maybe he ought to be able to do in order to gain the personal confidence, sense of identity, or natural world/spiritual world growth. It is something that must be not only learned but experienced.

It was much easier for those on the frontier in the early days of this country, or even today for those on farms or at least in very rural areas to do this, and yes, it does happen for some, but not nearly enough.

I think we need to work on this as a people in this modern world, and as families to overcome the limitations of our living environments to help nurture our children in new ways to facilitate these qualities — and to realize just how important our heritage and our sense of oneness with the land and our own spirituality is to our very identity as individuals, and most importantly to the identity of our sons … and daughters.

There was a very nice comment from Rosanna that had been posted on the article previously that I thought was sweet and am posting it here with the article:

You have an amazing wriing [sic] style and lots of relevant information.
You’ve made it on to my reference list!
Thanks a lot for the help,
from little old Australia

Comment by Rosanna — March 15, 2010 @ 10:38 am

Here are some books about Rites of Passage from Amazon:

Rites of Passage The Ritual Process

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