By Adolescence “Civilized” Children Are Programmed … Whereas in Primal Societies Inner Experience is Cultivated: Return to Grace, Part Four — Puberty, Becoming Adult

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“Civilization” Brings Brutal Rites of Passage and Fear of the Supernatural: The People of Nature Just Laugh at the Townsfolk Living in Such Terror and Valuing Cruelty

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Finally, let us investigate the fourth fall from grace, the time around puberty when the ego is consolidated around a specific identity, task, role that marks her or him for life. Can this be otherwise?

Forest and Village Worldviews are Directly at Odds

Once again, Turnbull’s (1961) report on the Mbuti provides a fitting example. This example is especially illuminating in that he was able to observe and note differences between the hunter-gatherer Mbuti and nearby villagers with whom they had occasional contact. Since the villagers have to be considered post-agrarian and definitely not hunter-gatherers, we are able to study any differences between these two lifestyles and possible differences in worldview, side-by-side.

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With “Civilization” Comes Brutal Rites of Adulthood and Excessive “Masculinity”

Indeed, Turnbull shows that these differences do exist, and we see one distinctly in connection to the rites of passage that are undergone respectively in each culture.

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The rite of passage is called the nkumbi and is conducted by the villagers. The Pygmies undergo it, at a certain age, in order to enjoy certain respect and privileges in their dealings with villagers, as they must often have for various reasons. Of their own, the Mbuti have no such rite of passage, certainly nothing severe and harsh like that of the villagers. Turnbull (1961) describes the villagers’ nkumbi:

The physical ordeals sometimes start out as games but develop into cruel tests of physical endurance. A crouching dance that might be fun for a few minutes becomes agony after half an hour. A mild switching on the underside of the arm with light sticks is of no concern until, after several days, the skin becomes raw. And then the villagers notch the sticks so that they fold over and pinch the skin sharply, often drawing blood. When the boys have become used to being beaten with leafy branches, thorny bushes are substituted. (p. 225)

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Dominant Societies Try to Instill Fear of the Supernatural to Control Their Underlings

He also explains the villagers beliefs concerning this rite of passage and its effect and purpose:

The villagers believed that the initiate, Pygmy or otherwise, is everlastingly bound thereafter by all the laws of the tribe, sacred and secular. He is put into direct relationship with the supernatural, whose representatives on earth are the villagers themselves. If any Pygmy initiate offends a villager, therefore, he is also offending the supernatural—the ancestors—and will be duly punished by them. The villagers live in such fear of the supernatural, with its power to bring down on an offender the curses of leprosy, yaws, dysentery and other diseases or to cause him to be injured by a falling tree, that they cannot conceive of any initiates daring to offend the ancestors. (p. 224)

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But Primal Folks Laugh at the Fears of “Domesticated” Humans and Delight in Flaunting Their Customs

But offend the ancestors they do, these Pygmies, and with apparent relish. They do not share the villagers fearful view of the world. They cannot imagine any good reason to inflict these tortures on each other and laugh, secretly, behind the villagers’ backs, at them. Turnbull (1961) writes,

Both the boys and their fathers enjoyed the chance to make fun, in a friendly way, of the villagers, but that was not their sole reason for deliberately breaking all the taboos. They behaved as they did because to them the restrictions were not only meaningless but belonged to a hostile world. The villagers hoped that the nkumbi would place the Pygmies directly under the supernatural authority of the village tribal ancestors; the Pygmies naturally took good care that nothing of the sort should happen, proving it to themselves by this conscious flaunting of custom. (p. 224)

Ituri Forest Pygmies

Ituri Forest Pygmies

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Building the Better Human – Entry Into Adulthood

To the Pygmies this all seems harsh and unnecessary, and as far as their own children are concerned they keep a strict watch over them to see that the villagers do not go to the length that they sometimes do with village children, even if this brings them into some contempt. But to the villager this toughening-up process is essential and does not come naturally in the course of village life. The child has to be fitted for adult life, and this is what the nkumbi sets out to achieve. In a few months a boy becomes a man, tough and strong, physically and mentally. The process is not a pleasant one, but it is the only way in which, under tribal conditions, the goal can be achieved.

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The Pygmy can understand and appreciate this, but the very nature of his own nomadic hunting and gathering existence provides all the toughening up and education that are needed. Children begin climbing trees sometimes before they can walk. Their muscles develop, and they overcome fear in a number of daring tree games. Adult activities are learned from an early age by observation and imitation, for the Pygmies live an open life.

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Their life is as open inside their tiny one-room leaf huts as it is in the middle of a forest clearing, and so the children have no need of the sex instruction which forms so large a part of the teaching given to village boys during the nkumbi. (pp. 225-226)

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Far from illustrating the dependence of the Pygmies upon the villagers, the nkumbi illustrates better than anything else the complete opposition of the forest to the village. The Pygmies in the forest consciously and energetically reject all village values. When they are in the village they temporarily adopt its values and customs, not wanting to desecrate their sacred forest values by bringing them into the village. That is why they never sing their sacred songs in the village the way they do in the forest, and why they refuse to consecrate the nkumbi with special music, although every other event of importance in their lives is marked in this way. There is an unbridgeable gulf between the two worlds of the two peoples.

The Pygmies have their own way of growing naturally into adulthood. A boy proves himself capable of supporting a family when he kills his first real game, and proves himself a man when he participates in the elima. (p. 227)

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By Adolescence in “Civilized” Societies Most Children Have Had the “Still Small Voice” Programmed Out, Whereas in Primal Cultures It is Valued

Aminah Raheem (1991) gives a final example of how this stage can be different in other cultures:

By the onset of adolescence, most children are intricately programmed into the cultural complex of their time and place. The “still small voice” of the soul is rarely heard and, when it is, it is usually discarded as fantasy or nonsense. For example, when I worked with late adolescents, I found that they often received deep soul promptings through dreams of visionary experiences. These numinous events seemed to contain valuable guidance for direction in their lives, but usually they were discounted by the dreamers and their peers as fantasy. By contrast, in American Indian culture such experiences are valued as clear messages of life purpose, especially when they appear during puberty. (p. 29)

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Continue with What Does the Natural Self Look Like? The State of Not Losing the Soul Is Emotional Openness and Joy, Being Equally Free in Tears and Laughter

Return to Return to Grace, Part Three — The Primal Scene and the Divine Child: Hierarchical Societies Demand Conformity All the Way Down the Line

People of Programming … “Civilized” Ways

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People of Nature … “Primal” Ways

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Continue with What Does the Natural Self Look Like? The State of Not Losing the Soul Is Emotional Openness and Joy, Being Equally Free in Tears and Laughter

Return to Return to Grace, Part Three — The Primal Scene and the Divine Child: Hierarchical Societies Demand Conformity All the Way Down the Line

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About sillymickel

Activist, psychotherapist, pre- and perinatal psychologist, author, and environmentalist. I seek to inspire others to our deeper, more natural consciousness, to a primal, more delightful spirituality, and to taking up the cause of saving life on this planet, as motivated by love.
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4 Responses to By Adolescence “Civilized” Children Are Programmed … Whereas in Primal Societies Inner Experience is Cultivated: Return to Grace, Part Four — Puberty, Becoming Adult

  1. Pingback: Return to Grace, Part Three — The Primal Scene and the Divine Child: Hierarchical Societies Demand Conformity All the Way Down the Line | Becoming Authentic

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  3. Pingback: Return to Grace, Part Three — The Primal Scene and the Divine Child: Hierarchical Societies Demand Conformity All the Way Down the Line | The Great Reveal by SillyMickel & the PlanetMates

  4. Pingback: What Does the Natural Self Look Like? The State of Not Losing the Soul Is Emotional Openness and Joy, Being Equally Free in Tears and Laughter | The Great Reveal by SillyMickel & the PlanetMates

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