Rite of passage
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Initiation ritual of boys in Malawi. The ritual marks the passage from child to adult male, each subgroup having its customs and expectations.
A rite of passage is a
In English, Van Gennep's first sentence of his first chapter begins:
"Each larger society contains within it several distinctly separate groupings. ... In addition, all these groups break down into still smaller societies in subgroups."
The population of a society belongs to multiple groups, some more important to the individual than others. Van Gennep uses the metaphor, "as a kind of house divided into rooms and corridors." A passage occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another; in the metaphor, he changes rooms.
Van Gennep further distinguishes between "the secular" and "the sacred sphere." Theorizing that civilizations are arranged on a scale, implying that the lower levels represent "the simplest level of development," he hypothesizes that "
The rest of Van Gennep's book presents a description of rites of passage and an organization into types, although in the end he despairs of ever capturing them all: "It is but a rough sketch of an immense picture ...." He is able to find some universals, mainly two: "the sexual separation between men and women, and the magico-religious separation between the profane and the sacred." (Earlier the translators used secular for profane.) He refuses credit for being the first to recognize type of rites. In the work he concentrates on groups and rites individuals might normally encounter progressively: pregnancy, childbirth, initiation, betrothal, marriage, funerals and the like. He mentions some others, such as the territorial passage, a crossing of borders into a culturally different region, such as one where a different religion prevails.