Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Sepik Spirituality: Ritual Initiation

The Sepik crocodilian scarring initiation is the culmination of the ritual that marks young boys’ transition from boyhood into manhood. It begins with a period of isolation in the Spirit Houses, during which the men are not allowed to visit women or other family members. Guided by elders, the boys display feats of physical and mental endurance and are taught the sacred ritual knowledge prized ancestral heritage. The rhythm of drums provides accompaniment for the dances and songs performed during initiation. These musical sounds are said to represent the voices of the spirit world. 

    After a month, they are deemed ready for scarring and their transition, not into manhood — but into crocodiles. Sharp bamboo spears slice into the back, marking hundreds of tiny cuts that will scar to transform the tribesman into the mighty crocodile. Exhausted from the pain and physical exertion, they initiates are bathed in warm water that cleanses the body of blood, purifying it of weakness as the wounds heal into an crocodilian tribute to the ancestors. The blood spilt is representative of the mother’s blood leaving the man’s body, purifying him and releasing all the weakness that was trapped within.

This page has paths: