The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles • illuminaija
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The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

   
   

The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

The indigenous peoples of New Guinea, commonly called Papuans, are Melanesian tribes.

The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

The Chambri tribe (previously spelled Tchambuli) are an ethnic group in the Chambri Lakes region in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea.

The social structures of Chambri society have often been a subject in the study of gender roles

Made up of three villages, the Wombun, Indingai, and the Kilimbit, the Chambri people have a distinct culture of letting the women fend for the family and choose their husbands but one of their most popular, unique, and oldest cultural practice is the initiation ceremony rites done every year that ushers boys into manhood and becoming  “crocodiles”.

To the Chambri people and a larger percentage of the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, the crocodile is a most revered reptile that symbolises strength, spirituality, and human preservation.

   
   

According to their oral history, the crocodile is said to have migrated from the Sepik River to Papua New Guinea where they transformed into humans to start life.

The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

They pay homage to this sacred animal every 4-5 years through a ceremony involving scarification.

Scarification might be a trendy new body modification in the western world, but for the Chambri Tribe, it is a right of passage for males aged 11 to 30 years.

To make the transition from boy to man, elders cut deeply into their backs, chests, and buttocks to make the skin appear scaly: like that of a crocodile.

The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

The marks are meant to be representative of tooth marks from the crocodile as it ‘swallows’ the young men during the ceremony.

To prepare for the ritual, which can be so intense that it results in death, the men live in a ‘Spirit House’ for six weeks.

Also called Haus Tambaran, a Spirit House is a sacred space, where ancestral spirits are believed to inhabit every element of the structure: from the structural elements and foundations to spiritually and culturally significant objects within the house such as paintings and masks.

Women are not allowed to enter under any circumstances, as it is the intention of the ritual to divorce the men from the world of womenfolk’ and fill them instead with the power of the crocodile spirit.

Once the boys have completed their tenure inside the house, the initiation ceremony commences.

During the ceremony, tribal elders use bamboo slivers to make hundreds of deep slices into the boys’ flesh— who is held down and not permitted pain relief other than medicinal plant leaves that can be chewed.

The Chambri Tribe Welcome Their Boys Into Adulthood By Scarring Their Body To Look Like Crocodiles

The act of withstanding the pain is a poignant part of the ceremony. It is believed that if the boy can remain composed, he will be able to overcome pain later in life.

Once the cutting is complete, the boys sit close to a fire. There, smoke is blown into the wounds then, clay and tree oil is pushed into the cuts to ensure the scars remain raised once healed.

   
   

At the end of the ceremony, the boys participate in tribal rituals wearing traditional jewelry and headdresses and are considered not only to have reached the status of a man: but a crocodile.

Although, the ritual is frowned upon they are still widely practiced by the Chambri people who believe that they are guided and protected by their ancestors in the crocodiles and must not put an end to the ceremony if they want to survive and live.

   
   

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