Jan 25, 2016
Rites of Passage in Ghana
A rite of passage, which marks a time when a person reaches a new and significant change in his/her life, is something that nearly all societies recognize and often hold ceremonies for. Although it is often used to describe the tumultuous transition from adolescence to adulthood, it does refer to any of life's transitions (Births and Beginnings, Initiations, Marriagess, and Endings or Death). These ceremonies are held to observe a person's entry into a new stage of life and can be anything from a high school graduation ceremony or a birthday party, to a funeral. Most rites help people to understand their new roles in society. They can also help others learn to treat people in new ways after they experience certain rites of passage.
Most rites of passage fall into three main phases: separation, transition, and incorporation. In the separation phase, the participant is taken away from his/her familiar environment and former role and enters a very different and sometimes foreign routine that they are forced to adjust to and become familiar with. A rite that would fall into this category would be birth. The infant leaves a very safe and secure environment in their mother's womb to an extremely different one in the real world. In Ghana, naming and/or out-dooring ceremonies are performed to transition the newborn as well as the mother into her new role as a parent.
Death can also be a separation rite, depending on a person's belief about what happens after someone dies. Societies have devised ways to mark these separations and aid in the transitions that will take place. Funerals and the many different funeral customs mark the separation that takes place when a death occurs. Funerals can also help those left behind to make the necessary changes needed to adjust to being separated from loved ones. Funerals provide an opportunity to exhibit support and celebration for loved ones and friends. Bringing together family and friends provides an important source of strength at a time of grief and loss. It is a chance to share memories and renew the bond among loved ones as they face the future.
The transition phase is the time that the participant learns the appropriate behavior for the new stage they are entering. This phase can include the time when a person becomes engaged to be married. At this time, they are learning about the new stage of life they will soon enter -- marriage. They are also adjusting and preparing for it, or making a transition. The transition phase may also include the time that children enter adolescence and leave their childhood behind. This is the time when people learn and grow and prepare to be an independent adult in the real world.
The last phase, incorporation, takes place when the participant is formally admitted into the new role. Marriage is a good example of a rite that would take place in the incorporation phase. After people are married, they have taken on a very new and different role, having prepared for it in earlier transition and separation rites.
There are many, many rites of passage in our lives. Some are considered to be more significant than others, but almost every day we live can bring about transitions. However, there are five times in one's life that are often considered to be the most significant times of change. They are: Birth (naming and outdooring rites), Leaving childhood and becoming an adolescent (puberty rites), Leaving home, Weddings (Marriage ceremonies), and Death/Funerals. To recognize these significant times in our lives in a multi-ethnic country, various ethnic groups in Ghana typically hold elaborate ceremonies. Each different ethnic group or society may choose to mark these rites in very different ways. Each ceremony is unique and meaningful to one's own culture.