Puberty Rite

by Sydney Tayler Colbert


Blood slinks down in between my legs, exchanging palm nut skin for trails of bold, maroon liquid. Underneath my bottom, the smeared and spotted sheets feel moist. As I gather myself in bed, I can feel my thighs sliding, slippery against each other, slushing around the liquid. The blood is mine, fresh and unfamiliar. Brazen and red, like juicy tomatoes and red chilis for the stew that Mother makes for the family. I make my own stew.

She calls it the most important day in my life. Mother wipes me with a rag, turning clear water, into dusty pink, and then into a muddy rotten red. She wrings the rag off into the pale as she explains the phenomenon of girl into woman, preparing me for what's to come. At the signal of my first blood, I was scheduled for initiation in February. Libations offered to the Earth Goddess, shavings, baths, and the killing of a goat were to take place. Things I'd only sneakily heard about amongst the older girls I'd watched throughout the years wide-eyed and curious.

February came and it was time for initiation. Announcements were made that any parent with a daughter at puberty age should come out to be made a woman. Mother and Father presented me to the priest. I stepped out. Not only from beneath the shadow of my mother and father, but from the girlhood from which I inhabited only moments before. Girlhood was left in the red stains of the tan sheets that had spoiled brown. Somehow, my childish enthusiasm felt inappropriate in this moment. I stripped myself of it and laid it down at the feet of my parents. I floated through the village as only a sense of myself and a concept of my mother. An intention for womanhood.

The first ceremony began on Thursday, the sacred day for the Earth Goddess. Me and many other girls of the town gathered together with a few of the elder women to begin the initiation. Yomoyo replaces my waist beads with a single string. On that string, a single, red bead. She replaces all of our waist beads. Each bead like a laugh of childhood. The small beads scratch at our meaty waists, leaving with us still some scars of youth. I see in the others faces' something similar to what I was feeling. The bubbling of contraction and anticipation deep in the belly, the excitement. Although, I could also see glimpses of shame and confusion too in the remnant swiped traces of blood on thigh. Queen mother assured us the things that were happening were an honor to ourselves and our families. To our community, who would celebrate with us. We all hovered just above 'woman', waiting to settle into our new distinctions.

Every ritual assaults our adolescence, but none like that of the goat killing. Maybe it was the sheer terror of blade penetrating flesh or the stringy, red carpet of goat blood slipping under our feet that so fiercely symbolized the puncturing of our girlhood. Queen Mother would most certainly explain the experience as an elegant sacrifice, meant to wash away anything that would prevent our growth into womanhood and motherhood. After all of our families sacrifice a goat, we are seated on a stool and covered with white cloth. On Sunday evening, we travel to a place called Old Lady's House. We are accompanied by some of the elder women in the village who bring presents to the priestesses there. The priestesses bring us to a sacred pot filled with medicine and washes us from it. They give us marks on our our bodies, acknowledging that we were ready for the final ritual. I wore the marks like precious stones. Others carried them with a silly haughtiness. We all recognized how the marks demanded to be exhibited as such, both precious and noble.

The final ceremony was the Climbing of the Sacred Stone. Before going to the Sacred Stone, singing and dancing takes place amongst the initiates, the elder women, and Queen mother. Rhythms felt tense, joyous, and spiritual, filling the air with an aura only the ancestral Gods could be responsible for. Afterwards, our bodies were beautified with white clay. Older women smear our bodies with clumps of thick, white clay and suddenly, it seemed we were finally emerging from the shadow of childhood. Goat intestines, ballooned with air, are strung around our necks as we then begin to march toward the priest's compound. Once there, The priest says a prayer and sprinkles sacred water on all of the initiates, greying out smears of white clay that had dried to our skin. After the priest performs his rituals we are led out of the compound to the Sacred Stone, the site of the final ceremony.

We stand in front of the sacred stone in humility. The air, full and ripe, pregnant with our metamorphoses. We stood here on the mountains as ghosts of our former selves. We drifted into this otherworld unclaimed and untitled. As girls we mourned and shed our linings, yet we were required to reclaim ourselves. Assisted by the elder women, we offered libations and prayers, shed hair and flesh. We were marked and we performed with rituals, dancing, and singing. Coated in white clays and draped in white cloths we were beautified and sanctified in the tradition of the women before us. All this, in acquisition of womanhood. Now, we were at the lip of our rebirths back into the world. Elder women of the village officiate the final ceremony, sitting us on the sacred stone three times and demanding "stand up" in between each incidence. With this final rite of passage we were now Women, tried and true. We are released into our community again as new maidens as we are carried down from the mountains in festivity. After we are carried down the intestines are removed from our necks and the remaining hair on our heads are shaved off. The elder women bring priest-like hats for us to wear on our heads.

I was fifteen, a late bloomer amongst my twelve and thirteen year old initiates, but nevertheless, this day I became a true Woman. We pranced around our village modeling scars and lavish garments, thanking family and friends for helping us to achieve our new statuses as Women. Mother and Father were fiercely honored. On the final day of initiation, incisions were made on our thumb and wrists as proof of initiation. I looked down at these incisions fondly. A reminder of the first liquid that ignited it all.

Puberty Rite by Sydney Tayler Colbert

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