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Rites of Passage Into Womanhood in Native American Cultures

Menstrual CyclesIn today’s American culture, the onset of menstruation in young women has lost most of the luster it once carried. Many young women still think of their first menstruation as a rite of passage into womanhood, but it’s not considered an experience to be celebrated, or to broadcast – just the opposite, in fact. 

Why don’t we celebrate this miraculous entrance into womanhood? Would a real celebration of this important threshold change how we view and experience our menstruation later in life? Before you attempt to answer that, here’s a brief lesson on how and why some Native American cultures consider menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation) to be an experience that is to be honored, treasured and celebrated.

The Navajo tribes celebrate a girl’s first menstrual period with an elaborate four-day celebration called the “Kinaalda.” Symbolic dances, cleansing rituals, physical activities such as racing, and a special cake called “alkaan” are among some of the blessed rituals experienced during a girl’s Kinaalda celebration. The festivities are supposed to symbolize a physical and spiritual closeness to Mother Nature, and a young girl’s transformation into the very image of Mother Nature. What a fabulous way to think of a young woman’s first period. A woman is, after all, is created to be bountiful and fertile just like the Mother Earth. So the symbolism of Kinaalda is very fitting indeed.

The Apache tribes have a similar celebration called the “Sunrise Ceremony” that consists of many similar activities and rituals that signify a young girl entering into womanhood. The young girls are showered with attention while other members of the tribe sing, pray and dance almost non-stop during the four-day celebration. Afterwards, the young women are not only given a renewed confidence and heightened sense of self, but also the significant recognition that they have just passed into a new role in their lives – that of wives and mothers to be.

Many other Native American tribes celebrate in a similar manner each time one of their own crosses the bridge into womanhood with their first menstruation. To them, becoming a woman is an honor, something sacred, a privilege and something to truly cherish and commemorate.

In contemporary American culture, most of these positive associations are lost. Today a young woman’s first period is usually something very private, something to be discreet about, and that’s unfortunate. Though it may not be realistic for us to spend several days celebrating each young girl’s passage into womanhood, perhaps we could borrow some of the Native American’s respect and excitement for this important time in a young woman’s life. Maybe even adopt a few of the Native Americans’ practices, or make up a few of our own. The idea is to recognize and honor what an important step the first menstruation is for a young woman – to enter into womanhood, and to embrace, enjoy and celebrate what truly means to be a woman.

Jing Jin, Chief Harmony Officer
At, our mission is to empower women to honor their menstrual cycles, improve their reproductive and overall health, and become the very best version of themselves.

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jay gunasekara
#14 jay gunasekara 2013-06-24 10:00
In Sri lanka mensruating women are barred from the rice(paddy)thre shing floor as they are considered dirty.I find these customs primitive and have no place in modern society,but this is a individual private affair that the family decides.My question is genital mutilation in tribal societies acceptable? Hell no.
#13 Jingtastic 2012-11-14 22:45
This is interesting. I also heard about this kind of belief among the American Indian cultures. Check out the contradicting ideologies among the Yurok women:
#12 whisperingsage 2012-11-11 22:16
Wow, I went to a function hosted by Rolling Thunder once and he warned us women that if we were menstruating, we were to remove ourselves from the meeting to prevent us from weakening his warriors.
#11 Jing 2012-10-04 18:46
Willow, I too wish that I had known this earlier. On the other hand, it's never too late to celebrate. Check out my 10 simple ideas to honor your menstrual cycles:
#10 willow 2012-09-30 18:41
wish i had known when i wass younger that i could celebrate my transition into womanhood that way. if i get the chance to become a mother, i will do this with any daughters i have.
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Jing Jin My name is Jing. I founded to inspire and empower my sisters around the world to honor our menstrual cycles and embrace the vibrant, radiant women we were born to be.

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