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
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jay gunasekara
# 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.
# 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.
# 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: http://www.cycleharmony.com/menstrual-myths-and-rituals/menstruation-and-the-power-of-yurok-women?view=article
# 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.
# 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: http://www.cycleharmony.com/menstrual-myths-and-rituals/10-simple-ideas-to-honor-your-menstrual-cycles?view=article
# Jing 2011-11-22 12:08
Ben, I'm so glad to hear that. Men as fathers, brothers, husbands and friends, play such an important role in supporting women on our journeys. I sincerely hope more and more men would become educated about this subject and lend us their strong and supporting hands...
# ben 2011-11-19 07:53
As a man I really thought this article was insightful and intelligent way to deal with a young daughters entrance into woman
# Jing 2011-11-12 11:39
Jessica, I think it's your intention that matters the most. You have a kind heart and wants to honor her passage into womanhood. And that's a beautiful and noble intention. I think the formality is less important in what is actually involved in the ritual. It may be a good idea to discuss your intention with her and her father, and get their permissions. You could brainstorm with her and see what creative ideas you two come up with. Beauty, courage, honor, femininity are some themes that come to my mind... It's so wonderful that you're thinking of doing this for her. I wish I've had a teacher like you. Good luck!
Jessica Simpson
# Jessica Simpson 2011-11-08 20:45
I need advice or direction. I am a 6th grade teacher in Ohio. 
--student nearing her first menses.   Lives in OH with Navajo father, separated from white mother 
-- grandmother who promised to guide her through her Kinarra recently passed away
--The child has no way of getting to the Res in AZ to be with female  family.
--I would like to do what I can to help her through this transition into womanhood with the celebration and honor that her tribe believes to be so important. I am white and relatively unfamiliar with the symbolism, and traditions. I do not want to "overstep my bounds" with her father or culture but I do want to see her Honored as she'd like to be. 

 suggestions?  resources or contacts? As her white teacher, is my involvement totally unacceptable? Is this something I can speak with her father about or is the topic of discussion still pretty closed off to the males?
      I appreciate any advice or resources you are able to give me. 
# akai 2011-12-12 14:45
Jessica, what a noble and considerate concern. I agree with the other person who replied that your intention is enough. The fact that you would like to help this young lady be recognized for entering womanhood is worthy and I don't think you are overstepping your boundaries.
I think this is a special situation where her father would recognize the importance of discussing it, even if it is taboo in his culture.
Let me ask you if you would consider performing this ceremony for her? Is this something you can do in your classroom for all the girls as they approach womanhood?
There simply needs to be more of this kind of ceremony and honor for young women, in order for them to value their bodies. Otherwise, we see far too often, they are looking elsewhere for validation. Best of luck to you!
# Jing 2011-10-17 14:12
Thank you for such a wonderful insight Mary. It's interesting to see the rites of passage as a collaborative process, incorporating our individual preferences, likings and comfort levels. I love it!
Mary Hannah
# Mary Hannah 2011-10-14 14:17
I have a book by Rosemary Gladstar, "Herbal Healing for Women", and it gives some suggestions for simple ceremonies. With one rule: talk to you daughter and let her decide if she wants a ceremony. My mother gave enough information about it and was was compassionate, but I think a different outlook on menstruation is needed. I think as a culture we still have a fear of vaginal blood, rooted in many still modern religious superstitions.
# lala 2011-05-21 18:43
Missy V.
# Missy V. 2011-04-18 15:53
That's really cool...
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Jing Jin My name is Jing. I founded CycleHarmony.com 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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