Monday, November 22, 2010

Chile - Hain Adolescent Initiation Ceremony (2)

Tierra del Fuego
Body painting for the Hain adolescent ceremony, pertaining to the Selk'nam peoples (Onas).

Sent by my great friend Hernán from Santiago, Chile.

This is from Wikipedia : Selk'nam male initiation ceremonies, called Hain, were probably one of the most fascinating parts of their culture. Some other nearby peoples also had similar initiation ceremonies.

Young males were called to a dark hut. There they would be attacked by "spirits" - actually people disguised as such. The children were taught to fear these spirits at childhood and were threatened by them in case they misbehaved.[citation needed] These now-young men did not know these spirits were not real, and they were to go to them and unmask them. After they saw that these "spirits" were actually human beings, they were then told a story of world creation about the Sun and Moon. Also, there was a story told (actually part of the same story) that at one time women used these spirits to control men: they would disguise themselves as spirits and threaten the men while the men did not know that these were not spirits at all. Once they found out, it was done vice-versa - women did not know that the spirits weren't real, while males found out at the initiation age. However it was more like a joke at these times, without males actually using spirits to control women, unlike the women had supposedly done in the past. After this first day, there were various related ceremonies - males showing their "strength" in front of women by fighting spirits (who were other males but the women did not know it) in some theatrical fights. Each spirit had its typical actions, words and such as well as typical outside looks. Therefore Selk'nam were perhaps the only Amerindian nation to have a theater tradition - the best actors from previous Hains were called again to impersonate spirits in later Hains.

The Hain used to take a very long time, perhaps even a year on occasion, at the times when Selk'nam were not in touch with Europeans. It would end with the last fight against the "worst" spirit. Usually Hains were started when there was enough food (for example a whale was washed on coast), and by then all the Selk'nam from all the tribes used to gather at one place, in male and female camps. "Spirits" sometimes went to female encampments to scare them as well as going around the place and doing various things related to their characters. The last Hain was held in one of the missions in the early 20th century, and it was photographed by the missionary. It was of course a much shorter and smaller ceremony than it used to be when Selk'nam were still free, but it still provides a good insight into traditions of this nation. The photos depict various "spirit" clothings too.

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