A tribe lives beside the Sepik River in Eastern Papua New Guinea, where crocodiles abound. Coming of age is a hard– and sometimes hazardous– experience for them.
The Chambri Tribe of Papua New Guinea, also known as the Crocodile Men, believes that people descended from prehistoric river predators and that the species is consequently revered. Every 4- 5 years, they perform a scarification rite to honor this treasured animal.
Scarification is a rite of passage for Chambri Tribe boys aged 11 to 30. It may be a fashionable new body alteration in the western world, but it is a ritual of passage for Chambri Tribe males aged 11 to 30.
Elders cut deeply into their backs, chests, and buttocks to make the skin appear scaly, like that of a crocodile, to help them transition from boy to man.
The marks are meant to represent the tooth marks left by the crocodile when it wallows the young men during the rite. The boys spend six weeks in a ‘ Spirit House, ‘ which can be so intense that it leads to death, in order to prepare for the ceremony.
A Spirit House, also known as Haus Tambaran, is a holy location in which ancestor spirits are said to inhabit every aspect of the structure, from the structural elements and foundations to spiritually and culturally significant things like paintings and masks.
Women are not permitted to enter under any circumstances, as the ritual’ s goal is to separate men from the ‘ world of womenfolk’ and imbue them with the crocodile spirit’ s strength.
The initiation ritual begins when the lads have completed their time in the house. Hundreds of deep slices into the boys’ flesh are made by tribal elders using bamboo slivers during the ceremony.
The boys are kept down and only given pain relief in the form of medicinal plant leaves that can be chewed. The act of bearing the agony is a moving component of the ritual. It’ s thought that if the boy can keep his cool, he’ ll be able to deal with pain later in life.