Traditions and rites of passage

07/09/2014

Yesterday was the filming  of how a person becomes a chief in the village. Considered a position of honor, the selected male must belong to a royal clan in the village before commencing the rites of passage of becoming a chief.  One of the other volunteers is going to make a documentary featuring this ceremony as part of her cultural preservation project in Tafi Atome, I had the privilege of helping her complete the filming and photo shoot. Little did I know that Tafi’s group of chiefs, elders and villagers have been rehearsing endlessly for the past two weeks to make sure that today was a success.

The other day I found out that one of my students from class P 4, named Pyos, has already been selected to be a chief when he becomes of age. When I asked as to why he had been selected at such a young age, one of the villagers informed me that this was done to groom a chief that will carry on the traditions of the previous chiefs for the next generation of villagers in Tafi Atome. All of his schooling and financial needs are taken care of until he graduates from senior high school.

When investigating more about how the selection process of becoming a chief, I found out that this position is often not a desired one amongst men of the royal clans. Although it is a position of honor, it is an unpaid one. Chiefs of the village must carry the responsibility to care for the village and the families in it. Whenever there’s a dispute of any kind, the chiefs are the first to take action before the police even get involved. I can imagine this being a hard thing to do for a young man who has other aspirations besides being a chief.

This brings me to realize that young men such as Pyos and other young chiefs have made one of two choices: To be the chief their entire villages expects them to become and give up on their own personal dreams or leave their culture and rites of passage in the past in pursuit of their own dreams and successes. In this generation where young men and women set in search of their own successes, it is rare to find a person that would chose the honor of having a title and make little to no money over the possibility of being successful and making money.

This is one of the things that separate Tafi Atome culture from our American culture; men and women in the village rather choose honoring their name, their families, and their village and accept their given duties. Men of Tafi Atome, once chosen to be chiefs, honor the decision choosing to never forget their traditions and their people. If given the choice which would you do?

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