By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Zambia; Chokwe peoples

Boy's Initiation

Photo by Manuel Jordán

Initiation is a variety of ritual with education as its explicit goal. All rituals transform a person from one state of being to another, so that upon “graduation,” the individual is prepared to assume new rights and responsibilities. Rituals mark the Key Moments in Life as points of passage: birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Rituals also bring people into the specialized knowledge of healing, secrets of political power, and, at least in precolonial times, the skills of critically important technologies such as iron smelting. Visual and performance arts often play key roles in such education, in what may be understood as a theater of change.