Rite of Passage – Pilgrim in Modern Day New Zealand Society

Andrew Lamont By Andrew Lamont, 30th Mar 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/104o7q6z/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

An interesting look into the world of Pilgrims and the modern day pilgrims that people experience through out New Zealand and the modern world.

Rite of Passage – Pilgrim in Modern Day New Zealand Society

Rites of passage make up much of the social and ritual content of societies all across the globe, they vary in complexity and often have very intricate beliefs and rituals behind them. However, what all rites of passage have in common is their ability to change individuals within a culture, even if the individuals are more similar to who they really are before they completed the ritual. In particular, pilgrims have the ability to help people realise who they really are and where they wish their lives to head or they can simply make the individuals more suited to the environment that surrounds them. In some way most people do this during their lives and sometimes how they do it very’s from person to person and culture to culture.

In Australian Aboriginal culture a main ritual completed by males is the rite of passage of Walkabout, where males often disappeared into the wilderness for up to 6 months at a time to follow the songline’s which were ceremonial paths their ancestors took. Often the individuals would go without telling anyone and for the individual it was considered a spiritual journey. This often came into conflict with the early settlers who employed aboriginals on their cattle stations. For the aboriginals it became a form of everyday rebellion against the settlers and was a way of showing the settlers that they were not in control of the aboriginals lives (Nicolas Peterson 2004). In some ways people still do this today, especially in adolescents as they often have the urge to escape from the control of their parents or family. This is an important part of a person’s life as they mature and find their place in the culture they are part of, It also separates the person from any outside influences so that they are free to realise who they are without the influences such as peer pressure or group biases.

A major cultural Pilgrimages in today’s modern day society is the pilgrimage that people often take to Disneylands across the world. It is believed that Disneyland is a representation of the perfect world for some people, were the main goal for the entire sabbatical is to have fun. Often a trip to Disneyland is done with family, often involves travelling long distances and spending a lot of money and time with family members. It is reasonable then to say that a trip to Disneyland increases family unity and values, especially since the Disney franchise is highly family orientated.

Another important pilgrim is the modern day OE. This is where an individual travels the world to see what it has to offer, often people will backpack around a series of countries or live and work in a particular foreign country. Such an experience is good as the person goes out in order to increase their knowledge of the people who live around them and also helps to make the person more open minded as the see and hear things that are different from their original culture.

There is another pilgrimage which happens to everyone in the end and every culture and religion has different explanation as to where a person goes. Many religions believe that when a person dies they often have to embark on a pilgrim in order to make their way to the land of the dead. The ancient Greeks believed that each person had to undergo a series of tasks in order to get to the land of the dead otherwise they would be doomed to walk the world of the living. A common ritual after the death of a person was to place a coin in the mouth of the dead, this was how the living helping the dead as the coins were believed to be used by the dead to pay Charon the ferryman to transport them across the river Styx so they may continue their journey to Hades. Like the ancient Greeks many cultures have a the belief in a journey after death, journeys or often associated with great change in a person therefore it seem symbolic, as in many cultures when a person dies their soul or spirit goes through great changes.

These are examples of pilgrims from across the world, they help shape people’s lives and help people come to understand who they are. They all have particular elements that relate to the pilgrim which I will write about but In order for you to understand the pilgrim I undertook, first you must know some things about myself and my experience of this particular pilgrimage.

I grew up in a strongly religious family, in small town in southern New Zealand, I attended a catholic primary school and then catholic boarding high school and it was while at the high school that I came to the realisation that I was gay. I struggled with it through much of my high school as I tried to come to terms with it. After a year I learned to lock it away and to act like a normal male in New Zealand society should. After high school I decided to attended University of Otago, which was close to family and had a good name. Slowly I came to the realisation that the new people I had meet at Otago didn’t care about peoples sexual orientation. By the end of my first year I had decided that in the next year I had to tell someone because I knew it was necessary if I wished to live the life that everyone around me was living.

It was while flatting the next year that I finally told the people closest to me and in some ways I was able to come out of my shell a little, but I still felt constrained as many of the heterosexual males I had gone to high school with had also moved to Dunedin and much of my conservative family still lived in Dunedin and regularly visited my flat to check up on me and tell me what I was doing wrong.

The opportunity came for me to move away and although I loved Dunedin, I grasped the opportunity and moved to Palmerston North. After meeting other gay people and hearing their stories I realised that what I had done was something that many people did in there lives. Often people felt constrained by their family and friends, many of them had been acting and hiding for much of their life and in some ways they had lost who they truly were. By going away people are able to break free from the mask they had put over their faces.

The way each individual does it is completely determined by their situation and the opportunities that present are presented to them, a 19 year old, who I met had been living in Palmerston North his whole life and to this day his parents do not know. He was offered to opportunity to go to Sydney which he took. While in Sydney he was able to experience the gay community away from the eyes of his parents. When he came home he was more open and accepting of who he was and was quoted in saying when he returned to Palmerston North, “I hate this place, It’s so hard to be yourself”. This is a perfect example of the changes that a person goes through while they are away, as in order to feel like they were trapped because they couldn’t be themselves, there must have been a time when they could be themselves and this is enough evidence to show that they had changed, especially if they haven’t felt that way while they were in their home town before.

I came Palmerston North in the hope of finding something that I didn’t have in Dunedin and that was the ability to be who I wanted to be and not what the people around me wanted me to be. I was under Increasing pressure from family members to live the way they wanted me to live and do the things they wanted me to do. It was an act of passive rebellion, leaving Dunedin, just as the aboriginals rebelled against the control of the Settlers by going on walkabouts. What I have noticed is that I have been able to release myself from the mask which I had been wearing for the last 9 years. Such a pilgrimage is often necessary for people in modern day society especially when they are part of a group of people in society who are frowned upon.

In conclusion, Pilgrims can be used by a wide variety of people and cultures in many different cultures in order to help people in many different ways. As we can see from the Australian aboriginal walkabout the pilgrimage is taken as not only as sacred act of self discovery but also an act of rebellion against the settlers. This makes it similar to the pilgrim that gay people often do as they come to terms with themselves, they must rebel from the control of their family and the influence of their friends so that they can come to terms with their sexuality. The pilgrimage to Disneyland that so many families take shows that even today in modern society, pilgrims are very prevalent and are not just rites of passage that are practised by religions or tribal people.

The importance of the OE is very important to help people understanding the world around them without discrimination against other cultures and also finding their place in the world. Often people will pilgrim to other cultures were homosexuality is more accepted and this can help them connect to people who have not had to deal with the discrimination of the persons original country. The journey that many different cultures believe happens after a person’s death is often seen as a transition of the persons existence into something else, this relates to the change that many homosexual people go through on their own pilgrim, they often realise who they are and are able to break free from the constraints that previously held them.

It is through the rite of passage of pilgrim that people find the rebellion and self discovery that many people from the gay community and other communities of people, who are often discriminated against, use to come to understand themselves and their differences to the people around them. Consequently this changes their lives for the better as they are able to become the person they wish to be, outside of the prying eyes of people who would judge them for who they where and who they would like to be.


Belief, Culture, Homosexuality, Modern Day, Pilgrimages, Pilgrims, Rite Of Passage, Ritual, Society

Meet the author

author avatar Andrew Lamont
Andrew grew up in Alexandra, New Zealand. He is currently living in Palmerston North, where he studies Anthropology and Psychology full time at Massey University.

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