Tag Archives: rite of passage

The Line Crossing Ceremony

Informant Information — DD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 68
  • Occupation: Professor
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant grew up in San Pedro, CA, a port town where a large proportion of the town works on/near the water. He has sailed as a hobby and professionally for more than 50 years. He is still active in his town’s boating community and keeps up with sailing magazines, books, news, etc. The informant shared this information with me in an in-person interview.


Are there any “big” moments or rites of passage for sailors?


One big moment for all the sailors I grew up with was the first time you crossed the equator. That was one of the ones that all my friends and I looked forward to, especially because it’s a long journey from San Pedro for a little sailboat. 


Are there any special activities or rules that you have to complete/follow when you cross the equator for the first time? Who did you hear these rules from?


I first heard about all the excitement of crossing the equator from the older sailors at the port. I’ve heard of a few different things you can do to celebrate… the most common one is probably that you have to jump in the ocean, which I did with my friends when we finally made it there. That was really fun and exciting.

I’ve also heard of wilder things, like shaving your head or drinking an entire bottle of rum in one night… both of those things were too crazy for me. I didn’t want to shave my head and I definitely didn’t want everyone on the boat to be drunk at the same time when we were so far from home. Or worse, hungover and risking getting seasick. 

Usually though, you have to at least do something to celebrate, since it’s such a cool thing to have done as a traveler. Crossing the equator definitely brings you a little bit more respect, too. It means you’ve traveled pretty far and gained some experience, because going that far South and back is not an easy journey. 


I can definitely understand wanting to celebrate crossing the equator as a milestone for sailors. My informant described it as a really exciting trip but tough enough that he didn’t want to do it more than a few times in his life, so it must be a pretty uncommon and special experience. However, this is also an example of how different folk groups highlight different experiences as important or special– if you lived very close to the equator, crossing it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I would imagine that the rite of passage activities are proportionate to the journey, getting more intense as the distance to the equator increases.

Kai Society Burnings

TG is a 25 year old graduate student and cultural forensic anthropologist. She grew up in Maryland and currently resides in Tennessee. She was an active member at her university.

Context: Kai Society is a secret university society at Longwood University where they encourage university involvement and service. However, it is very exclusive and secretive; no one knows who is in Kai. TG was not a part of this organization and as far as she knows does not know anyone in it either.

Transcript (discussed over the phone):

Collector: What is the connection between the Burnings and senior students?

TG: To start off, the organization started around 1900 and recognize students and faculty that do great things at the university. Kai has burnings where they make a fire and stand around it wearing robes that conceal their identity. At the end of each spring semester, all of the senior members of the Kai have the option to reveal themselves and this is the only time you can do it. You either wait 4 years to reveal yourself or you never do. The society’s purpose and its cult-like characteristics does not make much sense but they are an inherently good group.

Thoughts/Analysis: What makes Kai different from other service and recognition groups outside of its cult-like approach is that they do not want to be identified. This is unlike typical organizations who even have social media accounts to promote themselves and make them seem more open. However, the way that there is a rite of passage ritual for the seniors that is not public is interesting. Senior pranks are public and light-hearted and the Kai burnings are serious and mysterious.


“So basically, aguinalduhan is a gathering we do in our church every year on the last Sunday before Christmas where all of the adults go into, like, a parking lot and bring bulk snacks and toys and stuff like from Costco… Like those 28-pack chips or candy boxes.  They all sit in a big circle with their big packages of food and snacks.  Then the kids all line up outside the circle in order from youngest to oldest until you’re like 20 years old and it’s like a long line of trick or treaters that get older as you go… the funniest part is that we’ll usually bully our oldest cousins out of the line once they get to be around 22 or 23 because at that point, like, they’re just being greedy.  But then what ends up happening is that they have a kid a couple years later and get to go to the front of the line when their kid is the youngest out of all of us.”

Background: The informant is a 19-year old college student who was raised a Christian in a church that was led and run by his extended family members.

Context: This tradition was shared with me over FaceTime.

I experienced aguinalduhan annually with the informant when we were children, and it was a cyclical tradition that marked the end of another year.  Participants in the tradition slowly made their way to the back of the line as new lives began entering through the front.  As an adult, many of our older cousins are now the ones bringing the goodies (like Oreo snack packs, fruit snacks, Caprisuns) to hand out to all of the younger cousins.

According to limited information available about the idea of “Aguinaldohan” online, our church’s tradition stemmed from a custom named after the first President of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo, where people gave back to the needy during Christmastime.  This version is definitely more sanitized and family-friendly, and serves as a way for everyone to get together and see how we’ve grown throughout the years.

Big-Little Program Reveals

“Okay so… every year our KAPA-milya program has its big-little reveals, and there’s a whole succession of events that the littles have to go through before they get to meet their big.  Generally, bigs know who their littles are a week in advance so they can plan out secret coordinated communications with their littles so that they can make them a nice personalized gift.  On the night of reveals, we blindfold all of them and have them go through an “obstacle course.”

There isn’t actually an obstacle course; typically we just tell them to step over, jump over, go around imaginary strings and potholes… I allow bigs and existing members to spray them with silly string and spray water on them or yell at them, but I draw the line at touching them because that’s an invasion of privacy that… hasn’t worked out well in the past.  

At the end of the obstacle course, we arrange the littles in front of their new bigs and have them perform the “otso otso,” which is a dance that resembles twerking.  After that, we have the littles take the pledge to be a good little and never leave their big behind.  Similarly, the bigs promise to always support their little and then we count down for the reveal!”

Background: The informant is the current Programming Director of USC Troy Philippines.  She oversees the organization’s big-little program, which is one of the primary programs that members who pay dues have access to.  They can be picked up by an upperclassman to act as a mentor.

Context: This process was shared to me in person at USC Village prior to a different Troy Philippines event.

My only in-person KAPA-milya reveals (by the way, kapamilya means family in Tagalog,) happened in the previous fall semester, when I became the big to my two freshman littles.  Getting picked up in Troy Phi also grants one membership to a smaller “fam” in the organization, the fam that their big is in, to provide them with a smaller community within the organization that has similar interests and personalities.  This event in the semester is probably the most important in terms of rites of passage as a member, since everyone who becomes a big and picks littles up has to have been a little and gone through the same initiation process at some point previously.  The embarrassment of having to dance while blindfolded and the overwhelming flurry of the obstacle course is a shared experience that all “initiated” members have.



Informant: So Russefeiring is a celebration of graduates from high school… I guess high school, sort of… The age is kind of in between high school and college I think, ‘cause most of them are 18 or 19. Um, but, you know, they’re ending a three-year academic education. And so they celebrate in the week before Independence Day, where they, um…  They wear these special suits or coats through that whole time that they decorate and draw on and have their friends sign them and all kinds of crafty stuff. And then they have graduation hats that have this long string coming down. And during this week they have all these obstacle things that they have to do, and everything that they do gives them a little, kind of… Treat, or an award that they tie onto their hats. So let’s say you kiss the president of a school, then you get a knot in the string on your hat… And then if you drink a whole bottle of champagne in one, big gulp, um… Then you get a champagne uh–what’s it called…? The cork. And you tie that onto the string or into the hat… Like silly things, you know?

Interviewer: Can you talk a little bit about the different colors of the uniforms? 

Informant: Yeah so if you went to the schools where you, um, studied economy and finance… Then you were called blåruss… Like “blue russ,” and your hat’s blue. If you were into the STEM subjects, then your hat is red. And traditionally, if you… Went to a school that wasn’t strictly academic, like a trade school, then your hat would be black… I think you can study language, like Norwegian, at both schools, so it just depends on what school you went to.

Interviewer: Can you talk about the bus culture? 

Informant: So their last year, the year that they graduate, the students start early planning for their graduation and for this one week. So a lot of kids will get together and they will purchase a bus and then they will decorate the bus… It’s kind of a van more than a bus though. I would call it a van… And they will decorate it on the outside. They will usually ask a younger student who is not graduating if they will be willing to drive them around for that week.

Interviewer: And can you talk a bit about the drinking culture during that final week?

Informant: During that week the school knows this is happening. I mean, you still have to go to class, but people don’t take it that seriously. Because once Indepence Day has happened, everyone is studying. ‘Cause all the exams are after Independence Day. So before that it’s not really taken seriously. People are probably drunk in class. You don’t really go home that week… You sleep on the bus. You sleep wherever. You go home to shower every once in a while. Maybe. 


Informant: Our bus was both boys and girls… And I would imagine there were around ten of us, I think… You know, cause it costs money. We had to buy the bus and it costs money to fix it up a little bit… We didn’t have group names or get pins. I think a lot of people do now, but we didn’t.

Interviewer: Did you ever hear about your parents’ Russefeiring?

Informant: No, ‘cause none of them went to school like I did, you know? My mom didn’t go to that kind of school. And my dad, back then, he went to a sort of trade school, and he was much older when he did that. So they didn’t celebrate that way. Cause none of my parents were academic.


Russefeiring is a celebration, commemorating the end of the students’ studies. It is also a rite of passage into adulthood. During this one week, debauchery and mischief are encouraged. The students become trickster figures, of a sort, as they act impulsively, break rules, and emphasize humor and fun above all. The students are in a liminal place, on the threshold between adolescence and adulthood, as they are not quite students any longer, but also have not yet graduated. They are unstable figures, as demonstrated by the mischief they enact. Russefeiring also seems to be a sort of catharsis before final exams. One might even consider it a catharsis preceding adulthood. Once they have graduated, they must find jobs or dive more seriously into their studies at professional schools (ex. medical school). Russefeiring is one last teenage-hurrah; it is a week of instability before the students have to become stable adults.


Further reading:

Sande, Allan. “The Norwegian ‘russefeiring’. The Use of Alcohol as a Ritual in the ‘rite of Passage’ to Adulthood.” Nordisk Alkohol- & Narkotikatidskrift : NAT, vol. 17, no. 5-6, SAGE Publications, 2000, pp. 340–54, doi:10.1177/1455072500017005-603.