Tag Archives: rite of passage

The Drop Bears

Text: “The Drop Bears are essentially mutated Koalas that have developed a taste for flesh, so instead of eucalyptus leaves, they eat animals. So they climb up into the biggest trees in the forest, so you never go walking in the bush alone because otherwise the drop bears will get you. They essentially drop down from the heights and land on you and knock you out and then eat you. It’s like a mutated Koala. I think the whole point of it is to prevent people from walking alone in the bush because it’s so dangerous. There’s like snakes, spiders, you name it. It was created as a myth to scare tourists, which is the funniest bit about it. It’s not like a major regional thing or a time thing, it’s just kind of like clowning people who are not that familiar with the notion. If someone was gonna go to Australia, and an Australian asked where they were gonna go, after the person replies the Australian would warn the tourist about the drop bears. It’s basically a giant joke that all the Australians are in on and everyone else is out on. I first heard it when I was young, one of my first times seeing a Koala.”

Context: My informant, TC, communicated the legend of the Drop Bears with me and our other two roommates as we cooked a feast on a Saturday afternoon. This is a common setting for storytelling in our apartment. TC first heard the legend from his parents at a young age, on one of his earliest Koala sightings, which he cannot clearly remember but guesses was on a safari. As an Australian, TC is in on the joke and is aware that Drop Bears are not real creatures, so he might be an active bearer who re-tells the legend to unsuspecting tourists or youth in Australia. My informant interprets the legend as both a caution to people considering going into nature alone and a joke to be played by Australians on non-Australian tourists. 

Analysis: I interpret this legend pretty closely to how TC interprets it. It was immediately clear to me that this story could be used in a cautionary sense to prevent children (essentially the believer population) from wandering off alone into the wild, which, with or without Drop Bears, can be very dangerous, especially in Australia. The implication of nature as a dangerous place highlights a cultural respect for nature, and the recommendation of traveling with at least one other person suggests an appreciation for companionship, whether out of amusement or out of necessity. The practical joke aspect of the legend, however, certainly caught me by surprise and added some interesting depth to the folklore–the Drop Bears are essentially leveraged by locals to display the ignorance of tourists, similar to examples from class like anchor watch in the Navy or the left-handed screwdriver. Tourists are arguably in a liminal space and definitely in a foreign space, so, in the same vein as van Gennep’s take on rites of passage, the opportunity for practical jokes as a ritual is ripe. Once the tourists have been joked on and understand the reality, they too can be initiated and tell jokes. I believe this legend gives insights to the Australian outlook on reality; I estimate that its functions come from a strong sense of national identity, pride, and humor in Australia, particularly to do with its famous wildlife and nature which can be difficult to navigate for outsiders. 

Tooth Fairy – American Folk Ritual

1. Text

When asked to share a folk belief, the informant responded with the following:

“The tooth fairy is a mythical creature that is very familiar to American children. They are taught that the tooth fairy will exchange their lost teeth for some kind of prize if they put them under their pillow before going to bed. Parents will often come in while the child is sleeping and swap the tooth out for a small gift, usually money, to make it look like the tooth fairy came.”

2. Context

Informant relation to the piece:

Informant learned the ritual from hearing kindergarten classmates talk about losing teeth. Informant is currently a college student. Informant is American and grew up in the states. They mentioned that at a “young enough age everyone believed in the tooth fairy” and was “upset when they realized that she isn’t real”. The ritual made the informant “excited to lose teeth” because it meant that they would get a gift that night. They realized the tooth fairy was not real around 8 years old when they caught their dad putting money under their pillow.

Informant interpretation of the piece:

The informant has no idea where the ritual originated, and suggests that maybe it started as a way to keep kids from being scared of losing baby teeth.

3. Analysis

The American folk ritual of the tooth fairy is tied to a life cycle event of aging where children lose their baby teeth and grow adult ones that last for the rest of their lives. This ritual is not tied to a specific time or date, but rather whenever a child loses a baby tooth. It also only happens for a limited amount of times before the child loses all their baby teeth. Since most children go through this process of losing teeth, it is a common and widespread ritual for American families. This ritual is mainly a form of deception from the parents to the children as they create a mythical figure called the tooth fairy to create a sense of magic and wonder in the children that they associate with losing teeth. This seemingly harmless form of deception or fictional storytelling from parents can also be observed in rituals such as Santa Claus bringing presents on Christmas Eve. This is interesting when compared to some Asian cultures which originally did not perform rituals such as the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. In Japan, when a child loses a baby tooth, they either throw it up on the roof or bury it in the dirt. There is no reward for losing the tooth like in the American Tooth Fairy ritual however it symbolizes the child maturing and wishing for good fortune and health for the child. In comparison the Japanese ritual does not involve deception from the parents as the American one does. Perhaps this speaks to how the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus act as a rite of passage for Americans, where most children believe in the mythical figures until a certain age and must deal with the realization that they were deceived by their parents, which motivates them to continue to pass down this rite of passage to their children. In a way this form of deception encapsulated in the tooth fairy ritual represents the loss of naivety and gaining of maturity when a child grows up. Since growing up often means learning a lot of unpleasant faces of the world, the tooth fairy ritual can act as a vaccine or initial exposure to American children in preparation for adulthood.

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.