WOMEN! All of us have been confronted with stigmas around a woman’s menstrual cycle and the taboos accompanying this subject. In modern western civilisations, the rituals and mystique around a girl stepping into womanhood have been stripped away almost completely, replaced by ‘oh so practical’ things of daily life.
Young women are explained what it means to bleed from a strictly biological standpoint. The ability of physically being able to reproduce is thrust upon them like a heavy backpack, without explaining what it contains, namely the responsibility and great power of giving life. However, there still are cultures that celebrate and commemorate this important cornerstone in life. The chapter of being a child has reached its terminal point and a new stage begins, that of a woman.
The Ojibwe are indigenous people located in southern Canada and the northern Midwestern United States. When girls start their first menstruation, they go on a berry fast and stop eating strawberries for a whole year. After this period a feast is held and the women receive gifts from the community and are fed with strawberries, marking their transition into womanhood. This is also a time of growth and of taking over communal responsibilities. Women elders teach the girls the stories and histories of their people, their way of life. The Ojibwe believe that women are spiritually very powerful when they menstruate and pay special attention to their visions and dreams.
The Apache people still celebrate this time of life with the sunrise ceremony or na’ii’ees. It lasts for 4 days and four nights and takes place in summer, one year after a girl’s first menstruation, or moon cycle. The initiation includes – amongst many other things – hour-long dancing into all four directions, beginning in the east as well as the woman being introduced to her spiritual gifts of healing and of being healers.
In some areas of Ghana, girls sit under a ceremonial umbrella when they begin their menstruation and they receive gifts from their families and are celebrated like a queen. The Beng women in Ivory Coast are revered by the men. They see menstruating as the flower of a tree that can’t bear fruit without it. Other places that celebrate and embrace this life-changing event in a girl’s life are the Fidji islands, some places in India and Japan and many more. The celebrations and initiation rituals vary though the red thread is clearly visible. It’s a rite of passage – the girl leaves behind her childhood and is welcomed into the community as a woman.
To be alive isn’t a strictly organic experience that can be reduced to physiological changes and processes in our bodies. Truly being alive and feeling FAB means to be mindful and to fully embrace the mystique of it all. Maybe you are not quite ready yet to discuss your moon cycle at the dinner table or a party, but how about a compromise? Why not approaching it like the Rungus on Borneo, Indonesia? For these women, menstruation is a rather blasé affair. It simply is part of life, nothing to be ashamed about nor too serious about either. They say that it’s a bodily fluid that wants to be evacuated. PERIOD.