The Heroic Journey

The Curriculum: Prologue

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A Boy's Pre-Civilization Rite


It is midnight. There is no moon, and the night is still and black. The boy is abruptly awakened from a sound sleep by hands that yank him from his bed. His mouth is covered so he cannot cry out. A cloth is tied over his eyes. He is pulled from his hut into the inky and humid night. His heart pounds in fear as he is pushed along on the dirt path toward the dark jungle. He hears the sounds of other bodies breathing heavily in the darkness, and, though still frightened, he suddenly feels less alone. He remembers being told that when the first signs of hair appear on his body, he would be ready for his initiation into the community of men. This must be the night.

Dragged into the tropical night, he stumbles along the jungle path. Finally, his captors release their hold on him. His blindfold is removed and he finds himself in a clearing near a large bonfire. Eleven other boys shiver beside him. The elders, at least thirty of them, form a circle around the fire, herding the younger ones in. They are wearing face paint, feathered and beaded necklaces, and decorated loincloths, and each holds a sharpened spear. The tribal chief begins to chant a tune the boy has never heard before, and the other men join in. They begin to move around the fire in a ceremonial dance.

Over the next month, the boys are kept in the heart of the jungle, away from the village. They are taught the ways of the elders, the secrets of survival, the history of the tribe, and the code of honor. Each has been marked with a series of cuts on his cheeks and chest, which have now healed over into wide scars against the dark skin. The initiates are taken deeper into the wild, far from each other, and told to return to the men's camp at the next full moon. Each is on his own and must prove by his actions that he is capable of the hunting, foraging, cooking, and safety skills necessary for survival.

When the month draws to a close, nine young men arrive back at the men's camp. Three are never seen again. It is presumed they were unable to survive. This is unfortunate, but the tribe needs to have only survivors, for the strength of the community. The chief gives each one his new adult name, and they join the elders in a triumphant return to the village, where they are now recognized as men.

A Modern Urban Boy's Rite


It is midnight. There is no moon, and the night is still and black. The boy is abruptly awakened from a sound sleep by hands that yank him from his bed. His mouth is covered so he cannot cry out. A cloth is tied over his eyes. He is pulled from his house into the noise of the city night. His heart pounds in fear as he is pushed along on the sidewalk toward the van. He hears the sounds of other bodies breathing heavily in the darkness, and, thought still frightened, he suddenly feels less alone. He remembers being told that when the time came, he would be ready for his initiation into the gang. This must be the night.

Dragged into the hot summer night, he stumbles into the van and feels it lurching forward through the city streets. Finally, the van stops and his captors push him out. His blindfold is removed and he finds himself in an empty lot near the railroad tracks. Eleven other boys shiver beside him. The gang members, at least thirty of them, stand in an irregular circle around a trashcan fire. They are wearing black bandannas tied around their foreheads, white T-shirts, and baggy khaki pants. The gang leader turns and gives the special handshake to the one beside him, and the others all do the same. Everyone watches as two members display some karate kicks and punches.

Over the next several months, the boys regularly sneak out of their houses at night or cut school to join the gang members at the empty lot. They are taught the ways of the gang, how to steal and shoot, the history of the gang, and the code of honor. Each has been marked with the gang's tattoo on his upper arm, and has also had to carve his own sign into his wrist. Finally, the initiates are taken back into the city, where each must break into and steal a car, and take it joy riding with several other gang members in the back seat. Each must also go through another gang's turf, spray can in hand, to 'tag' a wall in their territory, proving that he is capable of the skills necessary for gang membership, including firing upon a rival, if needed.

When the year draws to a close, three young men have been jailed or killed. The nine who remain meet with the others in the cemetery. There they take a vow of loyalty to the gang and its fallen members. They each must fight off two others to prove their strength. The leader gives each one his new gang name, and they been officially 'jumped' into the gang, for life.

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