In New Mexico, the Mescalero Apache reservation prepares for a coming-of-age ritual.

 Over the span of four days, young Apache girls will pass through ancient tests of strength, endurance, and character that will make them women.

A girl’s puberty rite was of great importance in Apache society. Apaches believe that the puberty rite is essential to a girl’s vitality.

The ceremony strengthens her ability to bear healthy children. When a girl reaches her early teens, her close relatives prepare special foods and invite many friends, neighbors, and relatives to the ceremony.

Early in the morning of the first day, a female guide bathes the girl and dresses her in special clothing. Then a male ceremonial singer takes the girl to a special tipi or structure where he sings a cycle of creation songs while the girl performs ritual dances. In the Mescalero tradition, the girl makes four ritual runs to the east, circling a basket tray filled with ritual objects.

When evening comes, masked dancers appear. Later that evening, men and women dance together. The puberty ceremony continues for four days and four nights. It ends with a ceremony early in the morning of the fifth day.

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