As all anthropologists know, fieldwork is an essential part of truly understanding and experiencing new cultures. Having been in this field for my twelfth year, I follow a personal tradition of my own. Every fall I travel to a new Midwestern city in the United States and spend time with group of young adults and their coming-of-age experiences. In doing this research I try to avoid making personal judgments based on the culture I grew up in, in other words I try to avoid being ethnocentric. In this specific field study I traveled to a small town in the heart of Michigan: to the city of Amla. This agriculturally renowned town encompasses nearly 9,200 residents (Alma), and about 1,500 of which belong to a cult called Amla Egelloc. Each year this cult initiates around 400 newcomers at a ceremonial feast at the grounds of Notlimah, also known as Agas—at least according to the cult members. Since I thoroughly enjoy studying young adults and their coming-of-age experiences around the Midwest, I thought this ceremony would enlighten me in understanding how this mini society begins.
As the ceremony commences, I carefully pay attention to the newcomers’ mannerisms as they enter Agas. They all dress in their finest apparel, they being young men and women of merely eighteen years of age. As they walk into the dining area, a usually casual and stress-free location, they start to perspire and wonder where to go and what to do next. The newcomers realize they each have an assigned destination in the dining hall, which of course is nowhere near familiar faces nor close friends. Conveniently they recognize their server, who happens to be their “living quarter’s security guard”. Although they know their temporary waiter or waitress, the newcomers do not recognize their plaid kilts. At this point, I took a seat in an empty location and started participating in this event first-hand. In keeping with tradition the waiters or “security guards” bring the fixed meal to the numerous tables. They call it the Dnalhgih Nekcihc, a Scottish dish. Why Scottish? I couldn’t tell you myself.
After the food has been served, the head of the cult delivers a speech welcoming the new members. This discourse provides the newcomers with inspiration for their next four years at Amla Egelloc. He also discusses how he expects them to grow in spirit, health and knowledge. And as a parting gift, the cult presents its newcomers with a tree to represent this positive growth.
This experience definitely opened my eyes to the views of the Amla Egelloc community. I hypothesized that this initiation would include the violent behaviors that most cults perform during initiations, but this cult welcomed its newcomers in a positive way. A way in which influences them to remain in the cult for their four year contract. The members not only fed the newcomers at this traditional feast, but they provided them with support and a gift at the end of the ceremony. This coming-of-age ceremony will stay with me for a long while, thanks for allowing me to partake in this event Amla Egelloc, especially sense I forgot to have you sign the informed consent.
“Alma, Michigan.” City-Data.com. Onboard Informatics, 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2010.