100,000 B.C. The age of the Cro-Magnon man. He is symbolized as the first "modern" man, a man who learns to put his reasoning and ability to think as an individual to use. He dwells in caves and lives in small bands or tribes, his life geared totally towards survival; the women gather berries and plants while the men hunt.
This is the story of Borg and Thag, a father and son, respectively. Thag has just turned 18 according to our calendar (6,408 moons to be exact) and in accordance with his tribe's customs, must prove his manhood by killing a wooly mammoth, a fierce, hairy ancestor of the elephant with lethal tusks, by himself, and subsequently bring it back to the cave. But Thag is reluctant and is torn between the expectations of his tribe and his proud father whom he does not want to disappoint.
Tradition, bah! I've had it up to here with tradition! How does Father and the tribe expect me, all by myself, to go out and kill the mammoth? Much less, how the heck am I supposed to bring it back to the cave? Well, I could ask the other elders how they did it,but I'd probably get the same answer: "Oh Thag, when you are truly a man, you will know what to do." Yeah, right. Guess I'm not a man then. Yes you are! Well, that remains to be seen, Thag. Ah, the sun sets on yet another day. You know what that means, Thag: tomorrow the tribe will fling you out into the world in hopes that you will return the man they want to see. Wonder what would happen if I didn't live up to their expectations? Oh! I see my wonderful father who seems more than willing to cast out his own son for my own good so that-
"Well son, the night approaches, as does your test."
"My test, Father? Some kind of test."
"Is something wrong, Thag?"
"Uh...well...It's just that...oh, never mind."
"I am so proud of you, son. I have waited many suns and moons since you were born for your chance to take part in the rite of manhood."
Rite of manhood? Uh-huh, sure. More like a rite of death - my death. You seem so proud of me - you overestimate me. It makes me feel uncomfortable - what if I fail you? I hate you for this, Father. There you go, walking back into the cave, cheery as ever, even though my death could be at hand. I'm afraid, and you're not helping. But have you for once thought of my feelings? Guess not. I want to tell you of my reservations, but I'm afraid that you and the tribe will treat me as an inferior. An eagle! Flying alone and free! How lucky he is. He can decide what to do and what not to do. He doesn't have to follow ancient tradition; he doesn't have to live up to expectations. I wish I were an eagle. But I'm not. Maybe I should talk to my father - maybe that's what being a man is all about - the ability to share one's thoughts and feelings freely. Who knows? It's worth a shot.
"Father, I...uh...would like to talk with you."
"About what son? Your test tomorrow, perhaps?"
"Yes...well, that's part of it. The other part is you."
"Yes, you father. You bear too much confidence in me. You have not even asked my feelings about the hunt tomorrow. I feel trapped by my feelings, and you are the Ahunter.' I don't want to disappoint you, but you give me no choice."
"I see. So you feel your interests conflict with my expectations of you."
"Yes. I have something else to say. I'm sorry if this lets you down, but I'm really scared."
"Son, I have high expectations for you because I know you can do it. I have great faith in your ability. It's time to let you in on something."
Why are all the other tribesmen and women coming over here? They are all smiling, and looking at me! What's this? They are forming a circle around me. What's the deal? Why does Father look at me like that?
"For thousands of moons, we have carried a custom in our tribe - the rite of manhood. To prove one's manhood, he must kill the mammoth. But this is not the test. The real test is in you, Thag. You confessed your doubts, knowing full well it may do harm to your reputation as part of our tribe - and that my son, is the true test of manhood." n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.