Last night, we had our Trojan Spartan initiation ceremony. Today, we had our Trojan-Spartan games.
On one hand, I feel a need to explain the previous sentences. On the other hand, some odd camp traditions kinda defy description. So let me tell you what happens and then I will explain what is experienced.
What happens is odd, if not borderline ridiculous. Every camper becomes a member of one of two teams (Spartans are red, Trojans are blue) and they compete in a series of games today and on Wednesday. The competitions include everything from tug-o-war to dodge ball to trivia to swim relays.
But before we have the competition, every camper is initiated into one of the tribes.
We take a hike to an area of the camp that we rarely use for the event. Current Trojans and Spartans “paint up” and cheer as the new campers are brought into their tribe.
Susie Ma’am reads the Trojan-Spartan Legend (a slightly modified version of the Trojan horse from the Iliad) and I explain that we compete with passion. We also compete with dignity and sportsmanship, “At the end of the day, we are not Spartans or Trojans, but are instead cabinmates and champions once again.”
The campers learn their tribe one at a time. When their name is called, a drum beats until they arrive at one of our directors (The Selector), who marks them with red or blue paint. The Selector is painted a mixture of red and blue and wears a black cloak. [Note: I did not take a picture of last night’s Selector, but I suspect you will see it in the photos. This picture is from a previous initiation.]
So, to summarize, a group of people in Central Texas hike to a clearing in the woods and put paint on faces to designate membership in a Hellenistic tribe. Oh yeah, and there is a painted guy in a cloak there too.
I think you can call that borderline ridiculous.
But if we do it right, the effect is quite memorable. Campers will tell me stories about their initiations years later – how they were nervous, how great it was to hear the cheering of their tribe, the sound of the drum.
When done well, it creates magic moments.
The picture above is right before the Trojans and Spartans file into the clearing.
The four people most painted are the Trojan and Spartan leaders, current counselors that lead cheers and model enthusiasm.
This photo reminds me of an odd story concerning our own sons. Two years ago, they were the Trojan and Spartan leaders. They became rather competitive with their “painting up” as you can see from these two pictures.
After that summer (following the high school graduation of 3 of our 4 children), we backpacked for several months, including a trip to Tanzania. The largest tribe in Tanzania is the Maasai. The Maasai have an elaborate set of rituals to transition a boy into manhood, part of which involves 1) painting up in black and white and 2) sequestering themselves from outside contact.
When we visited a Maasai village, I took out my iPad and showed the village elders photos of our sons “painted up” and then pointed to them. The elders’ response was an odd combination of confusion, recognition and excitement. They called over to another tribe member who went to a hut. Three painted boys left the hut and walked over to meet us. They would complete their initiation ritual later that year.
I suspect that they all would have been surprised to learn how relatively insignificant our “painting up” was compared to theirs, so I am glad that we could not fully explain. We were just excited and even honored that they wanted their future initiates to meet our sons. And we treasured the real connection. We would stay far longer than we were scheduled to – all four of our kids played soccer with 25 children for almost an hour. It was a highlight of the trip.
So I guess that “painting up” can create memories even when you are no longer a camper.