The Curse? Cultural Celebrations of Menarche by Eve Agee

Known as the curse, my visiting friend, and many other names used to hide its identity, menstruation is an experience that women in our culture have been strongly encouraged to keep under wraps for generations. However, in societies throughout the world menstruation is considered so positive and sacred that it is commemorated in many beautiful ways. I was first exposed to this affirming viewpoint while living in West Africa while conducting medical anthropology research. When I was there I observed that Mossi women in Burkina Faso take time away from their work and caring for their families for the length of every menstrual period to enjoy creative endeavors of their own or visit with friends. Nearby, the Dagara ethnic group believes that menstruating women possess heightened wisdom and healing power. The Dagara hold large ceremonies each year celebrating the girls who started their periods during the previous twelve months.

In parts of Southern India, newly menstruating girls are given feasts, money, and gifts and are adorned in beautiful new clothes. Japanese families traditionally commemorate a daughter’s first menstrual period by eating red rice and beans. Aboriginal Australians ritually bathe and apply beautiful body paint to young women at the onset of their periods.

Here in North America, Apache Indians pay tribute to the girls in their tribe when they embark on menarche with large five-day ceremonies attended by hundreds of people who dance and chant for nearly twelve hours each day to honor the young woman for starting her period. During these ceremonies, the newly menstruating girl ascends to almost divine status as she embodies the Apache goddess, Changing Woman. The young woman lays her hands on the other participants, bestowing curative energy to her tribe. The ritual culminates with the exchange of truckloads of gifts to inaugurate the young woman’s relationship with her godmother, who will help guide her into adulthood.

When I was speaking about women’s health in New York recently, a woman asked if these traditions surrounding menarche were really more about women becoming fertile and being able to have children rather than celebrations of menstruation per se. Actually, many of these societies view menstruation itself as beneficial and powerful. There are even traditional cultures throughout the world that deem menstrual blood sacred. For instance, in Central Africa, the Mbuti pygmies regard menstrual blood as a gift that is honored by their whole community and has healing powers. Native Americans generally consider menstruation as a life-affirming process that connects women to the earth, the moon, and the cycles of nature. Some Native American cultures believe that menstruation naturally cleanses women so well that they do not need to detoxify in ritual sweat lodges as men do.

More and more women in our culture are finding meaningful ways to celebrate menstruation in their own lives and in the lives of their daughters and friends. The more we can do to help ourselves and the girls and young women in our society have empowered connections to menstruation is a step in the right direction in helping all women feel positive about our periods and our amazing female bodies. I would love it if you will share any ways you celebrate menstruation and menarche in your life and the life of your family and friends below. The more ideas we can all get on how to honor this important part of our lives, the easier it will be for all of us to create beautiful new traditions.

Eve Agee, Ph.D. is a life coach, medical anthropologist, personal transformation expert and bestselling author of The Uterine Health Companion.  She has helped thousands of women  open up to fulfilling ways of relating to their bodies.  Connect with Dr. Eve through her free Monthly Newsletter. You can receive a free chapter of The Uterine Health Companion when you sign up for her newsletter at