14 Breathtaking Photos Reveal How These Women Celebrate Their First Period

Photo: Lena Mucha.
For girls in the Amazonian Tikuna tribe, their first menstrual period signals not only an important physical change, but a spiritual one, as well. In what is known as the Yüüechíga or pelazón ceremony, girls are isolated from men and their communities after their first periods. The girls spend between three months and one year living alone, either in small dwellings or private rooms in their family homes.

"For the Tikuna, taking part in this ritual means the transition from being a girl to being accepted as a woman," Lena Mucha, a German photographer who documented the ritual, told Refinery29. "Some of the girls told me that at first, they were afraid, but then really enjoyed that time. It was a moment in their life when they could concentrate on themselves and learn a lot about their traditions and cultural heritage."

During the time of the pelazón, girls learn the tribe's music, dances, history, and beliefs from other female tribe members. They let their hair grow long. The ritual is seen as a bridge between childhood and adulthood in the tribe, which lives in the part of the Colombian Amazon near the Brazilian and Peruvian borders.

"The time of isolation ends with a three-day ceremony where the girls are celebrated. As a symbol of initiation and purification, they get their hair cut...After that ceremony, the girls are back in the daily life of their community, now accepted in their roles as women," Mucha said.

Many cultures around the world have traditions and rituals around a girl's first menstruation, but some can leave girls and women feeling shunned. A tradition in Nepal called chaupadi dictates that girls and women must stay outdoors while they have their periods. In other communities, a lack of understanding about what is happening to girls' bodies can make them feel afraid.

But Mucha, whose work focused on "the impacts of globalization and modernity on young women coming of age," said the women she spoke with who had gone through pelazón saw it as a positive time. Ahead, she shares these young Tikuna women's stories with Refinery29.

Editor's note: All of the captions were provided by Mucha and have been edited for clarity.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Gerany Marcela Silva is a 14-year-old Tikuna girl living in Ticoya, Puerto Nariño, with her parents and two younger siblings. At the age of 13, she went through the Yüüechíga initiation.

"For the ceremony, they painted us with huito (a type of plant) and covered us with heron feathers. During the ritual, our eyes were taped shut so we couldn’t see anything. There were other people dressed as demons, dancing and singing all night long," she said.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
During the ritual, the young women remain isolated from men and their community for up to one year. Despite isolation, the Yüüechíga is not about loneliness. It is a time when girls are preparing for their roles as women.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Mileidy is 17 years old.

"The Yüüechíga means an internal purification of the soul, to erase the errors we carry with us since we were very young, and to leave us clean," she said.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
14-year-old Mónica lives with her parents and two siblings in Puerto Nariño.

"In the Amazon, we believe that whatever you wish will become true. There is a myth about a girl who once got attacked by a caiman who left her without her left leg. After three years, she became a guacamaya [parrot] and could fly away. The pelazón is also a tribute to her," Mónica said.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
A glimpse of the Amazon River in Puerto Nariño.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Brenda, 17, and her younger sister, Zelena, 13, live in Puerto Nariño.

"We learned from our grandparents the traditional dances that are important for our us as Tikuna women," they said.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
The hair of the young women has an important significance in the practice of the Yüüechíga. At the end of the isolation, during a ceremony lasting three days, the girls get their hair cut as a symbol of purification.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Lina and her husband, José, both 16 years old. The young Tikuna couple lives in El Progreso, Puerto Nariño.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Erika, 16, with her baby, David, in Ticoya, Puerto Nariño. Erika still lives with her parents. Her dream is to study pharmacy and then work with her community.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
The Tikuna are still rooted in their indigenous culture, but influences from their community are changing their habits, rituals, needs, and ambitions.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Mery Cecilia is 15 years old and has seven siblings. Mery went through the pelazón at the age of 14.

"It took eight months. I live in a small house with my family; there is just one single room. Nobody could see me during the time of the pelazón, so whenever somebody from my family would be at home, I covered myself with a blanket," she explained. "Only the eldest woman, who we call grandmother, came to me to teach me and bring me food. I learned how to dance and sing, and how to weave. I felt good; nobody bothered me. It was a time I had for myself."
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
A tree illuminated by the morning sun. Myths play an important part of the oral history and cultural heritage of the Tikuna.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
Tania, 15, lives with her cousin and her husband in Puerto Nariño.
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Photo: Lena Mucha.
"One morning, my father woke me up and told me, 'We will prepare you for the pelazón.' First I was afraid, and I didn’t want to do it. They took me to my grandmother and started preparing the ritual," said Katalina. Now 19 years old, she lives with her 1-year-old baby in Puerto Esperanza.
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