Document Type



Pauleena MacDougall

Elizabeth Hedler

Publication Date

Summer 4-1-2003

Issue Number


Volume Number


Abstract/ Summary

It may not be the most dignified of nautical customs, but it's certainly one of the oldest and most widely observed. When a vessel approaches the Equator, crew members who are crossing for the first time must appear before King Neptune and his court to demonstrate their worthiness as subjects of the sea. Proof is exacted through tests and punishments that can range from the mildly embarrassing-singing a song or reciting a nonsensical rhyme-to much more grueling treatments: running the gauntlet, tarring and feathering, or crawling through slops. The custom earns the sailor or passenger little more than a certificate and the right to call himself or herself a "shellback." But for all its ribaldry and rough play-and no doubt in part because of these qualities-the practice has been surprisingly popular. New research launched by MFC director James Moreira takes a closer look at these socalled "crossing the line" ceremonies.


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