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NAMIBIA: TRADITIONAL METHODS OF CIRCUMCISION ...
WINDHOEK - Journalists jostled for positions at the house of the Herero paramount chief Kuaima Riruako in Windhoek recently to witness the public circumcision of an 11-year-old Herero boy. While most indigenous peoples in Namibia have done away with the traditional circumcision of young boys, the Herero have vowed to stick to the practice which is deeply rooted in their tradition.
Debate on the subject was rekindled after a Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) news program earlier this month, which showed a young boy being circumcised with a blunt knife. The program unleashed criticism from the National Society for Human Rights which described the procedure as being "tantamount to torture."
The society's senior spokesperson, Zen Mnakapa said: "The method used constitutes both physical and psychological torture and is in definite conflict with the rights of children." In a letter published in The Namibian, the deputy minister of Fisheries, Dr. Abraham Iyambo, says the recent pictures carried by NBC television on circumcision can only be branded as disturbing, nauseating, painful, cruel and stupefying. "Those crying children could ask whether the painful procedure was not in contravention of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child," says Dr. Iyambo. He said only good and painless cultural practices should be upheld and defended; painful, bad, obsolete and deforming cultures should be condemned, abandoned or reformed.
Reacting to the much talked-about issue, Health and Social Services Minister Dr. Libertine Amathla says her ministry will not ban traditional circumcision. She says her ministry will assist traditional circumcisers in making sure that hygienic and less painful methods are used for circumcision. Human rights activists have been extremely vocal in their disapproval of the tradition, describing it "as a violation of children's rights" and of inflicting untold psychological and physical damage" on the victims. Traditional circumcision, they say, is a thing of the past and does not fit in with today's modern world. Toussy Namiseb, a lawyer with the Legal Assistance Center, says the protest is not against circumcision as a practice, but against the inhuman methods used. "People need to be taught that there are better ways of circumcision. They should be told that it would be better to take these small boys to the hospital for circumcision as the instruments used there do not inflict excruciating pain," he says.
However the Herero people disagree. Traditional circumciser Tjitavi Kambausuka, who circumcises an average of one boy a week, says it is wrong for people to oppose circumcision, a traditional practice passed on by the ancestors. "Even Jesus Christ was circumcised at a young age. The Herero community will not deviate from the practice," he said. Says Kambausuka: "There are many traditions in Namibia and each person should stick to his tradition. Some people eat dogs and frogs and we do not say anything about it, because we know it is their tradition. I am doing something which is part of my tradition." He says the advantages of circumcision are vast. These included reducing health risks and the cementing of mutual respect among those circumcised. "Herero boys are not forced to undergo circumcision. However the decision is made by their parents, who know that if the tradition is not carried out then their son will not be regarded as a Herero, or a man in the community," Kambausuka says.
According to belief if a man is not circumcised he cannot be regarded as a man. Kambausuku says, "The blood which can make him a man has not been shed from his penis. Therefore what I do is genuine and good. It is not necessary for people from other tribes to be against it just because it is not part of their tradition," says Kambausuku. Eneth Mate, a Herero woman, is a staunch advocate of circumcision. "I think it is very good because it prevents sexually transmitted diseases and helps men and women not to have pain when having sex, because the skin is cut off," she says.
Mate adds that many Herero men who are not circumcised will find it difficult to have sex with Herero women because the women are afraid of the pain caused by "omukova" (the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis). Eduard Ngurungunda, a young circumcised Herero, says he pities uncircumcised Herero men because they are not regarded as men and are not accepted by many women.
Ritual Teen Circumcision and Pre-Marital Sex Go Hand in Hand in Africa
Most black males under go an initiation ceremony when they are around 16 years old. In almost all of the tribes this includes circumcision. After the circumcision the boy is recognized as a man and they are not allow to do boys' stuff anymore. This include masturbation and making silly jokes and laughing for no reason. Most tribes expect their men to have sex before marriage to prove their manhood. In some tribes a women is only seen as proper marriage material after she had her first baby.
Some other fact that is very interesting is that some of the Xhosa tribes hang stones or weight on their baby boys' foreskins to lengthen the foreskin (just to remove the foreskin during initiation). All Xhosas are expected to be circumcised before they can become a man. This is done during a special initiation ceremony during which they are removed from the general population and stay in specially made tents. They are covered with a white clay and only have a blanket to protect then from the cold. During this period one sometimes spots these ghost like images running around in the bush. Here in South Africa we have major problems with these circumcision practices, since a lot of the boys get infections. In some cases up to 40 boys die of these infections. The government is trying its best to stop the death rate by introducing scalpels and better hygiene during these circumcisions. Currently most of these circumcisions are done with a blunt assegaai (A spear like device). Another problem is that of AIDS, since they use the same instrument to circumcise the whole group. To make problems worse the Xhosas does not allow any health workers or women nearby during the initiation process.
Based on anthropological studies. See Felix Bryk (Circumcision in man and woman) and Boris de Rachewiltz (African Eros). Also the series of articles called 'Kiptony' that was in the Acorn Club journal.
We are talking about INITIATION - not JUST circumcision - and after it the boy is formally a man. Age 16 -18 in most groups I'd think. Thus circumcision is thought to encourage pre-marital sex in boys who underwent this rite before reaching "Standard Eight"
In South Africa and Southern Africa the school system is as follows:
grade 1 first year at school (normal age 6)
standard 2... (etc.)
standard 10 (Final school year)
Most people are 15-16 years old in standard 8 and those who are cut after it would not be so encouraged. Those who are circumcised while still at school are still interpreting it as the symbol which it has traditionally and historically been - that they are allowed to have sex. This is presumably causing pregnancies at school - hence schools are attempting to discourage or 'educate' the boys about pre-marital sex and pregnancy, while still supporting the decision to circumcise.
In fact sex is almost essential after circumcision for these boys since tradition says that they must not masturbate once they are circumcised.
Xhosa Circumcision Camps Turn Boys Into Men
I have been saddened to hear of the recent deaths in Xhosa circumcision camps, as I grew up in what was then known as the Transkei - one of the supposedly independent states of South Africa - and can remember being taken to watch the ritual circumcisions of the young men. In those days the hospitals used to go on full alert during the circumcision season (most hospitals were run by missionaries from England, Italy and the US) in order to deal with the frequent botched jobs that were delivered to the young men. Unfortunately I never got to find out the details - but with immediate antibiotics, and frequent antiseptic recircumcisions carried out in the hospital, most of the men ended up with good looking circumcisions. Just occasionally we would hear of a death, and it usually turned out to be from getting drunk too quickly after the ritual and falling off the side of a mountain (literally - it is a very mountainous area). I know my father would examine his workers when they returned from their circumcisions and sometimes insist the man go straight to the local hospital. It always interested me when that happened as I was circumcised in that same hospital, although as an infant, so I do not have the memories. When I was about 10 or 12 I got up the courage to talk with the doctor who had delivered me and asked if he had also circumcised me. He said he had, so I got him talking about it (it was at a party at someone's house and I think he was a little drunk - I cannot imagine him talking about circumcision at any normal time). Apparently the whole thing took no more than a minute, it was freehand (in the African bush in 1952 there were no Gomco clamps) and resulted in a loose low cut - I didn't cry at all, but I did bleed profusely for a moment or two. Much more blood than he had ever seen before, and he had circumcised nearly every white man in the area for over 20 years. For the Xhosa people the memories of the circumcision and the "brothers of circumcision" (i.e. the men you were cut with) stay with you for your whole life. By second hand I also have my memories of my circumcision. I was just getting him on a roll, and asking him about other men's circumcisions (I was a precocious youngster), especially my brothers', when his wife came along and took him home. Recently I have wondered if circumcising so many kids was a turn on for him. I hope the situation in the Xhosa areas of South Africa improves; there is no doubt that an adult man choosing to be circumcised is a true "rite of passage" - whether it is a cultural traditional thing for the Xhosa, or a personal preference. It must be remembered and savored as a special privilege.
Singer's refusal to undergo traditional circumcision outrages traditionalists - but prominent men are lending their support. LESLEY MOFOKENG
GOSPEL star Lundi Tyamara has enraged traditionalists by announcing that he will not undergo the Xhosa circumcision ceremony. But the 23-year-old star has won support for his stand from other prominent men, who revealed this week that they too had refused to submit to tradition. They include soccer star Brian Baloyi, DJ Glen Lewis and jazz star Selaelo Selota. Tyamara insisted this week that his lifestyle did not allow for the tradition which entails young men being circumcised and remaining in isolation with other initiates for some three weeks, at the end of which they are considered to be men. He said was too busy earning a living to take time out for the ceremony. He also feared for his health and safety at an initiation school. He insisted that he did practise other Xhosa traditions. "I do not disrespect my culture."
Baloyi, Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper, said he sympathised with Tyamara. He revealed that he did not undergo circumcision as required in Shangaan tradition because of soccer commitments. He was already playing for the Kaizer Chiefs junior side as a teenager. "Honestly, I never had time to go to the bush although lots of my friends in Alexandra went. But I had to make a choice between that and soccer. I chose soccer," he said. "I feel that people have to face reality and acknowledge that some things can't be done like our elders did in the past, because of today's living conditions," he said. Adding, "It can just be done at the hospital."
Metro FM and club DJ Lewis said: "I know my father had a problem with me not going to the bush, but it went away. People are dying in the bush anyway." Retired boxing champion Baby Jake Matlala said he had also not undergone the tradition as required in Pedi custom, but had opted for a quicker solution by going to hospital. "I support circumcision when it's done in the hospital. The dangers that go with initiation schools have really turned us against the idea," he said.
Award-winning jazz musician and producer Selota said he too had not undergone the circumcision ceremony. "What's the use of going to the mountain and claiming to practise a culture that is already eroded? The world has become Westernised and there is no platform to practise what you have been taught at the initiation school," he said. Tyamara has also gathered some heavyweight detractors.
Dr Mathole Motshekga, former Gauteng premier and now head of the Kara Heritage Institute, which specialises in African culture, said there was no basis for Tyamara to refuse to undergo the tradition. "There are basic rules of life that have to be followed and deviating from them leads to serious problems like moral degeneration.
"Our children don't go to circumcision schools, they watch American films, and that's why we have so much moral degeneration. Initiation cannot be rejected in the name of modernity," he said.
Chief Phathekile Holomisa, chairman of the organisation of traditional leaders, Contralesa, said: "It's his democratic right not to go, but he will always be considered a boy, even when he is old and grey. He will scandalise any woman he will marry because a woman cannot marry a boy," he said. "Lundi is not a man to me, he is an inkwenkwe (young boy)," said Yfm DJ and Celebrity Big Brother housemate Thomas "Bad Boy T" Msengana, who underwent the ceremony when he was 20 in Langa township outside Cape Town. "This is one thing we cannot afford to let go. If this dies, what else would we have? "
SABC1 continuity presenter Brian Ndevu warned Tyamara that he would have problems in future if he refused to honour the obligation. "That could have serious consequences. This is a rite of passage to manhood for every Xhosa man," he said, adding: "By not going there you can never enter the circles of Xhosa men."
If you're at all interested in ritual circumcision, I strongly suggest finding a copy of a book CEREMONY: AN ANTHROPOLOGIST'S MISADVENTURES IN THE AFRICAN BUSH, by Nigel Barley (1986). He's a British anthropologist who spent months in the African country of Cameroon investigating the circumcision rites of the Dowayo tribe.
"As in many other parts of the world, the boy is depicted as being reborn with a new name and must be taught all the attributes of culture like a small child. It begins with the decoration of the boys by the husbands of their sisters. They roam the countryside dancing and being given food at any homestead. Once the heavy rains start, the boys can be cut.
"The operation is designed to be terrifying. The boys are stripped naked at the crossroads and led to the riverside grove where the cutting is to be performed. On the way they are leapt upon by the circumcisers who are growling like hunting leopards and threatening them with knives. The operation is very severe, the penis being peeled for its entire length. Several different circumcisers may each cut part of the foreskin off. The boy is not supposed to cry out but old men who told me about the festival admitted that many did. It did not really matter as long as the women *thought* they were brave.
"At the swimming place, one sees the results of such operations. If the operation is performed young, the penis sometimes assumes an almost spherical form that must in part be responsible for the very low birth rate of the Dowayos. [!] Since all were cut with the same knife and the risk of infection is very great, mortality was considerable. Boys who died from the operation were said to have been eaten by leopards. From the correspondence of French colonial officers, it is clear that they were distressed by the number of youths who were said to have been eaten by leopards -- although these were virtually extinct in the area....
"One might wonder why circumcision is so widespread in the world and why anthropologists are apparently so obsessed with it. It might be thought that deformation of the genitals will be so painful and unpleasant that these are the last things that people would want to mutilate. When one reads of some of the customary practices relating to the sexual organs it is hard to resist the view that such mutilations are inflicted *because* they are painful. Holes may be bored in the penis. It may be regularly slashed with glass to clean it. It may be sliced open to unfold like a flower when erect. Testes may be crushed or hacked off. Nothing, it seems, is excluded...
"They [the Dowayos] certainly did regard circumcision as the male equivalent of menstruation. A man will, for the rest of his life, be obliged to joke with men with whom he was cut -- his 'brothers of circumcision' -- while a woman has to joke with the girls who began menstruating in the same year as herself -- her 'sisters of menstruation'...
"The Dowayos clearly regarded the foreskin as in some way female, complaining that uncut boys were wet, smelly, 'like women'..."
(end of excerpts)
Barley spent months among the Dowayos and never did get to see a circumcision ceremony... one has the impression that he was deliberately being given the runaround by the local tribesmen. The book is quite a good read, even apart from the discussions of our mutual interest: the author has a delightful dry wit and is a much better writer than anthropologist, it would seem!
I met a young man from Ghana. He confirms that almost all guys there are circumcised. Also that uncut get a lot of teasing. He has actually never seen an uncut penis on an adult.
The Nuba are a small tribe in Sudan who are uncircumcised, where almost all the rest of the population in that area is circumcised. Certainly quite a lot of black Africa is uncircumcised but there is quite a lot about this in the AIDS literature and the best estimate I can get is that at least 60% - 70% of male Africans are circumcised.
The Pigmy people live in Zaire (former known as Belgium Congo). They are nomads and live from hunting and picking up fruit. This human group is taken as one of the most ancient and culturally pure of the world. For this people the circumcision represents a "pass through age" ritual, and for them makes a difference not only between boys and men, but between the Village and the jungle.
When a group of boys reaches the age of 8 to 12 years take place the "encoumby" (the name given by this people to the ceremony). Each boy is prepared by their own mother and aunts. Their body and face are painted with white and black colors. The body is dressed with some kind of skirt made with fibers from palm tree. The group is taken to the center of village and begins a dance, meanwhile women and girls leave the village announcing the beginning of the party.
The origin of the costum is explained by the following legend:
"The tradition of circumcision was made an institution by a woman ("amiana"), come from west, and her husband ("tocool"). They saw the monkeys making a circumcision and adopted the practice.
The season for the ceremony is announced by a bird, who flies high and which cry is very recognizable". (It seems to be that "monkey" is the nickname given by them for other human groups).
From Black Eros by Boris.de Rachewiltz.
After isolation, during which the boys are frequently beaten with sticks, and suffer tests of ant bites, and resistance to fire etc.. The circumsiser nearly always comes from the class of blacksmiths, and wears a costume made from vegetable fibres. In order to obviate complications for the candidates, the circumciser is required to maintain absolute chastity for 5 days preceding the operation, and for 10 days afterwards. He approaches each candidate in turn, holding his knife in one hand, while he pinches the prepuce with the other, saying "Today we are playing, but tomorrow I shall cut." The iron surgical instrument is heated on a fire close at hand. Then suddenly the circumciser and his assistant appear, the candidates are made to sit one by one with their legs apart. The assistant holds each one down in turn, as the circumciser approaches holding the red hot instrument in his right hand. With the other hand, he pulls the prepuce forward and suddenly cuts it off. Among the Dogon, the circumciser is an old blacksmith who works with the aid of a small iron hatchet. Their candidates drink the water in which the instrument has previously been immersed, as a potion to ease the pain of the wound.
Among the Namshi of Sewa, the circumciser pulls the foreskin forward, and cuts, while holding the knife in his right hand. He makes a series of cuts in order to expose the phallus completely.
With the Dogon, it is the circumciser's custom to place the candidates prepuce in a loop knot, the other end of the string being tied to his left foot. He pushes the foreskin into the middle of the knot, and telling the boy not to cry out, severs the flesh with a single cut behind the knot.
The Janjero, apart from circumcision, also practise the removal of the nipples, and a testicle. The Sabey practise public circumcision. Immediately after the operation, the candidate is made to jump about, and must continue to do so, until the elders ask him to sit down. The bravest Gisu ask to be operated on in two stages. First the upper part of the prepuce is removed, and afterwards the lower. Some Kikuyu lose courage on the second day, and remain half circumcised. Convalescence: Directly after the operation the wound is treated. Among the Dogon, one of the elders makes a powder of a goat's excrement, with which each father dresses his son's wound. The Malinke wash the wound with water in which the saba fruit has ben partially dissolved, the wound is then bandaged with the leaves of the same plant. The Rega sprinkle pepper and salt on the wound. During convalescence a special diet is enforced, and severe physical tests continue. The Mangia are made to extract honey from beehives, without wearing any protection. The Mbundu and Dogon continue to flog the boys.
A complete photo series follows.
White Boy Circ'd in Kenya at 14
I was raised in Kenya, in the tea-growing area near Kericho. Although people from many other parts of the country came to work on the tea estates, the land belonged to the Kipsigis people, and they are still the predominant local tribe. For them, circumcision is integral to being considered an adult member of the tribe.
Initiations were held in the long school holiday at Christmas. The day I arrived home from boarding school, having turned 14, my friend Kiplangat met me in an excited mood. "I told my father I wanted to go for circumcision, and now its all arranged for Friday. He has told your father Im ready. You could ask him if you can come to watch. If you really are as brave as you claim, you can join the ceremony with me and prove it." So this was it! If I pulled out, Id lose my friend, and Id lose face with his father, with his family, with all the Kipsigis lads I knew, and especially I would face embarrassing references and taunts about my childish uncut cock from the older Kipsigis boys. I told myself that they often exaggerated their bravery in the stories they told about their own initiation.
In the evening there was a party at the farmstead. We initiands were naked except for body-painting in traditional patterns. When we did our dance the older boys joined in, and there was a generally bawdy mood, and an electric sense of erotic tension. The onlookers included several girls, and we were the subjects of their ribald comments. As the one white skin present my member was the subject of special interest, with comments such as: "Look at his mambarit. Ive never seen a white mambarit before. Its not as big as Kiplangats." Mambarit, obviously meaning penis, was a word I had not heard used before.
At about midnight we were taken, still naked, to the specially-built initiation hut, where we were closely questioned about our sexual experience. Each of us in turn was led to a stool covered with nettles, and we were made to sit down four times. We were told that the nettles would stop the flow of blood after the circumcision, but their main function was obviously to test our stamina, and the elders discussed our reaction to the pain.
At the first sign of dawn we were led down to the stream. The older boys escorting us told us to have a pee and to wash off our mud decorations. They made us stand in the water until our legs hurt with the cold. When they finally let us out, they made us wait in line while they again stung our foreskins with still more nettles. The Master of Ceremonies, Arap Rono, made us do the initiation dance, moving so that our genitals swung up and down until they slapped against our stomachs. Soon my penis was no longer small and shrivelled, but hung long and loose. Then he told us to stand in line facing the rising sun, and a crowd of men and initiated boys gathered in front of us to watch. Kiplangat was on the right, I was next, and the other three lads were to my left, the smallest last. Looking down, I could see that my foreskin was red and heavily swollen from the nettle-stings, and these also showed on other parts of my body.
Arap Rono moved along the line, pulling firmly on each boys foreskin and then making a small cut across, level with the base of the glans -- it was no more than a nick, and I thought, "Thats not too bad". But of course it wasnt the proper circumcision yet; it was just to show where the circumcision cut would be made. Then we were told to sit down with our feet well spread and our knees bent, and were supported from behind by one of the older men, in my case Arap Rono and in Kiplangats, one of his uncles. As we got settled I saw the circumciser waiting in the doorway of the hut, brandishing his knife.
When we were all settled, he called out to the onlookers to be quiet, squatted down in front of Kiplangat and got to work with his knife. Quickly, before I expected it, he moved in front of me. I could feel all eyes on me. The intensity of the moment was electric. I concentrated on keeping my eyes fixed on a marker and managed to remain motionless and silent. I could feel him pull my foreskin forward hard and cut across it at the end. I felt him cut again and a third time, but it was no more than 20 seconds before he moved on to the boy to my left. Only then did the stinging pain hit me. I turned to watch and saw him make three strokes of the knife, one from each side and one underneath. Then I looked down to my penis to see what had been done. The end of the foreskin had been cut away to a line about level with the middle of my glans, which was covered by a whitish layer of inner skin extending to just beyond the tip of the glans. The whole thing looked ragged and I felt very vulnerable. At first blood trickled from the end, but after a while this stopped. The nick which had been made at the start was now no more than a line of dried blood, some way from the cut edge of skin. So, the operator had taken less of my foreskin than Arap Rono had wanted! I gripped the shaft of my penis firmly and pushed the skin forward. The pressure seemed to ease the pain and the bleeding stopped.
We sat there until the middle of the morning while the temperature rose. I had almost dozed off, when the circumciser suddenly reappeared. He sat down again in front of Kiplangat and told him to hold still. His uncle sat behind him to support him, entwining his legs to immobilise them. Arap Rono took up a similar position behind me. This time the circumciser took five or six minutes to do his work, during which Kiplangat sat looking stoically ahead. When it was my turn, I resolved to watch what he did, rather than stare away.
The circumciser pressed back the skin around the wound (undoing my efforts to pull it forward) and used his knife to scrape the exposed tissue, removing the dried blood in the wound. Then he pinched up the whitish skin which still covered my glans, trimming away every bit to a line just behind my glans rim. It was extremely painful as he scraped and cut -- far worse than his first cutting. The most painful part was as he cut at the loose skin underneath, and the frenum. Several times he poured some cold water over the wound from a bottle he carried. When he had trimmed away all my foreskin to his satisfaction, he pulled the shaft skin forward, pinched it and made a cut about an inch long in the loose skin on the top of the penis, where it had been nicked. This cut was parallel to and about an inch from the cut edge of shaft skin. He pulled the skin further forward and forced my glans through this new cut. The effect was to seal the wound with a neat line just behind my glans!
Later I found that the skin on the upper side of my shaft was pulled tight, but there was still a bunch of fairly loose skin and an open wound underneath, from which blood dripped for a while.
Despite the agony of the pulling and cutting, I knew that I had to keep still, or maybe the knife would slip, perhaps cutting into my glans: that I wanted to avoid at all costs. When the circumciser at last finished cutting the fourth and then the fifth boy, we were helped to our feet and led to the shady side of the hut to rest. By now I was extremely tired, hungry, dizzy from the operation and from sitting in the hot sun, and shivering with shock.
Arap Rono examined my penis carefully, then looked me in the eyes and said, "He cut you well, and you did not flinch, even at the second cutting. You were a wazungu, but now you are a Kipsigisindet: -indet means "one who is strong in something", so this meant "a real Kipsigis" who had earned this title as he was circumcised. That was a very proud moment in my life, marking an end to all the slighting comments implying immaturity (usually asides in my case, but open insults to Kiplangat). It marked my acceptance as a full member of the tribe. Despite all the pain of the past night and the cutting which I had endured in the early morning and again just now, it all seemed worth that quietly spoken accolade. I was thrilled and elated.
The following may be of interest - I read it in last Friday's (UK) Daily Mail newspaper. It is a book review of the autobiography of Tenniel Evans, a British actor, who is describing his childhood in Kenya.
" Throughout most of his childhood adventures in Kenya, he was accompanied by his rather older African friend Simiu who, when he was 12, had to undergo a ritual circumcision ceremony involving the witch doctor, sharp knives and specially grown thumbnails. Tenniel, the outsider, was allowed to watch on the grounds that he had been 'made a man' already many years before by his parents." The reference to "made a man" obviously refers to his own infant circumcision, which was common in the UK at the time.
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