Traditional Circumcision: Chopping your manhood away

2015-05-27 17:57

Growing up in a dusty rural areas, I was forced to learn to live with the shame of being called lešoboro or inkwenkwe (an uncircumcised boy in Sepedi and isiXhosa, respectively). In our primary school years, during winter times, young boys would take a long journey up the sacred mountains to initiation schools... The journey that will see them returning home as men. This was meant to be a transition into manhood.

At that tender age, these boys had to spend over a month long process of "intensive and extensive transformation" into manhood. Others say it is the best experience of a lifetime, while others say it is the worst ordeal they'd never wish to anybody... the confusion that remained with me for ages.

None, however, would share the details thereof. This enigmatic information was a highly guarded, most classified, unbreatheable secret that could not just be divulged to women and uncircumcised boys like me. Whispering details of this unutterable story remained a heavily punishable taboo in our society. All we knew was that you can never be a man until you go through that process. That scared the hell out of me.

Picking up bits and pieces here and there, I had to believe that these boys were trained to be men. Regardless of their ages that usually ranged from seven (7) to fourteen (14), they were declared men, and expected to behave as such... I guess we expected, rather, too much from the poor little kids. They stopped playing with me. I was not even allowed to see their small, newly renovated, little danglings. They were men, and I was a boy, anyway. I was a Persona non grata

Historically, men who came from initiation schools were humbled, respecting, respectful, responsible, strong, ready to marry and take care of their wives and kids, I'm told. They were eligible to sit in the royal kraal and discuss rules, advise the chief/ king on issues that impact their communities. They were the role models to the young boys.

In my dwarf medical profession, my bad perception of initiation schools changed to the worst. I've witnessed many young innocent souls loosing their penises... The manhood that they were supposed to have claimed up from the mountains. What an irony!

I've tearfully certified dead bodies of boys whose lives were "traditionally" terminated too soon, as a result of an initiation gone wrong. I've spent sleepless nights in the hospital's intensive care units (ICU) ventilating the lungs of a highly septic boy whose infected penis threatened to disappear with his life. I've witnessed boys with semi-amputated penises refusing to be seen by the only on-call doctor, solely because she was a woman, and their culture did not allow their penises to be seen by women.

Recently, a facebook user, Roro Van Rose, posed a question about the relevance of this traditional custom of taking our kids to the mountains in this cold weather, while we the parents remain in the warmth of our comforters and air-conditioned homes... The comments thereof compelled me to write this piece, so as to get a better answer. Most responses were that initiation is a sacred part of our culture, and should not be discussed in public.

Having realized that we are celebrating Africa Day, I felt I should also extend her curious mind, by daring to question some of these customs:

- As times change, are traditional initiation schools still relevant in this year and age?

- What purpose do initiation schools serve?

- With these changes in climate, should boys still be exposed to these harsh ice-cold and rainy weathers up in the mountains for such a long period of time?

- Whatever they teach them up the mountains, do they practice it in their community?

- Will going to circumcision school ever put bread on one's table?

- What should should happen to those traditional surgeon who mutilate and kill our sons?

- How do we safely initiate our boys without disregarding our Africanism?

- Should traditional circumcision remain a taboo to the uncircumcised masses?

- Free and safe Male Medical Circumcision is readily accessible in state health facilities. Why can't we just use them?

You decide. I'm just an uncircumcised lešoboro aka inkwenkwe, whose foreskin remains on the operating table of the Western surgeons.

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