November 26, 2010

Circumcision and Manhood

Thanks to Don Skelton for directing my attention to an article in the Dispatch-Online, the blog of The Daily Dispatch paper out of East London, South Africa. I tells the story of the First white ‘initiate’ to become a Xhosa man. In the article, Mark Poulton, describes how he had always felt a powerful connection to the Xhosa people. He said that "I was detached from white people and I couldn’t relate to them. My friends were all Xhosas and, as I grew up, I started dating their women."

After years of being taunted for being an inkwenkwe – a Xhosa term for an uncircumcised boy – at the age of 30, Mark went through the Xhosa rite of circumcision. In the photo, a group of men are taking Mark, covered in a blanket, to the traditional surgeon (ingcibi) for the circumcision. The article reports, "A group of men watched with interest, awaiting the cry "ndiyindoda!" (I am a man) – marking the start of his journey to manhood."

In so many cultures, men are missing a clear line in the sand marking their successful transition from boyhood to manhood. One of my favorite questions to men from my research is, "What was THE moment in your life when you knew, for sure, you had become a "man?" So many men responded with confusion and ambiguity: I still don't know today if I'm a man; I'm not sure I am; and, No one ever said I was a man. For that reason, I can understand Mark Poulton's hunger for a community blessing honoring him as a "man."

I am not pretending to know anything more about the Xhosa people or their customs than I've read in this article. I also know that circumcision, as part of the rites marking a boy's crossing to manhood, are widely practiced in many cultures. While I'm not taking up the topic of painful rite of passage practices here, we all know it takes more than a grueling physical ordeal to become a man. That is why there is some serious concern in South Africa, and elsewhere, about how the practice of circumcision is currently being performed by non-trained practitioners.

In an article from the South African Medical Journal in August 2003, it was stated, "In fact, the barbarism perpetrated on today’s hapless youth has little in common with what the ancient rite was all about. The ritual was about preparing youngsters for the challenges of manhood in the rural and pastoral world in which they lived. Furthermore, it was performed by experienced operators and overseen by traditional sages who served as teachers and sources of wisdom to the youths. The traditional practice was much like modern military training: hard, but intended to nurture. Importantly, the community, through its traditional leaders and healers – not individual entrepreneurs – set up and supervised the circumcision schools." The article goes on to say, ". . . of late, the practice has degenerated into a money-making operation," and ". . . many of the so-called “circumcision schools” of today are fake, and deadly. They have very little to do with the traditional ethos and practice of this ancient ritual, and something must be done to stop the carnage."

It is a sad tale, too often reported, how boys or men, hungry to step into a full expression of manhood, are taking damage because they are without solid and community-based resources to help them transition into manhood in a positive and affirming way. For that reason, today I want to honor those men who are stepping up as man-makers, both as individuals and in man-making organizations around the planet. I have profiled many of them in this blog and they are deserving of recognition and praise. Those men using indigenous experience and history as a guide, and those groups of men who are developing their own locally relevant practices for safely moving boys through this important crossing, thank you for your courage, caring and action. We just need a lot more of you.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:15 PM

    I'm not going through that again!


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