October 10, 2011

Tribal Circumcision and "Flying Foreskins"

Tribal Circumcision
I have previously written about and offered video clips describing how painful rites of passage for young males have prevailed over time and in many cultures. The boy's initiation ceremonies among the Xhosa tribe is another a good example. In this tribe, a boy is not differentiated from a girl until he has been circumcised. For young Xhosa males, as you might imagine, they actually look forward to this change in their status and they are willing to face any trial required, no matter how difficult, in order to definitively cross the line into manhood.

For the Xhosa males, their circumcision is only the first step of the ordeal to achieve manhood. After the actual operation, they begin a 10-day period of healing and additional trials. This includes many deprivations including being fed a coarse and half-cooked porridge meant to symbolize their "half-cooked" status as not-yet-men.
. . . being fed a coarse and half-cooked porridge is meant
to symbolize their "half-cooked" status as not-yet-men.
After the healing period, there is a community feast, but these new men must continue to remain separated from their friends, family, and community for another two or three months (although today that time frame is often shortened because of the demands of modern life). Eventually they return to the village as men, with full rights, privileges, and adult male responsibilities. I found it interesting that, as part of their return, the initiation lodge where the circumcisions took place is burned and their boyish past symbolically goes up in smoke.

Tribal Ritual in southern Zimbabwe
A recent New York Times article describes the critical importance of male circumcision in the prevention of H.I.V. in men. Since 2007, the practice has been recommended by international health authorities who say it reduces the risk of infection by sixty percent. The Times describes the campaign in South Africa where 600,000 men have had the procedure. While that sounds like a lot of men, it represents only 3 percent of the male population and a small step in the direction of H.I.V. prevention. The goal described in the Times article is to circumcise 20 million men in 14 African countries by 2015.

Dr. Robert Bailey, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois, claims the most progress is being made in Kenya, where some 330,000 men have had the procedure. "We're hacking away at it every month," Dr. Baily is quoted as saying. "Those foreskins are flying."
In spite of the pain and discomfort of ritual circumcision, it appears it is indeed very important for millions of men. In addition to being a component of the ancient and sacred work of making men out of boys, "flying foreskins" are saving lives.

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1 comment:

  1. I sure have a hard time with the pain = manhood thing. I wonder how many boys/young men get hardened into angry, shut-down adult men because of the pain they had to endure to become a "man". Makes me think about the fraternity hazing, with the older guys hurting the younger guys because they had been hurt when they were the younger guys.


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