Circumcision in Africa
Circumcision is prevalent among 92%
of men in North Africa and around 62% in Sub-Saharan Africa. In western and northern parts of Africa it is mainly performed for religious reasons, whereas in southern parts of Africa it rarely performed in neonates, instead being a rite of passage into manhood
Ulwaluko among the Xhosa People
Ancient Initiation Rite among the Xhosa, Ulwaluko (Circumcision
A boy of the Xhosa people of South Africa must be circumcised before being considered a man. He is shaved and taken into the mountains where he will live in seclusion in a hut built for him by his family. While in isolation, a surgeon comes and circumcises the boy. He is not allowed to return to the tribe until he is healed.
The initiates, who are known collectively as abakwetha or individually as umkwetha, surrender their names. Their clothes are shredded in the days leading up to their exclusion, and they carry a short stick with a white cloth tied to one end. Women cut dry grass for thatching while men chop down flexible saplings. Dressed in traditional clothing the adults construct a domed dwelling called iboma that will serve as home for the abakwetha.
are stripped naked and ushered inside the family kraal (traditionally a collection of huts within an enclosure). They sit on the bare ground where they are draped in grey blankets while a cow and goat are slaughtered. There is a great deal of alcohol consumed by those in attendance, especially the old men who sit looking on from a semi-circle of chairs. Axes and knives flash in the winter sun as the animals are butchered, cooked in big pots, then rapidly consumed by all.
All the while, in the swirl of dust, blood and noise, the abakwetha sit quietly with heads bowed in submission while attending men explain what is to come, and what is expected of them. Their heads and pubic hair are shaved. They are offered choice cuts of goat and cow, and encouraged.
All those present contribute in one way or another. The greatest contribution comes from the parents of the initiate. It costs somewhere in the region of ZAR10,000 (US$900) to put a boy through the initiation. There are cows and at least two goats to slaughter, traditional blankets, a month’s worth of food, traditional surgeon fees, overseer fees and food and drinks for parties. And the brand new smart clothes worn at the end of the month can cost in excess of ZAR2,000 alone.
are learning all the time. They watch all the ceremonies and learn the ‘language’ of the abakwetha
, taking in with some trepidation what their own rite of passage will require when it is upon them. The verbal transfer of knowledge seems secondary to the symbolism. The seclusion, suffering and pain represent the trials of life; it is the process that matters, not what is said. It is a test of personal character and fortitude.
Imbalu in Uganda
Imbalu is a public circumcision ceremony practiced by the Bamasaba people of Uganda. It takes place at the Mutoto cultural site (also called Mutoto cultural ground) near Mbale in eastern Uganda. It is mostly active in the 8th month of every even year. The ground is believed to be the place where the first Mugishu (Mumasaba) was circumcised.
Lebollo la banna among the Sotho People
is a cultural and traditional practice that transitions boys in the Basotho
society to manhood. It is a rite of passage
(transl. "boys") pass puberty and enter adulthood to become monna
(transl. "men") by circumcision. This practice is commonly found among Basotho men in the Free State Province of South Africa as well as in Lesotho.
A Sotho man wearing a blanket showing proof that he has reached the manhood stage
Kenya & Tanzania
Amongst the Gikuyu (Kikuyu) people of Kenya and the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania, male circumcision has historically been the graduation element of an educational program which taught tribal beliefs, practices, culture, religion and history to youth who were on the verge of becoming full-fledged members of society. The circumcision ceremony was very public, and required a display of courage under the knife in order to maintain the honor and prestige of the young man and his family. The only form of anesthesia was a bath in the cold morning waters of a river, which tended to numb the senses to a minor degree. The youths being circumcised were required to maintain a stoic expression and not to flinch from the pain
In the South of Malawi, the Yao and Lomwe tribes practice tribal circumcision. There are fears that there is a heightened risk of spreading human immunodeficiency virus as the surgeons use the same blade and encourage boys to have sex with women after the ceremony .
Papua New Guinea
Among the Kabana of the West New Britain district of Papua New Guinea, a boy is "superincised" while lying on top of his father's or mother's younger sister. The woman gets on her hands and knees and the boy lies on her back. The man chosen to cut the child inserts a small piece of bamboo under the foreskin, says a spell on the razor, spits a fine spray of ginger juice on the boy's penis to anesthetize it, and with a smooth stroke cuts the top of the foreskin. After the incision the boy's penis is wrapped in a leaf, and a burning ember is placed on the ground between his feet to heat the wound and facilitate the drying process.
Circumcision and allied genital operations have been interpreted in various ways: as a mark of subjection, a test of endurance, a hygienic precaution, a sanctification of procreation, a badge of incorporation into the tribal community, a symbolic castration by a dominating father figure, and an expression of male envy of women's menstruation. On Wogeo Island off the north coast of Papua New Guinea people actually refer to penile incision as men's menstruation.
Asia / Polynesia
Tulì in the Philippines
Tulì is a Filipino rite of male circumcision. It has a long historical tradition and is considered an obligatory rite of passage for males; those who have not undergone the ritual are ridiculed and labeled supót by their peers.
Circumcision is not considered a religious rite in the Philippines, as some four-fifths of Filipinos profess Roman Catholicism, which does not require it. Rather, circumcision is a social norm rooted in tradition that is followed by society at large. Most boys usually undergo the procedure not shortly after birth but prior to reaching puberty or before high school (around ages 10–14).
Subincision of the penis is a traditional ritual mutilation unique to the Aborigines, the indigenous people of Australia. The mutilation is a urethrotomy in which the undersurface of the penis is incised and the urethra slit open lengthwise. Subincision is one element in the initiation of Aboriginal youths. In later ceremonies, repeated throughout adult life, the subincised penis is used as a site for ritual bloodletting. There also exists a ritual of penis holding which occurs when a subincised man enters a strange camp. The origin of subincision and the reason for its localization to the Australian continent has not been satisfactorily explained. The mutilation is still performed among tribal Aborigines, and identifies a man as holding a position of status within the tribe.
The Polynesian island where the custom is best documented, and perhaps most important, is Tikopia. Tikopia is a tiny island in Western Polynesia, so far west that it is governed by Solomon Islands, which are in Melanesia. Anthropologist Raymond Firth has fully documented how boys on the brink of puberty are incised in groups by their mothers' brothers, and then feasted and toured around the island as men. It is important that it not be done too late (too near puberty) or a boy will be shamed; boys who have cut penises will not let uncut boys play with them. A visiting teacher was uncut, and if his children misbehaved, they were cursed with "Go and incise your father!" Firth says it is not a puberty rite, but a maturity rite. But the fact that it is done on the penis suggests that a connection with puberty can not be far away: it would make puberty seem to come under human control.
It is said of a boy who has been incised, "His oven has been kindled," (referring to the cooking of food for the feasting that follows) and he is then allowed to take a man's rôle at ceremonies. The ceremony and the exchange of gifts that surround it are very important in cementing Tikopian society together. As Firth says, "The actual operation occupies only about two minutes; the handling of food and valuables attendant upon it may take five days or more, and the preparation of them many months of work."
Tikopians are not circumcised, but superincised. That is, a single cut is made from front to back on the top of the foreskin. Because it is done before the penis grows, the skin pulls back, giving an appearance similar to true circumcision.
Unlike the custom of some other cultures, the Tikopian boy is treated sympathetically through his ordeal and given every encouragement to endure it stoically. He is cradled in the arms of one of his uncles, while another does the cutting and the whole family crowds around. Special songs (laments) are sung, sympathising with the boy's pain, and the uncle who does it is under enormous social pressure to do it properly. He usually trembles from the tension, and if he doesn't seem to know what he is doing, he will quickly be replaced. A flat stick is pushed under the foreskin to protect the glans. Before the arrival of the European the cut was made with a sharp stone, later a razor-blade. A friend of mine with access to medical supplies was called on to supply scalpels for the ceremonies.
On Ra'ivavae in the Austral Islands (700 kilometers from Tahiti), the boys superincise themselves (ouch!) alone. The custom is similar in the Philippines, and one shudders to think of the possibilities of misunderstanding and accident, but presumably they know what the result should look like. On the tiny island of Niue, it is done about the age of eight and, as on Tikopia, it is a big occasion. In Fiji, it is a custom of puberty.
Mohammed listed circumcision as one of the features of the fitrah=Nature and being tested with this and carrying out this command with patience will multiply the reward.
"It is more befitting that Mohammed should not miss out on this virtue and that God should honor him in the same way as He honored Abraham, because he is more virtuous than any other Prophet."
Ibn al-Qayyim said in Zaad al-Ma’aad on Mohammed's Circumcision
This issue arose between two righteous men. One of them wrote a book saying that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was born circumcised and compiled in it ahadith which are not sound at all. His name was Kamal al-Deen ibn Talha. He was criticized by Kamal al-Deen ibn al-‘Adeem who explained that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was circumcised according to the custom of the Arabs. As this was the custom of all the Arabs, there is no need for a report (to prove that he was circumcised).
It was said that Caesar the king of Rome whom Imru’ul-Qays (famous Pagan Arab poet lived before Islam) came to visit was born like that (i.e., uncircumcised) and Imru’ul-Qays entered upon him in the baths and saw him like that, and composed a line of verse mocking him for being uncircumcised. He scorned him because he was not circumcised, and he regarded his being born like that as a defect. This line of verse was one of the reasons that motivated Caesar to poison Imru’ul-Qays and he died.