2008-09-05 / Travel

Circumcision as a cultural value

By Zadok Ekimwere zomwere@hotmail.com

The saying that one man's meat is another man's poison is an apt expression of the dictates of traditional demands in some African societies. Depending on which side of the divide you are standing on, some cultural norms are problematic to the civilized functioning of modern life styles.

Cultural observance raises a number of questions: should there be a universal culture; which culture is good and superior, which is bad and inferior? Should we be concerned about others' cultures at all?

In Africa some cultural practices are still revered and regarded sacrosanct. Take circumcision, also known as genital mutilation by its opponents.

To the Bagisu and Sabiny in eastern Uganda, circumcision is at the core of their culture. Without it, life would be null and void.

As ethnic groups, they would simply disappear. For them circumcision is not just for cultural identity, it symbolizes some divine powers for continuity and existence. It unites, inspires, and guides their destiny. It is a form of religion to be adored and cherished.

It is the nature and form of circumcision which is a problem. The Bagisu circumcise their boys after every two years, allowing them time for growth. It is a big event.

The candidates must be well prepared. This involves visiting all the relatives who can be accessed to announce candidature. To do this the candidates are decorated in special gear and smeared with many traditional herbs to make them stable and courageous to face the knife.

On the d- day, all relatives, well- wishers, and friends assemble in the candidate's home to witness him face the ordeal. It is performed on the compound in the open, in broad daylight. When the candidate is ushered onto the surgical ground, he is guarded very closely so that he does not flee from the ritual. The performance indicator the parents and relatives will expect is that the candidate does not even flinch or wink as the knife incises his skin live without any anesthesia applied.

The pain is, of course, excruciating but for the sake of cultural identity and pride, the candidate has to be very firm as if nothing is happening. When it is done, it is all jubilation, celebration, and fame to the family. The ordeal also initiates the boy into manhood.

The Sabiny do it to the boys and to the girls as well. It has raised a lot of concern because its after- effects on women are very severe. That is why there is a worldwide movement against genital mutilation to help these women.

The one thing these communities are adept at is monitoring births and growth of their children.

Their intelligence network is perfect on this. They follow a kid from birth up to the circumcision day. Those who do it in a modern way in hospitals are branded cowards and a disgrace to the family and clan. And because of the fear of the pain of the knife during a live operation, some candidates disappear from their communities and relocate elsewhere, and even change their names.

That is what Joseph (not real name) did. For many years, he kept dodging circumcision trackers. But one day he ran out of luck. He was having a drink with friends in a hotel lounge in the city when trackers pounced on him. Usually they are very tenacious. Once they land on a dodger, they ensure he does not escape.

Joseph was carried to the suburbs for the ritual. A week after the incident, he told his friends he had also become a total man though still smarting from the healing of the big wound. Done at advanced age, it is very painful and takes long to heal.

Though they are being advised to go to hospital because of AIDS, they are adamant because it would dilute their cultural values.

Return to top