A boy is a man and not a girl: The power of circumcision.
Last week, July 16th 2011, Sharon and I had this enriching discussion. Sharon is a friend I recently met in June 2011, during one of my ‘residence’ tour in Kenya. Often, when we meet, we always have new stories to share.
It was almost evening, the usual time Sharon and I would always sit for our storytelling. Our conversation is never defined. We talk on all sorts of issues. This particular day, we finally rested on the issue of masculinity and feminism. I was amazed at her story on male circumcision in Uganda. It immediately reminded me on my recent post ‘good woman, bad woman’
Male circumcision in this sense clearly portrays an aspect of class, hierarchy for patriarchs. And what makes me feel so disappointed despite the classical tension of power/class is the fact that women still remain the victims and the objects.
After our conversation on male circumcision, I felt it may be great if this story is shared with online friends. So, I requested for her permission. Then, she offered to write it up.
Below is the story on male circumcision and its traditional importance in Bagisu tribe, Uganda. It is a very interesting piece to read. As I said before, this piece projects the other side of patriarchal power. This is a good essay to incite debates around who is a man and a woman? And also, why should masculinity references to girl/womanhood be seen a as weak and not strength?
Today many young people in my community see culture as something that is not important, or as an obstacle to modern lifestyle. In my country, Uganda, we have a tribe known as the Bagisu. In this tribe, it is in their culture that all men must be circumcised traditionally and not clinically.
During the circumcision period, the boys move around the town singing and dancing accompanied by large crowds, mostly women. It is a waist-dance known as “kadodi” often danced by women.
The boys move, sometimes to very far distances visiting their relatives informing them about their incoming manhood. In most cases they receive gifts (like cows, goats etc.) from these relatives. This process can last for several days.
On the day of circumcision the mother of the boy to be circumcised ties herself on the central pole in the house praying that her son does not cry during the circumcision period. This is because if her son cries during the circumcision period, he is considered a girl. This has continuously spoilt the future of many Bagisu boys. Since, the majority who could not withstand the extreme pain and as a result they cried are now socially seen as a girl.
In the early ages, those who cried would dress like girls and couldn’t as well get married. This is because very few parents (fathers especially) would not allow their daughters married a weakling of a man. The assumption was that a man who cries during circumcision was a girl and girls are not strong/powerful enough to offer protection. Therefore, a daughter couldn’t get married to a man who is unable to protect her.
Besides, a man who gets circumcised in the hospital is treated far worse than the man who is traditionally circumcised but cries. Though both men still fall under the same categories for non-men and would definitely find it difficult to marry a girl from that that tribe.
For instance: there was a Mugisu boy who went to the USA so as to escape circumcision, he stayed in the USA for about six years. Meanwhile back home his mother was getting insults from every corner about how her son was not man enough to face the knife. It was so upsetting for the mother so much that she tried all possible means to bring her son home.
Having failed in several attempts to bring this boy home, the mother connived with the elders to fake her own death. When the boy heard that his mother was dead, he came back home for the burial only to meet his kinsmen at the airport with knives ready to circumcise him. Unfortunate for me, this time around he couldn’t escape but to succumbed. In his case, he was circumcised at the airport. This particular story was told by my college history teacher Mrs Ndagire Judith in 2007. She said it was something that happened several years back.
In this community, a man who has not been circumcised therefore is considered a boy despite his age and is not allowed to marry from his tribe until he is circumcised. And the locals find pride in these practices. They believe so much in it.
For example, a boy of sixteen years who is circumcised traditionally is locally recognised as a man than perhaps a sixty-year old man who is not circumcised (or a sixty-year old who went through the classical modern age circumcision).
Besides, the uncircumcised men are not only socially relegated but are extremely devalued as they can’t never be allowed to drink local beer with circumcised men or even attend meetings that concern the wellbeing of the community. According to the norms, they are minors, man-girls and bear, hot drinks are not made for minors.