UNDERSTANDING CIRCUMCISION

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Welcome again, I would like to invite you all to explore with me the primitive understanding of Circumcision by African communities who Traditionally practice. In this Reflection, circumcision is just a mere operation and not a brand to superiority to other Cultures who do not practice and taken for inferior Culture. Circumcision can be defined as the surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis. Reasons to this practice can be based on Religious belief, Traditional practice of certain Ethnic groups, Adopted and lastly Health requirement

We will go through these in short summary as we explore into this.

Religious: Gen. 17: 9-23, we read of God’s covenant with Abram and conditions that brought about circumcision of male including Abram and the servants and descendants, making circumcision a physical sign of the covenant between GOD and Abram, giving him the name Abraham. The practice became a Tradition among the Jews in that, every Male Child is circumcised on the 8th day of birth as a sign and commitment to God’s covenant with Abraham to date.

Hitherto, the Muslims being the descendants of Ishmael the son of Abraham and Haggar, practice the same from their Ancestral Father, hence the Tradition of circumcision became a Religious requirement to date among the Islamic believers that Accommodates the Cushitic group of Africa who were the Islamic converts.

In Europe, circumcision is regarded as a Religious requirement and not a Rite of passage as it is in the African Tradition because children are circumcised in the same week of birth which adds no value to the Human Dignity to an individual as a person as it is in the African context which is done in adulthood.

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Boys from Kenya’s Bukusu tribe participate in a ceremony to mark the circumcision ritual. Tribal elders do the surgery with homemade knives and without anesthesia.

In African Tradition, The Genesis of Circumcision is not known since there are no written records to justify the Traditional belief of Circumcision especially for the Bantu speakers and the Highland Nilotes who in actual sense have adopted the practice of Male as a Rite of passage i.e A Transition from childhood to Adulthood by assuming the responsibilities of an Adult. The practice is done when the initiated attains the maturity Age, that results to the Formation of Age groups in the African communities.

The Communities practicing Circumcision consider a Man who has not undergone the practice even at Advance Age as a “boy” with no Responsibilities and will never marry in the Traditional African community set up. The reason to this perception is that, he never endured the pain from the knife and therefore considered as a coward unlike he who persevered the pain with courage who are considered to be strong-hearted who can overcome fear in any situation. This perception remains as the bottom line understanding of all the people practicing it.

Assumingly, this practice may not have been their reason initially for circumcision in Africa, most probably the First Ancestors had adopted this practice from neighbors during the Historical Bantu migrations in African, or based on Health benefits to avoid related diseases although we have no evidence to support the argument just as with the Female genital mutilation which has been an old practice in some African communities and had been proven meaningless and life-threating.

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tools for female genital mutilation

The Questions are;

✓ What do Communities who consider circumcision as a Rite of passage think of the present situation where circumcision is now done in Hospitals or clinics?

✓ Does circumcision in this case have the same meaning as with the Traditional circumcision practice?

Owing to the fact that, circumcision at this point is no longer facing knife with courage, does it have any value to the Traditional understanding?These questions remain to be answered by the Communities concerned as the Traditional meaning of Circumcision is no longer a pride to be Treasured but rather a Health requirement in the present times.

The NILOTES: Although there are many sub-groups of Nilotes like; Highland, Plain and River – Lake Nilotes. Apart from the Highland Nilotes, the rest do not practice circumcision but have their own ways considered as the Rite of passage. In this case, allow me to single out the plain Nilotes of the Karamoja cluster or speakers which includes, The Turkana, Teso, Matheniko, Pian, Dodoth, Toposa, Dongiro also referred as Nyangatom and the Jie.

The above Communities Traditionally do not practice circumcision as a Rite of passage. However, they practice “Asapan” as Rite of passage where a young man is given responsibilities and Command respect in the community at maturity. Consequently, before Asapan ceremony, there are other minor practices done in these Communities in preparation for the last and final stage of Asapan. The minor practices are done before Teenage between 8 – 9 years, these includes;

✓ Akibel Amir: This is bisecting the Penis gland and meant to open up the truck of the penis.

✓ Akirub Amir: This is done by stitching a piece of hair from the cow’s tail around the small muscle that connects the penis gland at the lower part and the organ. This is meant to stretch the penis straight during the Erection.

The above minor stages are done by boys themselves at the Herding Fields, a practice that must be done, though painful and takes long to heal. The removal of the Lower teeth is done at the same Age, generally for both Boys and Girls. This practice is no longer done in these Communities but still effective among the active nomadic pastoralists and the practice is not regarded as the Rite of passage.

THE RITE OF PASSAGE [Asapan]

During Asapan ceremony, there are a number of things done in preparation for the event. First and foremost,

✓ The Initiatee has to find the willing sponsor [ Father] who should be a Traditions mentor with regards to the Taboos to be observed during and after the ceremony.

✓ The sponsor should be a respectable elderly man in the community who Command respect and Honor.

✓ The Initiatee has to find other young men willing to be initiated together at the same time during the ceremony. Usually, a minimum of five and above for the sake of Group reference [ Kisapani ka ati…]

✓ The Initiatee have to prepare Items required during the ceremony such as; The spear, Shukas(maasai kikoi), Ostritch Feathers, the Traditional seat(ekicolong), Neck and Loin Beads and ornaments which will be removed and taken by the sponsor during the ceremony.

✓ The Animal to be killed during the ceremony.

✓ The place and Day of the ceremony dictated by the sponsors of the initiatees. However, the place should be in isolation far from Homesteads, good shades that can accommodate larger numbers of participants and not security risk.

✓ The children and Women are not allowed to attend this function apart from the Old Women who are the Eldest wife of the Father sponsor.

The first part of the ceremony takes the whole day from morning to late evening as there are procedures to be followed to the end of the ceremony. In the evening after the day’s function, the Initiatees are taken by the sponsors to their respective Homesteads for the next morning rituals to be performed.

In the morning, the Mother sponsor takes the lead of the rituals as the Initiatee repeats the words after the Mother sponsor, at the end of this morning ritual will be marked by giving Livestock gifts to the Initiatee by both the Sponsors as a sign of appreciation to the Initiatee.

The Initiatee will be given the task of herding the sponsor Father’s flock for a given period of time and not more than a month before returning to their own Homestead where the final ceremony will be performed to allow the Initiatee mix freely with other men and family members after the period of Exclusion where they were sleeping alone far from other people outside the homestead and served by young children while observing the stipulated rules and Taboos.

The final day of the ceremony will be marked by the killing of the Ram to the elderly Men in the ceremony referred as “Ekicholong” meaning the seat. The Rumen content [ Ngikujit] will be smeared on the Initiatee by the Elders while chanting to the Fore-Fathers and the Ancestoral spirits to Bless the young man, guide and strengthen him in his New responsibilities and Task in the Traditional prayers known as AGAT.

Then the Initiatee will be given or vested with the following items;

✓ Ekicholong [Traditional seat] which symbolizes the Authority in the Homestead.

✓ Aburo – The walking stick for Herding the Livestock.

✓ Akwara [Spear] The power to protect the life of the people and property of the community.

✓ Eworu [Shuka/sheet] symbol of new person with new responsibilities.

✓ Ngajuom [Hide saddles] symbol of the journey to the New Life.

✓ Akitujuk [Men Hairdress] symbol of Authority to Head the Family.

The instructions given to the New Initiatee by the sponsor includes the Basic and Very important DO’S and DON’Ts like;

✓ Never sit on the ground for the rest of your life [Akijor]

✓ Never step on Human faeces at any other time.

✓ Never sip a soup that has been tasted by a person who has not undergone Asapan.

✓ Never use your personal shuka or sheet that has any fire burn.

✓ Never put on a single shoe during your Life Time unless during the death of a wife.

✓ Failing down is considered a Bad Omen which requires cleansing ceremony.

✓ If your Traditional seat breaks while you are sitting on it, is considered a Bad Omen that needs cleansing.

These Instructions are life commitment and remain to be observed until death departs. None observance leads to misfortunes that will require cleansing.

The person who has never undergone Asapan in the Turkana Community is regarded equivalent to a woman among men with no status quo.

In a Nutshell, the Rites of Passage among the African communities are all meaningful to the Communities in Question, none is lesser or superior to the other, for every tribe has its own way of doing things regardless of How they perform their Rites but Culture and Traditions are their Dignity, Recognition and Identity that gives a sense of belonging to the society.

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  1. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I receive four emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service? Kudos!

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