Circumcision: The Xhosa way

Danisa Masuku
IT was a busy Thursday afternoon when I was putting final touches to my last story of the week in the newsroom.
I received a phone call inviting me to a male circumcision ceremony in Mbembesi, about 40km from Bulawayo in Matabeleland South.

Like someone who has read a lot of debates pertaining to circumcision I quickly accepted the invitation.

Mziwandile, one of the respected sons of the Mpengesi clan, took me with him to be a part of their ritual.

Upon arrival on Friday the boys and some adults were busy singing in preparation for the ceremony that was to be conducted at 5am on Saturday.

I observed that some of the boys had their umense (knife) in Xhosa which the doctor or ingcibi, a man who is chosen among the family to cut off the foreskins of the a�?about to be mena�?, uses.

Before the doctor conducts the ceremony he pours cold water on the boys. After that the doctor uses his sterilised knife to circumcise them.

However, some boys bring their own knives which are used for circumcision.

As per tradition the clan head said the foreskin is given to the father of the boy who then hands it to the boy who in turn keeps it under his pillow in a hut called ibhuma.

A man known as ikhankatha monitors the boys while they are healing in a hut. As such he has to make sure that the boys do not drink water for seven days because it would be painful to urinate.

As part of his role ikhankatha teaches the boys how to behave and also informs them on what the society expects from him.

It is part of their culture that during the healing process male relatives visit the boys and consult with ikhankatha on the progress of the healing.

Mpengesi put the record straight on where the foreskin is put.

a�?The circumcised boy has to spend time in the ibhuma up to the time he is fully healed. After the healing process he gives the foreskin to his father who then burns it after which he burns the ibhuma,a�? he said.

After 21 to 30 days when the wound is healed, the boys, now graduated, men leave to ekuhlanti or kraal where a welcome ceremony is conducted.

After the ceremony the man goes to his hut where women are now allowed to greet him. At this stage he is respected unlike before circumcision when he was inkwenkwe.

Mpengesi said after that the graduates are supposed to wear new clothes. Their wearing of trousers show that they qualify to be fathers.

Mpengesi said it was traditional practice for every boy to go through the process.

a�?When the boy has gathered enough money to buy necessities for the ceremony he then informs the parents. After consultation a ceremony is held,a�? said Mpengesi.

The ceremony is usually held in winter but the clan head said they now hold it thrice a year a�� June, August and December.