Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Circumcision & Coming of Age Ritual

"Going to the Bush is a Xhosa ritual where boys in South Africa are initiated into manhood.    During the winter break from school a group of initiates go into the bush accompanied by an older man.  Once there they must build a hut and kill a lamb.  There they are circumcised and must eat or burry their foreskin.  Wounds are covered by bandages made from the leaves of some wild plants.   After being circumcised each must go to the river and cover himself with a white clay.  The young men spend the balance of their time either naked or wearing very little.  

They live on maize during their stay.  A tribal elder teaches them Xhosa etiquette and the proper way of paying respect to the spirits of their ancestors.  During this period each young man learns Xhosa chants and songs.  At the end of the isolation they return to the river to wash off the clay.  However some continue to wear it on the face for weeks as they consider it a badge of honer.  They want everyone to know they have "been to bush" and that now they are men.  Many buy their sons new clothes discarding the old.  

Before they return home they are anointed with the fat of animals from the top of the head,  down their body and across their shoulders.  They are wrapped in a new blanket and in line with heads covered, they are marched back to their homes.  However, no longer will they live with their family.  Now that they are men they move into a lean too or shack behind their family home.  

Initiates are then honoured with a huge party and another animal is slaughtered.  Friends and relatives come to congratulate them.  Everyone eats, sings, and dances until they drop.  A celebration can go on for many days.  It's a huge expense for each family.  

"Going to the bush" is discouraged among our LDS youth.  Some simply refuse to go.  Others go because of peer pressure or because an uncle or a tribal elder demand it of them.  Those who undergo the initiation ritual, it is not without risk, refuse alcohol during their stay in the bush.   One of our Grahamstown sisters bore her testimony on the anniversary of her brother's death.   He died during an initiation ceremony.  See the article below:


The Times, “Doctor tells of initiation horrors,”  Monday, July 29, 2013

 This is a grim time of year for Eastern Cape’s Holy Cross Hospital, at which mattresses are laid on floors to cope with the stream of young men severely injured in circumcision rituals.  The tradition, which goes back centuries, in meant to usher youths into manhood, inculcating them with the ability to take on the responsibilities of an adult who is a valued member of his community.  

But at least 60 boys have died since the start of the initiation season in May, 30 of them in Eastern Cape in the past six weeks.  About 300 have been admitted to hospitals.

Dingeman Rijken, a doctor at the Holy Cross Hospital, has treated so many cases that he is campaigning for more proficiency at the ceremonies and has circulated a training manual that calls for adequate medical precautions.  The manual contains graphic images of circumcision and illustrates the best way of performing the procedure. . .

“It is becoming a psychological issue,” said Rijen, who has treat 140 initiates in the past year.  “I have had to tell eight boys this season that they’ve lost their glands or another part of their penis. . . We can’t run away from it’ we need to deal with it.” 

 Rijen said the worst of the injuries were cased by botched circumcisions by inexperienced traditional “nurses”, who used one spear blade on many initiates without disinfection then covered wounds with tightly wrapped bandaging that cut off the blood supply.  

"After about 10 hours, the genitals could become gangrenous and, in some cases, permanently damaged."  But many initiates did no seek hospital treatment for another five to 10 days, Rijen said.  By this time very little could be done.  Doctors could not perform surgery because initiates suffered from sleep deprivation and dehydration and were not in a condition to give consent.

 In minor cases, Rijken cleans and bandages the affected area and gives antibiotics.  But sometime partial amputation of the penis is necessary.  In some instances, boy have done nothing and the entire penis fell off.

 Legislation stipulates that initiates should be at least 18, but parents can give their consent to younger boys being circumcised.  Rijken, who has monitored more than 60 ceremonies, said most initiates were aged between 14-17, but he had treated boys as young as 12.

Initiates rarely complained about pain because they feared being beaten by nurses and ridiculed by peers for not properly observing a tradition that encourages them to develop a tough demeanor, Rijken said.  

One patient had part of his injured penis “yanked off” as punishment for complaining.  He believes it will take the combined effort of traditional leader, provincial health department and the government to end the killings and save the cultural practice.  But he said it was time communities were education about the dangers of ritual circumcision.  

“If you see so many boys are dying, then it’s time to talk about it.  We want people to do away with the secrecy. “


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