Saturday, September 20, 2008


Male circumcision as a tradition/or cultural practice.

Circumcision is very ancient - the oldest recorded operation - and traditional circumcision is found worldwide, in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America.


In North, South and West Africa, East Africa- Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt (Muslim and Christian), Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya. Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Northern Uganda, South Africa, Zaire e.t.c e.t.c. all or part of their populations practiced circumcision as a form of their tradition.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians carried out a complete circumcision, with the foreskin totally removed. It is believed that it is Egypt that most of the circumcision practices are traced back to.

The desert Arabs traditionally used a technique of constriction to minimize bleeding which has its counterparts in many modern surgical approaches. The foreskin was pulled forward as far as possible then tied up tightly with a cord. It was left like that for half an hour or so, then cut off in front of the knot. The string was then slipped off and the inner skin pushed back to meet the outer. The penis was bound up tightly to minimize bleeding, along with the operator's own idea of suitable bleeding remedy.

South Africa

In southern Africa the Xhosa, among others also carried/carry out a full circumcision (Umkhwetha) with a technique which is probably representative of many in AFRICAN traditions. The circumciser pulls the young man's foreskin forward, slipping it over his index finger like a glove and holding it in place with his thumb and middle finger. Stretching it tightly he cuts it around, cutting between his finger and the tip of the penis. The outer skin springs back down the shaft, and the remaining inner skin is pushed back down over the shaft to meet it.

Special herbs are applied and a tight leather bandage to control the bleeding. For Xhosa-speaking people who practice ritual circumcision as a cultural institution, alternatives are negligible to non-existent. Initiation is seen as the formal incorporation of males into Xhosa religious and societal life, and before circumcision, a male cannot marry or start a family, inherit possessions, nor officiate in ritual ceremonies.


Most of the Kenyan societies, with the exception of only in the NILOTES. Luo-as a Nilotic group, practiced removing six of their front lower teeth as a rite of passage initiation to adulthood -some Nilotic groups removed four lower front teeth, others pierced their ears-e.t.c..e.t.c... .All as a part of traditional initiation-rites of passage with similar belief fundamentals as of circumcision) and Turkana among other Kenya's main forty -three-groupings practiced circumcision. Among the groups who practiced it, it was/is the ultimate rite of passage initiation from childhood to adulthood. And it was/is also the barometer of testing one’s courage and of readiness to join the adult club.

Among the BANTU groups, the Agikuyu,(who practiced/s both female and male circumcision) it’s known as (irua). Of all the Agikuyu members’ life stages, circumcision was and remains by far the most important, signifying not only a child's passage into adulthood, but a whole wealth of other socially significant meanings and assumptions of responsibility. For both boys and girls, initiation into adulthood - through circumcision or clitoridectomy - marks their admission into full membership of Kikuyu society, and was thus a momentous occasion, both socially and individually. Through circumcision and the period of initiation and instruction that accompanied it, an individual became a full participant in society as a whole, beyond the scope of the village and their families. Their responsibilities, therefore, extended not just to their family, but to the Agikuyu as a group. On the most basic level, which is shared across the board –for example among other Bantu and few Nilotic groups- the social consequence of a boy's circumcision meant that he would now become a warrior, and would spend several years in the service of the entire people to defend and protect, and occasionally attack neighboring groups (tribes-derogatory- please we need to find a better term!). Uncircumcised, the boy - for he would remain a boy even if he lived to ninety years they believed, and he would also be barred from getting married and raising children. For a girl, circumcision meant that she was able to bear children, and marriage was usually swift to follow.

Traditionally, there was a circumcision ceremony for boys organized by age-sets of about five-year periods. Although boys could be circumcised throughout that period, they would become part of the same age-set, and all the men in that circumcision group would take an age-set name. Times in the history of Kikuyu and others society who followed the practice could be gauged by age-set names. Circumcision was traditionally a public affair, which only added to the anxiety - and determination - of the boys to pass the ordeal without showing the slightest trace of fear. The practice of circumcision is still followed, although now it is more likely to be performed in hospitals. Traditionally, boys who underwent circumcision became warriors- this institution is no longer the case. As in so many societies all over the world, sex was seen as a weakness, both spiritual and physical. For this reason, junior warriors were barred from sexual relations, though in compensation they were also given a lot of food to make them strong. Only senior warriors, who were preparing to leave warriorhood, were allowed to marry and raise children.


The Philippines-the Philippines stands out in ASIA as among the only group who took/take circumcision seriously. As almost 95% if not 99% are circumcised. Close to 90% use or used dorsal slit technique since most of them are done-or at least used be done in the rural setting with a minimal fee- the literature evidence points out that, this has/had been part of their culture even before Magellan landed the Philippines in 1521.

A few decades ago, genital incision of Filipino boys (pagtutuli) was purely a traditional custom. An amateur (manunuli) would perform it on local boys. It is a "coming of age" ritual, and traditional for a boy to prove his manhood properly (strong and fearless-as in many traditional beliefs), it was and thus- must be done without anesthetic. In some areas, the boys sit astride a banana log into which a wooden plug has been inserted as an "anvil". The traditional rite is only super incision, a dorsal slit, removing no tissue (but with variations).

More recently pagtutuli is becoming more western oriented-read (modern medicine) and commercialized.

The traditional Filipino circumcision had the strong elements of it-as being a rite of passage from childhood to manhood/adulthood, though once healed, very little about a boy's life actually changes. At present, peer-pressure, parental pressure, medical pressure and the stigma against being supót (intact) make childhood circumcision almost - but not quite - inevitable.

A wide variety of organizations now organize operation tuli - mass circumcision sessions - as a charitable venture. Now most of the Filipino boys aged 7 - 10 years old are being circumcised by the groups during summer time under the banana tree by a circumciser using dorsal slit method that takes only few seconds without anesthesia. They don't mind being seen by others kids to be circumcised. Probably one peculiar thing about the present circumcision is that the boys themselves choose to be circumcised the parents are sometimes caught with great surprise that their son had the procedure done without them knowing. And most people when asked about the significance of being circumcised or left intact will mostly certainly respond on the logic that- it greatly depends on the place where one live and what is considered norm for a particular group of people living together in that particular region.

History- the Filipinos were under Islamic rule when Spain took over. Magellan was killed by a Muslim chieftain. Under Islam any uncut guy that resisted conversion was to be killed. Christians and Jews were accepted as we are "of the book" meaning our religion stems from Abraham (Ibrahim). Pagans were to be converted or killed. When Spain took over they were unable to convince the locals to stop the practice which was illegal in Spain and the new world. Any Spanish citizen found practicing any form of Islamic or Jewish religious practice after baptism was tortured and then burned at the stake. This was same for the Christians that were varied from Catholics to orthodox. Heretics they were called. And back to the Philippines, the practice of circumcision continued and the locals justified it as being a Christian thing (Jesus was of course Jewish). The feast of the circumcision was celebrated I believe in the 1st or 3rd of January. Not all Filipinos practice it, but it is undoubtedly done to the majority of males usually about the time of puberty, but again many are doing it to infants presently. The Chinese or Spanish ancestry doesn’t usually circumcise, but the people of local ancestry or mixed background mostly do circumcise.

Among other groups in ASIA and the wider MIDDLE EAST plus the Islamic areas, the - Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia (largest Muslim nation),Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, (Hindu minority about 10%-donnot circumcise), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE, Yemen (N+S), Tonga and Samoa circumcision is practiced. It is not far fetched to note that most ASIAN/MIDDLE EASTERN countries, almost only those with Islamic religious background have literature showing circumcision being practiced. Other groups like the Koreans and Japanese- one of those with very few/smallest percentages of population that can be classified as circumcised, Indians-non Muslims, Buddhists areas such as Myanmar, Tibetans, and Hindu areas are not known to be pro-circumcision.


In the Americas- circumcision is mostly influenced by religion/region except in a few cases for example the NATIVE INDIANS and amongst NATIVES IN SOUTH AMERICA where circumcision can be traced back into a form of old tradition/customs.


In Australia-the NATIVES-THE ABORIGIN NATIVES have literature pointing to their circumcision as a tradition. But amongst the other societies, the practices is purely either religious or due to other forms of influence.

****PS/NB: This post still needs more information especially circumcision as a form of rite of passage amongst African’s many customs. Suggestions/additional info are welcome.


Circumcision could have been a function of a -check-balance to reduce a young man's potential to father a child with an older man's wife. Sperm competition theory predicts that males will ways evolve to ensure that their sperm, and not another male's, fertilizes a female's eggs. Genital mutilation, in this view, could be just another way of sperm war.

In some forms of mutilation, the handicap to sperm competition is obvious. There is sub incision, for example, where cuts are made to the base of the penis. This causes sperm to be ejaculated from the base rather than the end, and is performed in several Aboriginal Australian societies among others. In some African and Micronesian cultures, young men have one of their testicles manipulated. Male genital mutilation makes it less likely that a male will manage to father a child with another man's wife if that’s the desired outcome in those societies who practiced it.

Home advantage

Circumcision is one of the less painful forms of mutilation, but it is also less effective at reducing sperm competition. Some reports suggests, however, that the lack of a foreskin could make insertion or ejaculation slower, meaning brief, illicit sex is less likely to come to fruition and lead to a pregnancy. Younger men, willingly submit to having their reproductive ability reduced because they benefit socially from the older men, by forming alliances, and by gaining access to weapons and other societal lore.

The older men have also gone through the ritual, and seen their own reproductive effectiveness reduced. But if a man with, say, four wives wants to ensure that any children his wives produce are his, there is pressure to make sure other men can't successfully impregnate them. The husband's own reproductive ability is impaired, but continuous and repeated access to his wives makes up for it, while any genital mutilation is a greater handicap to an interloper trying to sneak brief occasional sex with his wives.

Price of alliance

An older-married man must form alliances, or associates with younger or unmarried men at some point, and it would be better to associate with and invest preferentially in those who are least likely to threaten his paternity, especially in societies where cuckoldry is rife.

Men who demand genital mutilations as part of the price for alliance and investment would be less vulnerable to exploitation of such relationships and loss of paternity to peers. If the sperm competition theory were to be correct, then male genital mutilation should be more common in societies where men tend to have multiple wives, especially those in which the wives live apart from the husband.
The mutilation would also probably be carried out in a public setting, witnessed mostly by other men, and performed by a non-relative. Men who refused would face social sanctions. Most highly polygamous societies practice some form of male genital mutilation and in societies in which wives live in separate households that increases as compared to those of the monogamous societies. It might also be the case that selection works at a group level, so that societies that enforce mutilation are more stable because of less conflict over paternity. Either way there is no scientific evidence to suggest that circumcision prolongs sex or prevents premature ejaculation.

****CIRCUMCISION-therapeutic/non-therapeutic to be CONTINUED**** more info/updates will be added to the circumcision as a part of tradition topic… as I get more info either from you readers or jAnaM.

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