Male circumcision in Oshiwambo - Part 4


The early rituals for boys were performed for a group of boys at ago.

The ceremony would start with the recognition within the family that the boy was ready to marry. His parents would urge him to take his future bride through a certain initiation process.

The girl would be given a special herbal powder, which she was required to add to her meals. After this, the boy would marry the girl and only then, would he be initiated into adulthood. The parents would then offer a circumcised man presents to o head the ritual.

The neophytes would undergo a lot of cuts on their bodies, circumcision(efukiko) being one of them.


According to Jairus Uugwanga (Mbenzi), the young man would arrive early in the morning to meet the person who would conduct the efukiko. As soon as the sun rose, this person would make a small slit in the young man’s forehead. As it drew blood, the ‘initiation conductor’ would rub herbal powder into the wound. Now the boy’s paternal uncle, referred to as “the carrier”, would present gifts – he has to be the one who would carry the boy on his back when he was still little.


After the herbs had been pounded to flour in the mortar, they would be referred to as ongundo, a powder to strew. At dusk, the boys would be initiated and then taken to an iimenka(holy place), such as certain fields, trees, valleys or periodic lakes.

In such places, the person heading the ceremony would take off the clothes of the initiates and then make a small wound (shata) on their foreheads, their tongues, wrists and anuses and the foreskin of their penises.

The magic herb powder would then be rubbed onto the penis wound and on all the other wounds. This powder was believed to provide strength in the man’s life henceforth. Because of the powder, he would apparently succeed in all his endeavours.

As such, a boy who had been ‘shata-ed’ could not be held guilty for anything.

The ‘initiation conductor’ would then take the neophyte through the trunk of a tree to pass through the tree like a bullet. Afterwards, if he would go into a house and scold a fire till it goes out.

If someone walked behind him carrying a pot of water without greeting him, the water pot would break. If a ‘shata-ed’ person spoke foul to you, you would be in big trouble.

A circumcised boy was considered a grown up and was feared. After all this, the boy would be taken to the big rivers in foreign countries and then thrown into the waters. A hippo would swallow him whole and after some time, the hippo would defecate him on the shores of the river.

As soon as the boy returned home, all his clothes would be taken away from him after which he would be dressed in new straps and a new apron. Meanwhile, a bull would be slaughtered to celebrate his new status. It was believed that his old self had remained in the hippo’s stomach.

Circumcised men were highly esteemed because circumcision gave them protection. The young men had now gained access to the spiritual world and this gave them a position of power in the society.

All kings had to be circumcised in Uukwanyama, for instance.

At some point, circumcision became a collective endeavour in the name of the kings in Ondonga. Some traits of the old initiation practice were retained, others were abolished. Filemon Shuuja (elc 242:550–555) describes one such ritual initiated by the king in great detail. There were elements of spirit possession of the kind described by Uugwanga but it is also clear that the king was accorded prominence.

This circumcision ritual was considerably shorter than the others of which we have descriptions. The proceedings took place in “a small grove”. They lasted for four to six days and were led by older circumcised men. They included intense ordeals, excessive dancing and feasting, singing, beer drinking and sacrifices of cattle performed by both people from the royal families and/or their relatives. PF