Male Circumcision in OshiwamboB - Part 5 (Final)



Male Circumcision in OshiwamboB - Part 5 (Final)


At this point of the ritual, the smoke and the contact with the kingly regalia made the neophytes ready for the culmination of the ritual.


Following their symbolic deaths, a big pit would be dug in the grave in which the circumcision camps were held. The pit would be lined with herbs first after which the boys would line up in it and be covered with earth so that only their heads showed.


The event patron would then pour beer over them to ‘cleanse’ them before throwing ashes over them. The boys would then jump out of the pit in pairs on the western side, the direction which was associated with death. Coming out in this manner signified appropriating the Big Birds, which was believed to give them extraordinary powers.


When all of them had jumped out of the pit, they would blow the Omazila(Ohango- circumcision Gods) to announce that they had come out of the grave and had conquered death. (Shuuja 242: 552) The elders would then sound the Omazila- as soon as the boys had finished their meal - for war songs to be sung.


The “big elder” (the master of the ceremonies) had to wear a new “apron” made from the stomach lining of a big bull. He would stand at ease and then make the initiates pass between his legs from back to front, hitting them on their foreheads with the apron. The boys would then sit down one by one on a stone as big as a beer calabash after which girls would chase them into the forest. The elders would follow them to play the Ezila.


This part of the ritual seemed to transfer the reproduction potential from the older generation to the younger one. It was followed by a cattle sacrifice.


At midday, the big elder would call the boys to the leaf huts by blowing a horn of the oholongo-antelope (kudu-antelope), which is called Ezila(the god of circumcision or its master). As soon as the young men arrived, the little girls would bring them baskets of porridge.


Everyone would then dance and make merry. At daybreak, the big elder would offer a sacrifice to the boys (a bull of the king’s boys or the bull of the kingly clan). A day later, commoners’ bulls would be slaughtered and all of the circumcised boys would be offered “straps”. Each boy would get a strap prepared from the hide of his own bull. These would be prepared on this day and cut on the next day.


Preparations for departure from the circumcision camp would only begin the next day. The big elder would take manure from the sacrificed bulls and smear it on the heads of the neophytes, while those who had died would be buried.


Although Saloskoski’s version of the events (that the neophytes who had died of circumcision wounds were buried) was clear, it was contradicted by a certain Jairius Mbenzi (1969). Mbenzi went through circumcision and confirmed that the boys who had died of wounds were thrown into the Omudhime.


He further explained that no mourning period was observed for the deceased from Epitotanda. The parents of the deceased would only be informed of their losses after the ritual, by the belts of their dead sons being thrown on the ground before them. The messenger would not say a word.


The neophytes would be offered meat and porridge. The big elders would throw herbal porridge on the boys, ordering them to collect their things. Then he would take them behind the leaf huts and anoint them with blood into which the stomach contents of the first sacrificial bull had been mixed.


The big elder would then set fire to the leaf huts and then throw out all that had been in them. He would put on a sheep’s hide and copper beads as the fat dripped onto the ground (this symbolised rainfall and fertility). He would then sing and shout for joy (Shuuja elc 242 :554–555). This ended the circumcision process and bulls would be slaughtered for those who had undertaken it for they had conquered death. (Shuuja elc 242 : 555).


Unlike the Olufukowhich did not die out completely, there are attempts to ensure its survival amidst its rejection by certain Christian groups. The Epitotanda (initiation)was abolished due to Christianity and its didactic imports.


It might also have been abolished because of the unhygienic conditions under which the operation was conducted, which led to unnecessary deaths.


Despite its abolition, health professionals around the globe concur that it reduces the transmission of HIV virus by 60%. The traditional Epitotandahas not been revived in its fullest but modern hospitals currently conduct minor operations on male genitals. This operation is called Okukenkwa- the cutting off of the penis’ foreskin, which is similar to what Aapitithirepresented in the ancient times. So Epitotandawas not really a bad practice, as its advantages overrode the disadvantages. PF