Imagine male Circumcision without any anaesthesia?
This year marks another season when people in Eastern Uganda will be celebrating 1000s of youths cross over from boyhood to adulthood. It reminds me of my own experience which I endured 14 years ago when I came face-to-face with the circumcision knife of the Gisu Surgeon.
You may have heard about the Gisu Imbalu (traditional circumcision) or seen people enjoy the Kadodi dance but the pain of enduring a live surgery without any anesthesia is something that is truly painful. The people around you are celebrating but the pain you are absorbing can be, in many respects, equated to labour pains. I would like to take you through a step-by-step process of what I went through as a 12 year boy yearning to become a man.
It all started in December, 2002 when my father asked me to accompany him to the village. We lived in Masaka (central Uganda) but our ancestral home was in Sironko (Eastern Uganda) and we always yearned to go there. Father wanted me to go and see how my cousin brothers were being initiated into adulthood. We happily travelled with me enjoying the sights and sounds of everything I saw during the journey. We reached the village and everyone was upbeat - people were dancing and singing and celebrating, as though it was party time. Yes, it was party time because ultimately my brothers were circumcised (I saw as if it was very painful).
When everything was settled, I was asked by my father to submit my candidature so that in two years’ time I would also become a man – at 12. If I refused, my family would be excommunicated from the village, we would never attend any social function and no one would ever marry from our home. Even all the food and liquor prepared for my initiation would be poured away. We would be seen as the family of cowards who even have bad omen. Having been told all this, I accepted and it didn’t take long for December 2004 to come. I wanted to back off but I was warned sternly not to even think about it. I returned home 3rd December from school only to find Father eagerly waiting for me to set off to the village. I travelled with him to the village pondering the pain in waiting for me and the family embarrassment in case I refused. The only thing that kept me going was that even my own father and elder brothers had gone through the same ritual but did not die. We arrived late in the evening to find the whole clan gathered for their “hero”. I reaffirmed my commitment to the ritual and that I was allowed to refresh from the long journey. But the next 7 days are up to date my worst days so far in life.
For 2 days I was given a task to go out and invite all our distant relatives to come and witness their “son” becoming a man. Back home the ladies were busy making the local brew and others were rehearsing the traditional songs in preparation for the D-day. After making all the invitations, I returned home to take part in the various activities that would make me ready to face the knife. These activities included running through village paths, from one village to another, covering about ten villages and dozens of kilometers. These movements took us 5 days, and finally ended on Friday 10th December, 2004. I was then taken to the sacred grounds of my ancestors for spiritual cleansing. On 12th December all friends, relatives and acquaintances began to flock in to the sacred grounds to witness their son initiated into adulthood. I was extremely scared by the fear of letting my family down kept me going.
While people were celebrating, I had to be starved in order to become desperate for the knife. 13th December, before sunrise I was taken to the river to have my final bathe as a teenager. I removed and threw away all my teenage clothes and was escorted by elders to the homestead where I was to be circumcised. I was instructed to walk to the compound facing the direction of sunrise and enter the ‘theatre’ in obedience. By this time, I had spent two days and nights without food and rest and was ready to face the surgeon, after all I would face him anyways. A few elders held my hand and escorted me inside the house to find the cultural surgeon waiting with a knife in his hands. Within a blink of an eye the surgeon pounced on me like a hungry lion performing the circumcision ritual. He removed the foreskin from my penis in about 3 seconds but the pain…the pain was incredible. It was extremely painful yet I had nothing to do about it. In just seconds I had come out of the house and people all around were dancing and singing. I was taken to another house where I stayed for 3 days without seeing sunlight – I actually lost track of the days during this period. After the 3 days, I was bathed, my hair was cut, nails trimmed and I was walked through the village paths. I was given skirts and dresses to wear because there was no way I could dress up in trousers since my wound was still fresh and red. From there I started to heal slowly until I could put on trousers and get ready for school.
As part of appreciation, my family and relatives gave me lots of cows, goats, sheep, land and a number of other valuables. I can now sit among elders and contribute ideas. Perhaps, without my courage, my whole family would be a disgrace in that village. What I went through is what some of the young people will go through this year, and this is what brings joy to families, bringing them together and creating stronger bonds. For an event that takes place once every two years, one would need to see how this cultural ritual that has lasted for generations is practiced. It is a masterpiece of a living culture, one that every person from eastern Uganda treasures so dearly. But the pain of that knife imprints permanently on someone's mind. Mine is as fresh as it was many years ago.