"He took my foreskin, pulled it forward, and then, in a single motion, brought down his assegai. I called out 'Ndiyindoda!' I looked down and saw a perfect cut, clean and round like a ring. Immediately after the blow had been delivered, an assistant who followed the ingcibi took the foreskin that was on the ground and tied it to the corner of our blankets. Our wounds were dressed with a healing plant. (…) I count my years as a man from the date of my circumcision."

Nelson Mandela; Long Walk to Freedom.


Traditional Circumcision and Initiation into Manhood (ulwaluko) is an ancient initiation ritual practiced by the amaXhosa. The ritual is traditionally intended as a teaching institution to prepare boys for the responsibilities of manhood. The principles that lie at the very core of the ritual are respect for self (including self control and integrity), respect for family (not to bring shame to them), and respect for community (to protect them from harm).

During the ritual process the traditional surgeon (ingcibi) severs the foreskin using a spear, which is subsequently attached to the initiate's blanket. The period of seclusion that follows lasts about one month and is divided into two phases. During the first eight days the initiates are confined to an hut (bhoma) and the use of certain foods is restricted. This phase culminates in the ukosiswa rite during which food taboos are released. The event marks the transition to the second phase that lasts a further two to three weeks. The termination of the period of seclusion commences when the boys are urged to race down to the river to wash themselves. The hut and the initiates' possessions are burnt. Each initiate receives a new blanket and is now called 'amakwala' (new man).


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