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Xhosa Circumcision

Roger de la Harpe

"But what sort of man would that make?" the old Xhosa man asked, giving us a disdainful look. We were discussing initiation and circumcision and had got to the bit about the health risks when these procedures are performed in less than clinical conditions.

Tony Eweul of African Coastal Adventures explained that there were suggestions from the health authorities that circumcisions should be performed at clinics and hospitals. The old man was clearly not enamoured with the idea. It was our 6th day in the area and we had been searching for Xhosa initiates or abaKhweta to photograph for what seemed like ages.

It was only with great fortune that we had, the previous afternoon, seen 5 young men walking across the veld, the late afternoon sun reflecting orange off the white clay that covered their naked bodies. We stopped and chatted to them and their inKhankata or mentor and, later, after further discussions with their fathers, all were in agreement: we were allowed to photograph them! What followed was one of the most profound experiences of our lives.

But first a bit of background: The Xhosa people traditionally occupy the land in the Eastern Cape between the Kei River in the south and the Mtamvuna River in the north. The land along the coast is a land of rolling hills dotted with typical thatch and clay huts, deep tree-lined river valleys and spectacular cliffs bringing the land to an end as it meets the ocean. The large swells...

FOR THE FULL STORY OF 914 WORDS CONTACT pictures@africamediaonline.com

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