An exploration of the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of Xhosa men concerning traditional circumcision
Background: The practice of traditional circumcision is associated with considerable morbidity and mortality, yet there is a paucity of literature that provides an understanding of the cultural values that influence men to choose traditional rather than medical circumcision. The aim of this study was to better understand the culture surrounding traditional circumcision, with a view to addressing morbidity and mortality rates associated with the Xhosa male initiation rituals. We explored Xhosa men’s perceptions regarding the need for the risks and the social pressure to undergo traditional circumcision, the impact of non-initiation or failed initiation and the perceived barriers to obtaining medical help for the complications of traditional circumcisions. Methods: Individual in-depth interviews were conducted with 10 purposively sampled teenagers and adult men. The interviews were recorded, translated, transcribed and analysed using the framework method. Results: Traditional circumcision was seen as essential to Xhosa culture. Participants rationalised many reasons for participating, including personal growth and development, family and peer pressure, independence and knowledge gained, a connection with ancestors and initiation into manhood. Despite publicity of the dangers of traditional circumcision and the hardships they have to endure, most young men still saw this process as necessary and worthwhile. Conclusion: Traditional initiation and circumcision are here to stay. The majority of boys still trust the elders and supernatural processes to guide them. However, some participants welcomed government initiatives to reduce human error causing unnecessary death and suffering. Current systems to prevent morbidity and mortality are insufficient and should be prioritised.