What is manhood? : the significance of traditional circumcision in the Xhosa initiation ritual

Mhlahlo, Andile P. (2009-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to understand the concept of manhood in the context of Xhosa-speaking people; and to investigate why it is significant for them to use traditional circumcision in the male initiation ritual. In the context of the research problem, the aim is to understand: i) why traditional circumcision is important in executing this ritual, ii) people’s beliefs about the concept of manhood, iii) how the initiation ritual is practised in the present day, iv) the controversy and debate around the initiation ritual in the Eastern Cape, and v) the role of the government’s policies in regulating this rite. In terms of research design and methodology, I used qualitative research. The sampling method includes non-probability sampling – that is purposive or judgmental sampling. In the research process I utilized individual interviews, focus group interviews, participant observation, and any literature that was relevant to this study. The field research was conducted in Mchubakazi Township in Butterworth, Eastern Cape. As regards the research findings, the following data came out: firstly, manhood refers to belonging to a group of men who live in a certain village. These men are characterised by having undergone the initiation ritual, especially using traditional circumcision. A man who has undergone hospital circumcision is more likely to experience humiliation and disrespect from the orthodox Xhosa-speakers. Their argument in support of this statement is that he is only half a man. Secondly, traditional circumcision is perceived as being significant in this ritual; it is a necessary adventure a male must go through in order to become a man. It is basically an act of courage. It is not necessarily compulsory in the process of transforming a boy into a man, but it is important for his image in the eyes of the community. Thirdly, the initiation ritual of Xhosa-speakers consists of four phases, namely: the ‘entering phase’ (umgeno), the phase of being an initiate (ubukhwetha), the ‘coming out phase’ (umphumo) and the phase of being a graduate (ubukrwala).

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