Circumcision

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

The newly circumcised remain naked in the open, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois.

Circumcision is not the only rigor of boys' initiation. Life in a Yaka initiation camp may be difficult to endure, as a boy's mother and sisters are insulted, blood is unceremoniously dumped on the ground, and boys are required to stand on one leg in a stance imitating a rooster and alluding to virile erection. Any complaint is punished with a whipping. The authority of initiators is absolute, for, as Victor Turner (1970: 100) has suggested, “it represents the absolute, the axiomatic values of society in which are expressed the 'common good' and the common interest.” If the boy is to experience ontological change and fully become an adult person, he must passively absorb sacred information, “impressing him, as a seal impresses wax, with the characteristics of his new state” (ibid, 102). Suffering together, boys also learn to depend upon one another for comfort. Their solidarity will prove essential to cooperative social life, and over the rest of their years, most boys initiated together remain bonded in close friendship.