Thursday, July 14, 2011

C is for Circumcision

Back to the alpha-blogging!

Today's letter is C.

Circumcision, both male and female, is a traditional cultural practice in the Gambia. Female circumcision, or FGM as it is more commonly called these days, is a highly controversial, deeply sensitive topic for Gambians and non-Gambians alike, and overall something I can not truly be qualified to comment on as an outsider to this cultural. So we won't touch that topic anymore in this post, except to say that I am in no way condoning anything here on that issue. Done.

Male circumcision is more publicly celebrated here. Most volunteers here get the chance to attend a few circumcision ceremonies, the party thrown by a village when the boys come back from the bush, having not only been circumcised, but also initiated into adulthood and taught the finer points of the culture by their elders. The ceremony that I get to attend (women are not allowed in the bush where the boys are being circumcised, they can be there for up to 2 weeks, healing and learning with the elder males bringing them food from the village) is not altogether different from the other ceremonies. There's lots of cooking, lots of food, and lots of dancing.


I have a friend, another volunteer, who lives in a Jola village. Jola are a very different tribe from the Mandinka, the tribe I live with. For example, they do their circumcisions every 25 years. Which means, not just a ceremony when the boys come back, but an epic, epic party. It lasted for 6 days, and I attended for one. In this tiny village in the middle of nowhere, everyone had rented generators, and sound systems, and spent what was easily a year's salary on fuel for those generators, and this whole village did nothing for a week but party. At night every house was lit up, blasting music and people just went from house to house dancing. It was such a stark difference to the usual nighttime scene in that village, where the only thing making noise is the donkeys. And the food! Well. The day I came they gave us 3 lunches. And they were all delicious. People came from all over the country, in their finest clothes, ready to party and cook for as long as the party goes.

So I guess what I'm saying is, if you visit the Gam, try and hit the 25th year of a Jola village because you will see people come from far and wide to celebrate the snip-snip that ushers these boys into manhood. Whether they're 2 years old...or 20.


  1. Glad you made it for one day. Good for Lindsay to enjoy all 6. Hope the magic stick smiled on the festivities! Love you