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A Masai man’s not a man until….

October 2, 2011

…he has been circumcised.  La Chica accompanied Zac to Manyara, a Masai region of Tanzania famous for its lake and National Park, to witness Masai boys become men.  Five Masai boys, aged between 16 and 20 years old, became men in front of La Chica.  Arriving in the evening, La Chica and Zac went to the boma hosting the ceremony, to find only men present.  Masai women are not permitted to witness the male circumcision ceremony – it seems La Chica is not considered a woman for Masai purposes….hmmmm…. Anyway, five boys were standing naked, surrounded by their male relatives and friends.  Earlier in the day, the boys had been shaved of all body hair, including the hair on their heads, their eyebrows, and the hair ‘down there’.  They had worn plain black robes and all their jewellery had been removed.  Early evening, they washed in cold water, removed their black garments and stood still – for something like 12 hours.  During this time each Masai man in attendance sings words of advice to the boys, sometimes gently slapping their cheeks or bottoms to highlight a point.  The advice includes the need to act like real men (in other words, when they are circumcised with a razor blade and no anesthetic, to not flinch or show any emotion whatsoever).  The singing and slapping continues through the night until the break of dawn, when one boy at a time is moved to the boma’s perimeter next to the thorn bush fence, sat down on a cow skin with his uncle or other close family relative holding him as he spreads his legs and allows the professional Masai circumciser to circumcise his penis.  Any boy who dares to show any reaction will bring shame on himself and his family forever.  (According to the circumciser, no boy out of the 500 odd boys he has circumcised has failed to be strong).  La Chica watched as the procedure took around three minutes for one boy, squeezing the arm of a poor Masai man standing next to her so tightly she’s sure she left bruises.  However when the first boy was being guided away, and his body went into shock and convulsions, La Chica found herself shaking and feeling sick, much to the amusement of the Masai men.  A ceremony not for the faint hearted.  La Chica finally understood what it takes to be a Masai man, and was in awe of the control and strength exhibited by the Masai boys.  After each boy has been circumcised, they are accompanied into a mud hut where they will remain for a month – eating meat, drinking cows blood, and recovering.  They will then emerge as Spolio – the name given to the group of boys who have just been circumcised – and during this period they continue to wear plain black, with white painted foreheads and Spolio specific jewellery, including brass and copper rings on their fingers and toes.  During this period they must follow certain rules, never being on their own but always accompanied by at least one other spolio, not eating in the presence of women, and scaring everyone they come across!

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