Just before young Gambian boys reach puberty they undergo the
circumcision ritual. Though the tradition is being eroded particularly
in the urban areas it is more adhered to up country in towns and
The traditional ceremony is called Sunnaro in Mandingo or
harraf in Wolof. The ritual involves young boys being led
away in the bush for a number of days while they are initiated
into manhood and taught certain things such as tribal traditions,
sex, male responsibilities, elder respect and the various medicinal
uses of herbs and plants in the bush.
The circumcised boy must not divulge to anyone. In Mandingo
society it is the Kankurang
who leads the boys into the bush and is supposed to protect them
from evil spirits during their stay.
The circumcision includes the actual operation, an educational
programme for the circumcised children
and a big celebration. These elements don't have to be performed
in short intervals.
||a) the actual operation
(sunna): some children are already circumcised at the age of one,
some of the boys in the hospital. If the circumcision is performed
in the bush, a whole group of either boys or girls is led to a
certain place. Often the children don't know what is waiting for
them, because they were told nice stories about the coming events.
The boys are fetched into a bush by a Kankurang. He's an unknown
person who is totally covered with leaves. Women mustn't look
at him. The person that circumcises (munkanoo (masc.) or ngansimbaa
fem.) is chosen by the village elders,
but isn't generally known. According to a young man, the circumcisor
didn't work with his hands in his case, but was standing far away
and had some lemons with the names of the boys. He didn't know
how the actual operation was performed. He only felt a sudden
pain and saw he was bleeding (magic).
b) If a child isn't circumcised
as a baby, the first education
will coincide with the circumcision. During this time traditions
(no Islamic traditions), especially the necessity of honouring
the elders and obedience towards them, is passed on to the children
in the form of verses or songs. These songs are repeated every
year at the time of the circumcisions, so that the children never
During the time of the circumcision the children often have
to lie on the floor, mustn't wash or dance and are strictly punished,
e.g. with eating sand or being beaten (often all are punished
though only one was disobedient). The education can last some
days up to one month. The girls partly sleep in a special compound
in the village and go into the bush again and again during daytime.
When the children finally come out of the bush they are welcomed
in the village with a dance and they themselves have to dance,
c) About every
tenth year a big festival
for those who have been circumcised in the mean time takes place.
Dancing is once again an important element of the festival. Many
relatives and friend come to this festival from all over Gambia
and the circumcised children get many presents.