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Circumcision Ceremony in Gambia
   

Introduction:
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 villages. 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 forget them. 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, too.

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.

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