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
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.