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
& 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.