It’s been nearly six years since my family made me a traditional Xhosa man. In my tradition a boy is regarded as a man only once he has been initiated in the bush. Being a traditional Xhosa man myself, I don’t condone talking explicitly about what happens in the bush. However, I can’t keep quiet about what happens after a boy has been initiated into manhood.
Every year in December and June, boys are sent to initiation schools. When they return, they are called ‘amakrwala’ (young men). The elderly and wise men in the village tell them how they must conduct themselves positively in society.
Initially, boys were sent to the bush to be taught how to behave like men. A real man takes care of the interests of his family. He puts food on the table when he has a job. He maintains friendships with people who show him the way when he’s losing direction in his life. It wasn’t simply about the incision.
Nowadays, it seems as if getting circumcised traditionally is enough for a boy to be called a man. Unlike our fathers before us, we are still young when our families send us to the bush. Nevertheless, they expect us to be mature on our return.
In addition, some believe that going to the bush is a ticket to be free from the rules that their parents impose on them. A ticket to be free from cooking and washing dishes. That’s a woman’s job, they say. But, then who is supposed to cook and clean for them?
They refuse to look after the cattle. That’s a job for boys, they say.
In some cases, families that have no younger children have to hire other people to look after the family cattle. But, they should remember, the cattle they refuse to look after have played a major role in the manhood they now claim.
And they have the nerve to tell their mothers that they are men now, they can do whatever they like. At whose house? If she could raise them without any support, she is more of a man than they would ever be.
To all the young men out there, manhood is not child’s play. It’s about taking responsibility and making well-informed decisions. The pocket knives that our elders gave you when you returned from the initiation school, are not for you to use during tavern brawls.
As men, let’s respect our elders and show gratitude to our families for making us the men we claim to be today. We have the task to uplift our families’ honour. Let’s choose our friends wisely. We don’t have to hang out with someone because we were initiated in the same initiation season. If what our peers are doing is not in line with what we have been taught at home, let’s sit them down, have a man-to-man talk and remind them of what is expected of us.
In a nutshell, for me personally, being circumcised traditionally on its own does not necessarily mean I am a man. It simply means I have great potential to become a man. Hence, our elders send us to the bush yet call us boys when they like.
Tell us: What do you think makes a man a man?