The day I became a man by Denis Woniala, Uganda

id_denisAs the saying goes “east or west, home is the best.” In 2010, I had to travel back home from a vacation from Kenya. I was 18 years old at the time and had just finished my senior year.  During this time, back in my village it was a circumcision season in my tribe, Bagisu, and because of school I had not finished this ritual. Circumcision in my tribe is the most respectable cultural ritual that was annually held where male boys are initiated into the act of becoming “a man,” according to our traditional beliefs. Many acts occur during this ritual and courage is displayed by the individuals who participate in it. Some courageous acts includes sleepless nights and dancing the “Kadodi,” a traditional dance which involves jogging around the village while local instruments such as drums are used to produce the melodious sounds that all people be it ladies, men or kids are able to dance to. Honestly speaking, I had a difficult time while at school because I had not undergone this ritual and in most cases those who did not participate in this ritual were segregated, isolated, and molested given the fact we had not fulfilled our cultural demands. The bullies were usually those bigger boys who had undergone the ritual. This may be because the ritual is used to define who is a “real man.” When one endures the pain involved with this ritual, they would bully those who did not fulfill this task and say words such as “you are not man enough” or “you are a lady.” These are just some examples of embarrassing phrases used to degrade us for not going through the ritual. I wanted to stop the bullying at school, so I would fulfill the ritual. So when I reached home, everyone was happy to see me. Only my sister Scovia and I knew the real reason why I had to come home earlier for Christmas, before the end of my school vacation. One week after I returned home, I had to have an agonizing talk with my dad about my decision of getting circumcised. He welcomed the idea but was fast at citing a few reasons that would influence my decision. The main influencer was the financial struggles he had during this time period. A hefty amount of money is involved in the whole circumcision process like preparing food and the local brews, known as Malwa. Spectators drink this before, during, and after the ceremony. Truth be told, I was upset. My dad noticed how upset I was and promised me he would do anything to see that everything would get better for me. Two days later he called me from the other side of the house, and broke the good news to me that the ritual was going to be possible and that we will immediately start preparations. Kick-off begun when we called all the clan members to prepare for the big day. The 15th of December 2010 would be the day of the ceremony.

The entire ceremony takes three days and on the 13th of the same month we began the rituals, where people danced, trekked from village to village only to witness these events. One thing I cannot forget is the real act of taking off one’s foreskin. It is done without anesthesia meaning one is supposed to endure the pain of the procedure without even shaking, crying, or even shouting. If one cried or shouted, he would be regarded as a coward and even as feminine. He would not command respect in society and could even be beaten by angry mobs, molested and intimidated for the rest of his life. this is common. On the second day, December 14th, my mind was only thinking of the pain I was going to go through and the implications if I failed to contained the pain. I could not eat one thing that day.

Finally the day arrived; it was the 15th of December. People from all of the villages gathered at home and brought me gifts including goats, cows, money, etc. To boost my morale, people, including my family, advised me on what I should do throughout the whole ceremony to be successful. At around 2:30pm after bathing and completing the other rituals of running around the village in our Kadodi dance, I was brought back home to face the knife.

A few steps in the courtyard and my trousers were torn open by an unknown person. I hardly paid any attention at all since my mind was only focusing on the pain I was about to endure. In a second I was helped to reach the ceremonial grounds and as soon I had landed at the exact place, the local surgeon reached my genitals, pulled it and cut off the foreskin not once, not even twice but three times. I vividly remember this moment. i felt like the surgeon was using a saw yet I knew he was using a very sharp knife because of what I was feeling. Blood started flowing and my heart started beating as fast it can. I remember the crowd making noise of how I should be calm and in a few seconds everything was done. A dream came true.

That day I became a real man according to the claims of my tribe.


  1. Sauyah
    Sauyah says:

    It’s really amazing. I really wonder what people of your tribe have that makes you keep your culture alive upto this day. This is one ritual i thought would easily die with education and modernity. You doing this is really impressive. You are not just a proud mugishu , you are a true mugishu.

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