Leadership (Abuja)

6 January 2013

Nigeria: Traditional Circumcision - Is It Fading or Waxing in the North?

In the past, when the Harmattan blows cold and lazy across the North, the season would usher in group circumcisions where10-15 male children, either from the same family or neighbourhood are circumcised. However, many of such traditions are slowly fading due to modernisation. Is this one of them? MUAZU ELAZEH, Katsina; USMAN AHMED, Kaduna; ABBA ABUBAKAR KABARA, Zamfara and AKILU ABDULLAHI, Kano investigate.

The history of circumcision can be traced to when the Almighty God decided to test the sincerity of Prophet Abraham to do a circumcision on himself. Since then, it has become a tradition for almost every human beings to practice except in some cases due to certain belief, tradition and culture.

The practice of circumcision in the north is considered both a religious and cultural rites that must be performed.

For Wanzaman Katsina, The Business Is Good

In Katsina, among the group of people who appeared to be reaping what could mildly be referred to as bountiful harvest from the current harmattan season are the local barbers popularly known as Wanzamai as they smile to the banks over high returns from simply circumcising children.

Findings by LEADERSHIP SUNDAY reveal that despite the presence of public and private hospitals and the sustained sensitization campaigns for people to patronize modern medical centres, people still patronise local barbers to circumcise their children, a practice usually conducted during the harmattan season.

Malam Shehu Usman Magajin-Aska is a renown local barber and one of the leaders of wanzamaiin Malumfashi Local Government Area of Katsina state. He told our correspondent that since the harmattan season began, he circumcises 10 to 15 children per day. "I move a lot from house to house and in fact, from village to village as people come from both far and near to invite me."

Magajin Aska, who admitted that lately, there had been a little decline in number of parents that patronise services of local barbers, insisted that he conducts his business based on demand.

He said that they charge between N500 to N600 per child. This is a little higher than what it costs to circumcise a child at the medical centre where plastic rubber belt that costs between N700 to N1, 000 are used.

Our correspondent reports that the business of "Wazamci" is hereditary as most of the wanzam (local barbers) who spoke to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY admitted that they inherited the trade from their fathers who in turn inherited it from their own fathers. It is gathered that the healing process for a circumcised child is faster during this season and this may be responsible for the increased patronage witnessed at the season.

Some parents who admitted to patronizing these local barbers told our correspondent that they had more confidence in the local barbers than in modern medicalcentres like hospitals and clinics hence the decision to patronize them.

"I have ten male children and can tell you without mincing words that from the eldest to the youngest, I always call wanzam to perform the circumcision" HarunaYahaya, 55, said and disclosed that "as a policy, we usually wait till harmattanto perform the circumcision."

In Kaduna,Which Is Safer? (Orthodox or Modern)

The Wanzamai use a special jack knife called Aska. According to one of the Wanzamai, Malam Abbas Bala, who is also the 'Sarkin Aska of Badarawa village Kaduna, a position reserved for only the superiors among the Wanzamai, he said he inherited the job from his father and late grand father.

According to him, about 20-30 years ago, after carrying out a circumcision, they would use herbs and some roots to apply on the child's penis to help stop the blood, and a child must stay for over 40 days without wearing any underwear. But they are now advanced in that, they recover faster whereby a child would be allowed to put on some underwear, as it is done in hospitals.

"Unlike before, now I can tell any child I circumcise to wear some underwear." said Bala. Adding that, as an Islamic rite and a tradition, a child who is circumcised normally gets many gifts from their parents and relatives; hence an uncircumcised male will not be allowed to lead prayers as an Imam. There is also the spirit of 'not forgetting', because a child of 5 or 6 years cannot forget the Wanzan that circumcised him. "We sometimes even circumcise some adults who were not circumcised at their early age" said Bala.

However, a male nurse, Malam Umar who performs circumcision at the FOMWAN Hospital, Kaduna, told our correspondent that circumcision at the hospital is safer, because immediately after the circumcision, they normally put on a plastic belt and give them some vitamins and antibiotics, and would just allow the child to get dressed and come back after some time to clean the wound. " A person who is not circumcised may likely develop some bacteria inside and the surrounding of his penis."

In Kano, Jigawa, It Is An Honour Into Manhood

Malam Ado holds the tittle of Sarkin Askar Jahun Local Government area of Jigawa state. He disclosed that although modern technology has greatly altered modes of circumcision, the principles are still the same.

But Malam Ado revealed that keeping the circumcised naked for two weeks is of the past. Herbal discoveries now make it possible for children to wear clothes immediately they are circumcised.

"In the past, circumcised boys remained naked for two weeks. They would be denied showers and at night, they wear shackles to ensure that they lie down only on their backs," recalled the chief barber.

"Nowadays, because of herbal remedies that speed up healing, the circumcised wear clothes all along, can sleep in whatever position they want especially as they were operated upon with sterelised knives so, there is no fear of infections," Ado said.

Explaining why the ceremony is carried out mostly during the harmattan, Sarkin Aska Ado said: "The cool weather makes it easier for wounds to heal as bacteria hardly multiplies in the chilly condition. Also, holding the festival during the winter does not disrupt farming."

Circumcision is viewed with honour throughout Hausaland and compounds of the circumcised are frequented by relations who load the subjects with various gifts in the form of delicacies and apparels.

A resident of Dakata in Kano, Sule Silas said circumcision goes beyond the boundaries of religion or tribe. "It is an international phenomenon. It is ridiculous to see a grown-up who is not circumcised because of the risk hazards".

He stressed the importance of circumcision especially in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. He also said that it was also believed that the ritual will give endurance to the circumcised because manhood is characterised by stamina and the courage to 'soldier on' to overcome problems.

In Zamfara, Traditional Circumcision still Exists

There are indications that the heritage is still popular among quite a number of people, particularly within the peasant communities in Zamfara state.

A parent, Mallam Shamsuddeen Sanusi who had recently circumcised his six-year old boy in the traditional way, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that he prefers the traditional alternative because 'it is much safer, easier and heals faster than the so-called modern method' he said.

Sanusi further explained that one of the major advantages of the traditional circumcision is that the method is now so improved that a newly circumcised is free to wear his trousers, walk about and even to a large extent, participate in peer group physical activities.

A practitioner in traditional circumcision, locally known as Wanzam, Lawali Mohammed, said people generally prefer the traditional option because genital organ of a person circumcised in a traditional way is observed and believed to be much more virile, and sexually potent than one circumcised through the modern method.

He said the traditional approach is now improved as 'we always sterilize our tools before we operate on our clients' he said, even the treatment prepared from herbs and plants provide quicker healing powerthan the modern ones.

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