Maasai - Feature Articles


The following is an account of the circumcision of a Maasai youth named Kardasha as told by Robert Vavra in his book "Tent With A View" (William Morrow and Co., New York, 1991). Kardasha was in his late teens. He had not been circumcised earlier because his parents could not pay Kirek, the circumciser. Vavra befriended the young man and agreed to pay the fee. Circumcisees are required not to flinch, grimace or in any way show pain. Youths start practicing pain control at an early age by placing hot coals on their legs. See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

Tent with a View - Maasai Circumcision, by Robert Vavra

Now produced was a ceramic pot, which the night before had been filled with cold water and into which had been placed a small metal hide scraper to increase the chill. The liquid content of this vessel was poured over Karkasha's cleanly shaved head. The effect of the icy water, Milton told me, combined with the morning cold, is just enough to jolt the already psyched-out mind and body into s semi-conscious state of shock.
   Ole Pirianoi, the holder, now stood behind Kardasha and, with his arms, circled our friend's chest. At this instant, Kardasha's body collapsed as if in a faint, eyes shut, chin resting on chest, limbs flaccid, and he was half carried, his heels furrowing the dung, to the special hide that was stretched out on the ground. This skin had been positioned between two planted branches selected from a ceremonial tree.

The Ndorobo surgeon, Ole Kirek, squatting between Kardasha's spread legs, dipped his thumb into a slim gourd of lime and marked our friend's nose with a white line. The frenzied bird boys chanted threats fused with encouragement, which would continue throughout the operation, building in rapidity and volume, while elders, preparing for the worst, cast doubt on Kardasha's bravery.

The Ndorobo was now fingering and peeling back Kardasha's foreskin. This operation could be divided into five steps:

1. The foreskin was peeled back from the penis head and the cord attached to its underside was cut.

2. Now completely free of the penis head, the foreskin was rolled back further, like a sock down an ankle, and spread by the circumciser's fingers, while the knife, an inch and a half back from where the foreskin joined the penis shaft, began cutting, circling the foreskin, slicing delicately to divide the single sheet of flesh into two parts, which when pulled forward separated from one another like a gummed label from a piece of paper.

3. Once the foreskin had been separated, it was stretched forward over the penis head. The sheath was now double the length of its unoperated-on state.

4. Next, the Ndorobo cut a hole midway along and in the top of the extended foreskin. Through this opening the penis head was pulled, the foreskin now fitting between the head and the shaft, like a necktie pulled tightly around a man's throat. The excess foreskin dangled from below the head.

5. Now the hanging rough rectangle of foreskin was taken in the Ndorobo's fingers and, with seemingly excessive cutting, pared and shaped so that it hung, fashioned into a point. This was a highly critical part of the operation and was of almost as much concern to the patient, surgeon, and everyone else involved as would be a cosmetic surgery job done on an aging movie star - it was something that would be admired or criticized for the remainder of a lifetime. Of equal importance, a long and well-shaped tie is thought to give a decided advantage in lovemaking, both for the stimulation it provokes and the response it elicits.

At three in the afternoon, Kardasha, emerging from the darkness of the hut and the shock of his ordeal, blinked into the harsh sunlight, which now lit the man who hours before had been a boy. Escorted by the Ndorobo to outside the family gate, he again sat on the ground, surrounded by age-mates and elders, while Ole Kirek's slender fingers once more touched the bloody foreskin, this time for inspection, hopeful of approval. If the swollen, hemorraged skin had been improperly or unartistically sliced, the circumcision would be repeated and corrected.

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