18 June 2011 by Julienne du Toit

From Boys to Men

If you’re a woman, you can never talk to an ‘abaKweta’.

You might spot them if you’re travelling through the Eastern Cape in mid-winter or mid-summer. They are usually very skinny youths, their faces covered in white ochre, their bodies clothed only in blankets.

These are the abaKweta, or recently circumcised young Xhosa men. Typically in their late teens, you’ll typically see these youngsters in small groups, with the air of ones who have survived an ordeal.

And they have. Being circumcised without anaesthetic, in stoic silence is no joke, and that’s only one of the hardships these teenagers will have endured on their path of transformation from boys to men. In Xhosa society, no man is considered a man unless he is circumcised.

The thing is, women are not allowed to come anywhere near them until the initiation, which can last several weeks. One may approach them, if they and their initiation school leaders or parents consent, and they may speak to you, but only if you are a man. Or at least, for these few weeks.

Afterwards, of course, they can speak to women again.

Fortunately a guide my husband and I walked with for part of a Wild Coast meander was feeling loquacious on the subject and filled us in on many of the fairly gory details involved in initiation.

But there are some part of this ancient ritual that remain completely off limits to women, whether they are Xhosa or not. This is part of a man’s world and women must never know about it.

So don’t even ask.

comments powered by Disqus