The months of June and December, usually host thousands of initiates between the ages of 15 and 17 years who spend at least three weeks secluded in the bush, where they are to undergo the ritual of circumcision with an aim of initiation into responsible men.
This much revered South African ritual known as “Ulwaluko” basically rotates around traditional circumcision and initiation into manhood. The process of circumcision involves the traditional surgeon (ingcibi) who surgically removes the foreskin. They are thereafter taken into the care of the “ikhankatha”, a traditional medical attendant until they’re able to go home for full recovery.
Ulwaluko as an initiation rite is commonly practised by the Xhosa, through out South Africa similar to the imbalu ritual amongst the Bamasaba of Uganda.
A male who has not undergone initiation is referred to as inkwenkwe (boy), regardless of his age, and is not allowed to take part in male activities such as tribal meetings.
This highly anticipated ritual will however not be taking place this year due to the deadly COVID-19.
The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa suspended June initiations in April, one month after the country went into lockdown on grounds of protecting the already vulnerable initiates.
One of the leaders noted that interrupting an initiation session because of a coronavirus outbreak would be humiliating for the boys.
“When you are up in the mountain you are not supposed to come back (early) even if you are sick,” he said.
“We did not want to risk the community calling our 2020 boys ‘weak’ because they did not finish.”