DOI link for Making men
Making men book
Among Xhosa-speaking people of South Africa to become a man, a boy must undergo initiation which includes circumcision, in an isolated place, colloquially referred to as ‘the bush’. For the majority of boys, the transition from boyhood to manhood is relatively straightforward. However, for some boys, the transition to manhood ends in mutilated or amputated genitalia and, in some cases, death. To safeguard boys from harm, the Application of Health Standards in the Traditional Circumcision Act was introduced in 2001. This act was rejected by ‘traditional authorities’. The paper draws on ethnographic data collected over a period of 15 years. By showing that initiation is a crucial vehicle for the execution of and adherence to the gendered gerontocracy, which is the basis of Xhosa social hierarchy, I argue that the Application of Health Standards in the Traditional Circumcision Act presented a threat to the institutionalised power of male elders. I suggest that the unyielding and hostile reactions of the ‘traditionalists’ were about protecting a critical tool for maintaining and reproducing the gendered gerontocracy at a time when young boys were increasingly challenging the need to undergo initiation to become a man.