Traditional Tragedy

I am enraged, depressed and bewildered. Every year this same horror story appears in our newspapers and no one seems to give a damn. This is the 21st century and we still condone the mutilation and murder of children in the name of “culture” and “tradition”.

Cape Times 8 December 2010


Every year parents, who presumably love their sons, send those sons to these initiation rituals where they have the tips of their penises hacked off with a rusty spear. This is supposed to initiate them into manhood.

“My father had it done, my grandfather had it done, my great grandfather had it done, therefore my son must have it done.” Spot the fallacy. To give some credit to the powers that be, these initiation schools have been outlawed in the sense that they are nominally illegal, but there appears to be no enforcement of the law, and there is no attempt to educate rural communities about the dangers of infection or basic hygienic measures. Even if they did those things, it would not be enough to appease my rage.

Imagine the following conversation between a policeman and a parent:

“Good morning, sir. It has reached our ears that you have hacked the beating heart out of your daughter’s chest. Would you care to explain why?”

“I’m an Aztec, officer. It is part of our culture and tradition to remove the hearts from our first-born daughters in order to please the gods.”

“Ah, well, that explains it then, sir. Have a nice day.”

That would never happen, would it? Why not? As a society we are prepared to tolerate almost any outrage, provided only that it is perpetrated in the name of religion, culture or tradition. You deny your child medical treatment because you adhere to a religion which says that seeking medical treatment denies faith, and the child dies, and your actions are condoned because of course we can’t possibly criticise anyone’s religion, no matter how idiotic it is.

I say that if we wish to regard ourselves as in any degree civilised, we must hold ourselves to standards of behaviour and moral conduct that transcend religion and culture. If a traditional practice is shown to be harmful, then it must be stopped. The way to end this annual penis-pruning is to arrest the sangomas responsible and charge them with murder, and also arrest the parents and charge them with manslaughter. Word will soon get around, and perhaps the next generation of children will be spared this barbarism.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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