A boy’s rite of passage
Among young boys (up to about age 12), this was the defining taunt. You’re either one of us (the majority, who, in this case, are circumcised — tuli or tule — pronounced as two syllables: tu-le) or not (the minority, who, in this case, are uncircumcised — supot)!
Circumcision is practiced widely in the Philippines.
High rates of circumcision are unsurprising in the far south of the country, on account of its Islamic culture. The near-universal circumcision of males in the Christian areas further north takes rather more explanation. It would be tempting to attribute this to the influence of American rule in the early decades of the twentieth century, but there is a problem — style. Traditional circumcisions in the Philippines are most commonly a dorsal slit rather than full removal of the prepuce, definitely not something learned from the Americans. More likely is that the routine is a hang-over from the pre-colonial era, the whole island chain having been Muslim before the arrival of the Spanish and the consequent forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism.
[I don’t agree with that statement. It seems more likely that most of the northern 2/3 of the archipelago was pagan when the Catholic Spaniards arrived.]
The final possibility is that circumcision in the Philippines pre-dates Islam, perhaps even being a distant echo of the culture that gave rise to circumcision in Aboriginal Australia and amongst the earliest inhabitants of Hawaii.
Due to the impoverished lifestyle of many Philippino [sic: “Filipino” is the correct form of the adjective] families and the absence of a free healthcare system, many boys are at risk of botched circumcisions performed by unqualified operators. To minimise this risk, various organisations within the country together organise what is known as Operation Tule — a free circumcision service provided on a charitable basis. Such circumcisions are very public affairs, the whole village sometimes turning out to watch and photograph the proceedings. Typical age at circumcision is 7 to 12 years, but the free service is available to all.
— Circlist.com (a website)
Two weeks ago, one of the alumni groups of my college fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, conducted a one-day free circumcision clinic.
Reward for Palawan’s fugitive politicians in Ortega killing reaches P1.55M
May 3, 2012
The reward money for the arrest of former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, both wanted for the killing of broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, is now P1.55 million, the Ortega family and their supporters said Thursday.
The “Justice for Doc Gerry Ortega Movement” in a statement said it was able to raise an additional P350,000 from concerned individuals and groups.
Two businessmen, who asked not to be named, donated P250,000 to the cause, they said.
An initial P1.2 million was offered for capture of the former governor and his brother Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, the Ortega family said.
— GMA news (online article)
An all-volunteer medical team consisting of two medical doctors, several registered nurses, and specially-trained laymen brought their instruments, medicines, and expertise to El Nido.
Stats and Images
Nearly 100 boys were circumcised by the end of the day. There were six trained and experienced persons (four registered nurses and two medical doctors) working on six boys at a time. They were backed up by specially-trained laymen. Each volunteer paid for his or her own passage to and from El Nido (this ranged between 4,000 and 6,000 pesos for volunteers coming from the main island of Luzon).
According to this article (written in 2003), the three reasons that justify circumcision are: (1) hygiene, (2) religious belief, and/or (3) preventive medical measures (like, to avoid foreskin problems in susceptible males).
The most convincing reason (for a Filipino) is based on religious belief — that Jesus was circumcised and that the Catholic Church supports the practice. But I think the real cause is based on a fourth reason that wasn’t discussed in that 2003 article. The fourth reason is societal pressure. Filipinos are conservative about adopting new ideas and a practice entrenched in multiple preceding generations is difficult to shake. I would describe it as societal inertia — a habit or practice that will continue because everyone does it, never mind why.
I remember snatches of conversation I had with my seventh grade classmates. I was 12 years old. I wasn’t sure what a circumcised dick was or why a dick should be circumcised. I just knew it was a “bad” thing not to be circumcised. I did not want to be “supot — uncircumcised.”
While researching for this blog post, I came across interesting information propounded by anti-circumcision advocates. The webpage is entitled “Anatomy of the Penis & Mechanics of Intercourse.” Among other things, it explains why an uncircumcised penis performs better than its counterpart (the way nature intended, apparently).
Traditionally, when a young Filipino boy reaches his adolescent years, he is forced to undergo circumcision. There are two versions of having a circumcision. One is through doctors and the other one, through a manunule. However, both have one purpose — to cut.
Prior to the procedure, all young boys are asked “Kapon ka na ba?” Kapon means that the boy has tried retracting his penis before. If the boy says “No,” then the doctor or manunule advises that he does so before going through the procedure. This makes the procedure easier since it would involve stretching the foreskin before cutting it. This would be extremely painful for a boy who has never retracted his penis.
When the boy is ready, using sterilized surgical knives, a medical practitioner (usually a doctor) creates a slit on the upper side of the foreskin surrounding the head of the penis. This is followed by the removal of the “sleeve of the foreskin.” After the procedure, medicines are given to the patient for the wound to heal.
However, in rural areas, there are “specialists” who do the “traditional pukpok under the tree, near the river” to perform the same procedure. Before the pukpok, the manunule or pukpok asks the one to be circumcised to chew guava tops. The manunule then uses a sharpened labaja or barber’s knife to cut the foreskin. The manunule then places the boy’s chewed guava tops on the genital as a way of medication. The “new man,” as they are usually called, then jumps into the river for cleansing. Jumping into the river would then constrict the blood vessels and stop the bleeding of the wound. Though it is unsanitary, the procedure is accepted and has been practiced for decades in rural areas.
— Cirp.org (a website about circumcision)
One by one, the boys came out. A few felt faint but after some water to rehydrate, they walked away.
Most of them will remember this day. (All the fathers who came to pick up their kids do remember their own day.)