News - March 23, 2017

Circumcision and Coca-Cola

Carina Nieuwenweg

Who? Twan van der Slikke, Master’s student of Management, Economics and Consumer Studies
What? Data collection for a Master’s thesis on innovation in coffee farming
Where? Manafwa, Uganda

‘I was in Uganda for two weeks for research on innovation among coffee farmers. A fellow WUR student Martina Mordini and I were in eastern Uganda with the Gisu tribe. This is one of Uganda’s 52 tribes, all with their own language and culture. There was a team there to support us, with two local people acting as interpreters. My task was to interview people and collect data.

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From youth to manhood
I had no expectations when I went to Uganda, really, but we were given such a warm and open welcome by people there. Little children come up to you and want to hold your hand or sit on your lap. The high point of my Ugandan adventure was being allowed to attend a circumcision ceremony. It was circumcision time among the Gisu and as we travelled around we saw a lot of groups of people out walking. Three days before the ritual, members of the tribe travel on foot from village to village to visit friends and family.

The nephew of one of the interpreters in our research team was going to be circumcised and we were allowed to attend the ceremony. We didn’t know what to expect. The village where it was to happen was completely full. There was a jolly atmosphere and food was served. You could feel that it was a positive event for the Gisu. To them it stands for the transition from youth to manhood. And they were proud to be able to share this piece of their culture with outsiders.

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Banana leaf
We were allowed to join in everything. I drank local beer and when some people started to sing and took hold of a stick or leaf, I grabbed a banana leaf and joined in. The circumcision itself was done quickly and neatly. The boys didn’t flinch at all when a man cut off their foreskins with a small, sharp knife. Straightaway the boys were handed bottles of Coca-Cola and a mobile phone with which to call distant family. That was a remarkable contrast with the ancient tradition which had just taken place. It was definitely a moment I won’t forget in a hurry. Normally you spend your day in front of a computer screen in the Leeuwenborch, and there I was, all of a sudden, in a Ugandan village witnessing a circumcision. Not something every student gets to experience.’