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Jewish Journal

Forced circumcision in Kenya

by Brad A. Greenberg

January 9, 2008 | 2:46 pm

LIMURU, KENYA — When men with machetes and axes chased Paul Otieno from his home here, they wanted more than his belongings. They wanted to cut off his foreskin.

“They were shouting, ‘If we don’t kill you, we’ll cut your private parts,’ ” Otieno, a 25-year-old mechanic, said of the attack Sunday. “They were just shouting, ‘Kill! Chop them all!’ “

In Kenya, circumcision is a rite of passage for male members of most tribes. The Luos, however, do not practice it. In the recent tribal violence triggered by a disputed Dec. 27 election, circumcision checks have been conducted by roaming gangs of killers hunting for Luos. And the threat of forced circumcision has been used to terrify Luo men.

The number of such assaults so far appears small. The hospital here in Limuru, 30 miles northwest of Nairobi, confirmed that two cases of forced circumcision were treated after Sunday’s violence, which saw members of the larger Kikuyu tribe evict hundreds of Luos from their homes. One case involved an adult, the other a 4-month-old.

But rumors of men being circumcised by gangs from rival tribes have cast a shadow of fear over Luos, who feel their manhood and cultural practices are under threat.

First off, circumcision doesn’t remove your manhood, just your foreskin. (Though I know this was of great concern on an episode of “South Park.”) But does this story from the LA Times remind anyone else of this story from 1 Samuel? To me, David’s act of slaying Goliath pales in comparison to his ability to collect for God the foreskins of 200 Philistines. I can only wonder why this was necessary.

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