For the Jews it is a covenant that Jehovah handed down to Abraham. To the Muslims, it is a religious directive. For most African communities (those that practice it), it is the formal incorporation of males/females into religious and/or tribal life.
Among the Xhosa community (down south of Africa), an uncircumcised male cannot inherit his father’s wealth, establish a family, preside over ritual ceremonies, and worse still, he cannot at all costs marry because no Xhosa woman would consciously marry an uncircumcised Xhosa man. This feeling is so strong that an uncircumcised male past the circumcision age maybe overpowered by a group of men and be circumcised against his will.
The Ndebele are not so different from the Xhosa. In fact there is a gossip that there was once a male who was made a member of the cabinet; the Ndebele would have not a bit of it. They circumcised him under protest.
When the missionaries came to Africa, they tried to stop it in most of the African communities, but they seem to have ignored the fact that the Jesus they were preaching about was in fact circumcised. In some groups circumcision has been stopped by royal declaration as it was with king Faku of the Pondo (South Africa).
Circumcision as a rite of passage has for a long period of time been a very controversial topic in Africa. The whole idea of the cutting of the foreskin of the male sexual organ is not welcomed by many African communities. For most communities that practice it, circumcision is done when the boy is very young. This is mostly between the age of two and ten years of age. But for some communities, a man is a ‘man’ enough when he gets circumcised in his adulthood.
The Abagishu people of Eastern Uganda, for instance circumcise their male as late as in their twenties. They even do it in broad daylight. This, apparently, is very painful to the circumcised man, but it is the best way ever (according to them) for the man to be prepared for marriage because it is an indication of bravery hence enough security in the home. Just next door to the Abagishu, are the Bukusu people of Kenya, who share a border and ancestor with the Abagishu (in fact they share a common language with the Abagishu, though with a slight difference in pronunciation).As I was saying, the Bukusu have among the richest cultures in Kenya. In this tribe, man can never be buried without having been initiated to manhood through the cutting of the foreskin of his sexual organ. They will still do it to the corpse if that is what it takes. Their circumcision ceremonies are well planned and have to be done systematically in accordance to their ancestral procedures (although the times have changed these beliefs). Circumcision among this community takes place after every one year (every even year).
The supposed circumcision candidate here has to have shown interest in the initiation before the beginning of the supposed year of his circumcision. This boy (around the ages of 10-15) will tell the parents at the beginning of the year that “this is my year”. The mother therefore has to ask one her brothers if he is willing to sacrifice a cow for the boy. The maternal uncle in this case has very little choice, if not any, but to agree to the providing of the cow for the boy because this is like a refund of the cattle that were paid as bride-price for the mother of the boy.