I am still surprised by the outrage of Inxeba (The Wound), a movie that addresses how heterosexual men hide behind culture and fragile masculinity to enforce homophobia in initiation schools and as a justification to discriminate on gay initiates. Xhosa men, in particular, have caused a lot of uproar and havoc around the movie accusing it selling the sacredness of the ritual as a commercial commodity and distorting the purpose of the ritual (which to them, is supposedly the circumcision of the initiates and the setting of the movie eNtabeni).
After watching the movie, I still am puzzled by how the movie revealed the sacredness of the ritual, because as a Xhosa man, I thought there was more to being a man, than having your foreskin removed. While acknowledging the key issues the film address, around homophobia and how the environment encourages toxic masculinities, I would like to speak about where I learned the true sacredness of ulwaluko (initiation) lies. This however, is not downplay or invalidate any lived experience, but seeks to challenge the narrative around the “secretiveness” the movie revealed to those who supposedly were unaware.
The film begins with a character (whom we later know as Xolani a traditional caretaker, who looks after a gay initiate, Kwanda) shifting from his workplace to eNtabeni (initiation school), where young initiates are about to embark on the ceremonial journey to manhood. Each initiate is circumcised and igcibhi (person who circumcises the initiates) instructs them to say that they are men. I am quite sure that many people have read and seen graphic visuals, prior to the movie, about how men at initiation schools are circumcised, and to an extent what is used to help with the healing of the wound.
We also see Kwanda’s journey of navigating through a vile environment that discriminates him because of his sexual orientation, which many related to, including myself.
Kwanda is a gay initiate who resides in Johannesburg and was forced by his father to go to initiation school. There were times in the movie when the other initiates treated Kwanda as inferior and “less of a man” as them because of his femininity and sexuality, which feeds back to the misconception amongst many Xhosa men that your manhood is only defined by the removal of your foreskin.
Prior to myself going to initiation school, after years of overwhelming pressure from peers who went to initiation school before the recommended age, which was 18 at the time, I had received much advice, especially from older men on the journey I was about to embark on. One of the common points they all reiterated was that manhood is not just about having your foreskin circumcised but it also about learning. At the time, I did not fully understand what they meant by learning, until I had arrived there.
What I learnt about Inxeba is that the movie did not touch on the spirituality aspect of the ritual, which plays a crucial role in the healing of the initiate. When we speak of healing here, we are not necessarily referring to the physical healing of the wound, but how you connect with your spirituality to heal emotionally and to learn psychologically what it means to be a man and how that ties in with how you respect those around you, like your parents and your elders.
As we all know, ulwaluko is cultural practice, and we may also know that our cultures have a very strong bond with our ancestors. Ulwaluko also teaches you on how to connect and communicate with your ancestors, to ask for safety and guidance in your journey and to help with self-healing. Although, I may have been protected and treated well by my caregiver (arguably the same way as Xolani did to Kwanda), my spiritual connection with my ancestors also restored sanity in me, every time other initiates threw homophobic remarks at me.
I believe that there is a reason that the movie did not project this. Mainly because, as mentioned numerous times that the movie was not about what the ritual is about, but how the ritual has been used as an anti-queer tool. I would also like to believe that those who were directly familiar with the ritual, knew that the spiritual aspect of the ritual is the most important in the journey of any initiate, it puzzles me that people are mad because of hearing initiates screaming after being circumcised because “this exposes the ritual.”
Despite the toxic and homophobic aura that is bred in initiation school, I believe that I learned that sacredness lies in the spiritual connection to aid with your healing. Ulwaluko is a space of self-discovery, and growth and how you navigate yourself in establishing these two. I am still confused as to how those who are angry came to a conclusion that the movie reveals all that happens at initiation schools, when the movie reveals absolutely nothing besides how dangerous, toxic and violent straight men are towards those are inferior to them.
Maybe I just have a different understanding of the practice.
Featured image via Twitter
Editorial note: Kwanda was erroneously referred to as Kwanda in the text, this has been corrected.