Monday, April 26, 2010

Operation Tuli, The Rite of Summer

Hot months 2010 are just like any Philippine summer when fathers and mothers cajole their sons that now is the perfect time to go through that rite of passage (“it’s not that painful, sonny/anak/hijo!”) that lolo, tatay/father, kuya and every guy in the village/barangay/the whole archipelago, well, almost, went through in their own good time.

It’s possible that their boy may not even need any convincing at all. Because he’s come to need some bragging rights some classmates already have when he goes back to school next June: he’s been cut down there, and no longer suput. He wants his turn to bully too. These days, if he knows any better, and without peer and parental pressure, myths and superstition, and some cultural quirks to contend with, he may stop to ponder ala Hamlet – to be or not be cut! – and reason out with his father why he has to make a choice. Medical science has given him enough reasons to say no, I’d rather be suput all my life.

Unless he’s a Jew, and this reminds us of Joel Stein, Jewish writer/columnist of Time, contemplating if he’d rather defy tradition and not have his son circumcised by a modern-day mohel when he comes to this world. He got to know that there are pro- and anti-snipping groups like the Jews Against Circumcision, and that Nobel laureates Francis Crick and Jonas Salk petitioned the World Court to end circumcision! Stein says his son would not even get to be embarrassed with his foreskin intact all his life because in America, a lot of guys do not even know whether they’re cut or not anyway. Needless to say, he argued with his wife and lost!

Religion is out of the picture for Christians even if we know that Jesus the niƱo was brought to the mohel like any other male Jew, past or present, to be cut in a ceremony called Brit milah eight days after his birth. It’s obligatory under Jewish law ever since the day God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself, his son and slaves to seal their covenant (Genesis 17:9-14). The Roman Catholic Church used to commemorate the Feast of Circumcision of baby Jesus on the 1st of January, later on the first Saturday, more or less the 8th day from Christmas. Thus, it should not surprise if there were guys or even girls who were baptized as Circumcision because it looked like a saintly name in the calendar of yore for that particular day.

If he reads his Bible, any father should know that the New Testament already says Christians are no longer bound by the old laws. Acts 15 recalls the protests of the baptized converts (of course, Jewish) to the acceptance of the uncircumcised Gentiles to the new church, but the first church council in Jerusalem said circumcision is no longer a requirement. Paul had to state this position again in his letters to the Galatians (6:12-16) and the Philippians (3:2-3), as the issue kept hounding the early leaders as they proselytized among the Gentiles. The Romans and the Greeks abhorred getting cut.

It’s no wonder that when the Spanish colonizers started arriving after 1521, and with the missionaries chronicling their venture here in Yslas Filipinas, probably all of them uncut, the world got to peek behind the loincloths of the native people, who to their surprise and/or repulsion were circumcised. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (1569) tagged the Luzon people as Moro heathens who do not fully know their laws except ‘practicing circumcision and refraining from pork.’ Franciscan Pablo de Jesus (1582) wrote to Gregory XIII that the native men practiced circumcision ‘from of their relationship with the Mahometans of Borneo,’ and he found some who traced the custom ‘to their very own remote ancestors.’ Miguel de Loarca (1582) noted that the Pintados and the mountain people circumcise themselves ‘for their health and for cleanliness;’ he also found an abominable custom among the [Pintado] men of ‘bor(ing) a hole through the genital organ, placing within this opening a tin tube, to which they fasten a [tin] wheel like that of a spur, a full palm in circumference.’ 

Antonio de Morga (1609) said if Spain did not come earlier, Luzon could have completely fallen under the spell of the Mahometans of Borneo who traded with Manila and Tondo. Circumcision in Islam is without prescribed ceremony. Among the rich and the royals, there could be celebration and feasting. Cutting could be any time from infancy to adulthood. British William Dampier visited Mindanao in 1697, and he described the ceremony that accompanied the circumcision of the Sultan’s son, thus: 

"They circumcise the Males at 11 or 12 Years of Age, or older; and many are circumcised at once. This Ceremony is performed with a great deal of Solemnity ... They [chose] to have a general Circumcision when the Sultan, or General, or some other great Person hath a Son fit to be Circumcised; for with him a great many more are Circumcised. There is notice given about 8 or 10 Days before for all Men to appear in Arms, and great preparation is made against the solemn Day. In the Morning before the Boys are Circumcised, Presents are sent to the Father of the Child, that keeps the Feast; which, as I said before, is either the Sultan, or some great Person: and about 10 or 11 a Clock the Mahometan Priest does his Office. He takes hold of the fore-skin with two Sticks, and with a pair of Scissors snips it off. After this most of the Men, both in City and Country being in Arms before the House, begin to act as if they were [engaged] with an Enemy, having such Arms as I described. Only one acts at a time, the rest make a great Ring of 2 or 300 Yards round about him ... He holds his broad Sword in one Hand, and his Lance in the other, and traverses his Ground, leaping from one side of the Ring to the other; and in a menacing posture and look, bids defiance to the Enemy, whom his Fancy frames to him; for there is nothing but Air to oppose him ... At last, being almost tired with motion, he flies to the middle of the Ring, where he seems to have his Enemy at his Mercy, and with two or three blows cuts on the Ground as if he was cutting off his Enemy's Head. By this time he is all of a Sweat, and withdraws triumphantly out of the Ring, and presently another enters with the like shrieks and gesture. Thus they continue combating their imaginary Enemy all the rest of the Day: towards the conclusion of which the richest Men act, and at last the General, and then the Sultan concludes this Ceremony ... "

We can say then that our rite of circumcision goes back to ancestors who got influenced by the ‘Mahometans’ from Borneo. The uncut missionaries and the later ones who came cut (American Columbans, for example) did not give this a bother. After all, the Pinoy did not give it religious significance, doing it only for social and hygienic reasons. He was more concerned with who’s the cutter, what’s the method, and therefore, the style.

In the old hometown, unless one was brought to a doctor, or to the Puericulture Center, in our time, and their equivalents today from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, any boy would enter manhood through any of four cutting methods described by Generoso S. Maceda in 1935:

"Tuli sa batakan.-The operator provides a polished piece of wood preferably a guava tree branch, carved and flattened at one end. The length is about 1, ft. One end of it is driven into the ground at the same elevation as that of the penis when the one to be operated squats on his thighs. The foreskin or the prepuce of the penis is then drawn to the flat point of the erected apparatus called the batakan. The operator also in a squatting position, picks up the knife with one hand and places it lengthwise on the surface of the drawn foreskin. With a stick on the other hand he gives a sharp blow. If he does not succeed in the first blow he gives the second until he exposes the head of the penis."

"Tuli sa itak.-A well-sharpened bolo (itak) is provided for this operation. The point of the bolo is inserted lengthwise between the prepuce and the head of the penis while the handle drops to the ground. Both the operator and the one to be operated are in a squatting position. With the left hand of the operator drawing the prepuce on the edge of the bolo towards him, he strikes the prepuce with a piece of banana leaf petiole in his right hand until he succeeds in exposing the head of the penis. Medicine is applied, the wound dressed, and the operation is finished."

"Tuli sa gunting.-A pair of sharp scissors (gunting) is necessary for this method. One point of the scissors is inserted through the opening of the prepuce. Then the prepuce is stretched lengthwise on the edge with one hand and with the other slitting is accomplished. The wound is treated, dressed, and the process is over."

"Tuli sa bao.-This method is an imitation of the Chinese way of circumcising their boys. It is commonly known as tuling intsik. Of all the mutilations described above this is the most sacrificial one because above all, the wound is circular in nature and besides the time needed in healing is quite long, for the cut borders of the prepuce could hardly be kept together as they are not sutured. The instruments needed are a polished coconut shell (bao) with a hole in the center and a razor. The prepuce is inserted through the hole and is stretched forward so that the head of the penis rests behind the hole of the shell. The victim holds the shell firmly with his two hands, while the circumciser with his hand holding the stretched prepuce amputates it crosswise. The wound is treated and dressed and the person is considered circumcised."

We think the tuli sa bao would be equivalent to the modern-day clamp and scissor - the German cut - where nothing of the foreskin remains, and the Pinoy would carry a Nazi head between his legs forever!

These days, anti-circumcision advocates look at babies cut at birth as mutilated, their human rights violated so very early on. That’s the reason why the strong movement for parents to let their sons make the choice later on in life.

For us who got German cut, losing the tip of the foreskin apparently is a loss of the most sensitive parts of our organ, more sensitive than the ‘most sensitive area of the circumcised penis’ (Sorrells, M. et al, 2007). We also lost about “about one-half of the erogenous tissue on [our] penile shaft [because] the foreskin [that] protects the head of the penis and is comprised of unique zones with several kinds of specialized nerves ... important to optimum sexual sensitivity” (Taylor, J., etal, 1996).

The issue about high incidence of infections and cancer among the uncircumcised has already been debunked. Cleanliness and hygiene are personal concerns. We have not heard women who have uncut partners raise a howl.

So, can we now give young boys in our families the pros and cons of getting cut, and let them make the choice as they grow up? That would spare Pinoys in America additional health expense, and forget about making it an excuse for a balikbayan visit.  Down with Operation Tuli! -◊◊-

Blair, E.H. & Robertson, J.A. (1905). The Philippine Islands 1493-1898. 3:54-61 (Legazpi, M.L.); 5:34-187 (Loarca, M.); 7:64-78 (Salazar, D.); 16:25-210 (Morga, A.); 21:111-318 (San Nicolas, A., Jesus, L., & Concepcion, J.); 34:316-324 (Jesus, P., O.S.F.); 39:21-120 (Dampier, W.); 50:37-98 (Colin, F., S.J.), 99-182 (Combes, F., S.J.), 183-296 (San Agustin, G., O.S.A.), 296-374 (San Antonio, J.F., O.S.F.), 43:103-112 (Ortiz, T., O.S.A.) and 51:277-324 (Appendix). Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company. Available from the University of Michigan Digital Library Collection ‘The United States and its Territories 1870-1925: The Age of Imperialism.’

Maceda, G. S. (1935, Dec). Some methods of circumcision in the Philippines. The Philippine Journal of Science. 58(4). 513-517. URL in the University of Michigan DL Collection.

Sorrells, M. et al (2007) & Taylor. J. et al (1996). Cited in Recent Medical Studies on Circumcision of the Circumcision Resource Center at

Illustrations from Maceda (1935).

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