Massa Makan Diabaté: Comme une piqûre de guêpe [Like a Wasp Sting]
Novels have been written on many things but there can’t be many whose main or indeed only subject is circumcision. This novel fills that gap, if there was a gap to be filled. It is essentially the description of the period leading up to circumcision, as well as the ceremony and the period immediately afterwards, told in novel form. Faganda is a Mandinka boy, in Mali. The Mandinka are a Muslim people (though their religion is very much influenced by the traditional religion of the people.) When he is seven days old Faganda has his hair shaved and will have it shaved again as part of the circumcision ceremony. The book tells of his growing up, with little anecdotes of events in his life. For example, he is caught stealing money and severely punished as, so he is told, the Mandinka do not steal. On his way to Koran school, he is delayed but the old woman he meet tells him how to keep smiling so when he is beaten for being late, to the surprise of his teacher, he keeps smiling throughout.
However, as we have been told, all is leading to his circumcision ceremony, a key rite of passage for all Mandinka boys. In the period before, he no longer wanders around naked and has to conceal his genitals. His mother washes behind his foreskin, to make sure he is clean. (Circumcision is, so we are told, necessary, as the Mandinka are a clean people.) We then follow the period up to the ceremony with prayer, both in a group and on his own, ceremonies, exchange of gifts, dire warnings about the pain (his father tells him the if he cries out during the ceremony, he will have to shoot him to preserve the honour of the family.) He is kept away not only from the women but also from other boys not in his peer group till the ceremony is complete. His mother gives him her silver ring and tells him to bite hard on it when he is cut and then the pain will only be like a wasp sting (whence the title of the book.) (His father does not approve.) It is certainly interesting to see the very complex ceremony and the rituals followed for circumcision but it may be of limited interest to Westerners.
First published by Présence africaine, Paris in 1980
No English translation