2003 Photo Contest, Portraits, 2nd prize

Brent Stirton

Getty Images / RPM for Royal Geographic Society / Le Monde 2

01 January, 2002

January 1-5. Camaraderie and mutual support are reinforced by life in a communal hut. Boys belonging to the Xhosa ethnic group in South Africa are expected to undergo a circumcision ritual to mark the transition to manhood. Thousands of young men from all over the country, many of them leaving their city lives, attend circumcision schools such as this one. They are circumcised soon after arrival, and spend the next three to four weeks in seclusion with fellow initiates, learning Xhosa history and what is expected of them as an adult member of the tribe. A boy's stoicism during the ritual is considered an important part of his passage into adulthood. The ceremony also aims to instill a sense of heritage and tribal tradition, and village elders give the boys daily lessons through song and spoken word. At the end of the ceremony the boys attend a ritual bathing and are welcomed back into the Xhosa tribe as men. The ceremony is a highly private affair. The photographer was granted special access to this one by the king of the Xhosa people.

About the photographer

Brent Stirton

Brent Stirton is a special correspondent for Getty Images, and a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine as well as other international titles.  He speci...

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