Boys’ Rite of Passage

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A child was being carried by his father to the hospital’s Emergency Room. The kid was wearing an oversized skirt, which was heavily blood-stained. And the kid looked scared, and rightfully so.

But before you speculate more on what happened to that poor child, let’s just say that the kid had a complication of a common procedure. A procedure being done to boys. Especially in the Philippines. Did I just told you that the kid with the oversized skirt was a boy? And he just had a circumcision.

Circumcision. Almost all young boys in our country have to go through this kind of initiation. I am not so sure though, why we Filipinos are so hung up with this tradition. If we are Jewish, then I can understand that. But we are not. Not all cultures are particular in circumcising all their boys. Globally it is estimated that only about 30% of all males are circumcised. But in Filipino culture, you dare not be branded as “supot,” or uncircumcised, as this is viewed as bad as being neutered.

When I was a boy, I was told that the statue of Andres Bonifacio in Balintawak with his raised hand holding a bolo, was a symbol that he was looking for all uncircumcised boys. I even heard that BSP does not really stand for Boys Scouts of the Philippines, but rather “batang supot, patuli!” That’s how ingrained this circumcision is in our culture that every boy cannot escape this “painful” tradition. And the mere mention of the word “tuli” can bring shivers to the spine of every uncircumcised boy.

I can tell you that circumcision is more of a “traditional practice” rather than a real medical necessity. In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.” They have restated this position in 1983, 1999 and again in 2005. Though there are mounting medical evidence of the benefits of circumcision, at this point it is still not recommended as a “routine procedure” by any medical organization.

I think the real danger, at least in our culture, of having all our boys be circumcised is who and how this surgical procedure is being done. I have heard stories from my elders, that in many barrios, it was traditionally the barber who performs this surgery using “labaha” or razor. They employ the “pukpok” (you don’t want me to elaborate on this!) method. The boy being circumcised chews on some guava leaves, and after the “pukpok,” he had to immediately spit the chewed leaves to his wound. Then they were ordered to swim right away into the river or the ocean. No wonder little boys were scared to death!

I know it is better now, with medical and semi-medical professionals performing this procedure nowadays. From midwives, to nurses, to medical students, to licensed doctors. Circumcision Clinics abound even in small towns especially during summer months of April to June. Many medical missions sponsored by different organizations and schools bring these professionals to different barrios to perform free-of-charge circumcision to right-age boys.

Operation Tuli

I had the opportunity to join several of these medical missions when I was in medical school and when I was an Intern. After learning from my mentors, I performed a few of this minor surgical procedure. The method we employed was much sophisticated and sterile than the “pukpok” method. We used scalpel and sutures. And yes we gave anesthesia!

Whatever the reason why we Filipinos are so particular with circumcision or why it is so deeply rooted in our culture, I really cannot tell. But somehow, this ritual, which is mostly done during the summer, has become like a rite of passage for young boys. And after bravely undergoing this “painful ceremony,” they can be rightfully called young men.

By the way, that boy who was wearing a skirt who was brought to the Emergency Room and was terrified? That was me.

(*photo is not mine, taken from here)



  1. Um, like most male Europeans are not circumcised. I found out that for those who were, and who are, they got bullied at school for being one when they were young!
    (Gaya ng asawa ko! haha!) It had to be done due to medical condition though. (so, swerte ko? :p)

    1. That’s interesting to know that the circumcised are the one being teased among Europeans. Very different in our FIlipino culture, for no one wants to be branded “supot.”

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