This friend of mine is one of the sweetest guys I know. He’s quiet, but has a great sense of humor. One day, late at night, he blurted out, “is it normal that I was circumcised in the fifth grade?”. I knew I needed it for my folklore project. Most of the background information is contained in the transcript below.
The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.
“What is there to talk about? I guess you guys are my friends… so… eh? I don’t know if it’s like a cultural thing here, but in the Philippines it’s really looked down upon if you’re not circumcised, like you’re just kind of like a dipshit, you know? You get made fun of. So then like it’s kind of like a rite of passage thing – which is really strange – that like somewhere around like, um, I don’t know like end of elementary school to middle school. You, like you should do it, you know? Yeah, so then, um, we had like a Philippines vacation and my dad was like, ‘oh yeah, you should do it’ cause it’s cheaper in the Philippines, so then I was like, ‘okay, I’ll do it dad’. And I was like really scared. It was just, I don’t know. It was really weird. And then, okay. My dad would explain what would happen and I’d get so scared. Because like, ‘oh, there are scissors involved’. Hahahahaha. People in the Philippines can get superstitious that you’d get infected if you did it too young or something, so you wait. Also, because the healthcare system there is really bad, so they’re afraid that like babies will get sick and die if you do it then. Anyways, then. Um, uh, I’ll just jump to when it happened, because it was really scary. I was just really scared and I kind of just let it happen. But, basically when I went there, it was like- it was really strange.
“Like I said, the Philippines healthcare is really bad, so they didn’t knock me out or anything. I was awake when it happened. Um, yeah, hahaha. They put me in the room, and my dad’s just outside. And the doctor – like I’m lying there, and it feels like a really bare room, like probably no bigger than this room, and it was really strange, and it was just a lot of lights and stuff, and it didn’t even really feel like a proper.. like… surgical place. There were just some beds and stuff, and needles and everything. So, like um, the doctor… the doctor dude he gets a towel and is like, ‘oh, I’m gonna put this over your head. Because you’re gonna be traumatized if you see what happens. You know? So they blindfold me pretty much, as it happens, and then he pretty much walks me through in like Tagalog – which is Filipino – what’s gonna happen. I don’t even remember much of it, I know I didn’t pass out. But like, they definitely numbed me in that area, you know? No needles going anywhere. They just, I don’t know, stuck a needle around your … groin? Area? Basically, the entire time, I couldn’t really feel – or like I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could definitely feel … things moving around. And like, being cut off. Just saying, and it was really strange. And it was just a lot of pressure, until like, afterward. Um, and I just remember going, ‘whoa, it’s not that bloody’, when they took the towel off because there wasn’t that much blood. And it was just really strange. And it took like two weeks to heal. And that’s all I remember. There were stitches that like, melted off. Because that’s like medicine. It’s not really a Filipino tradition – I don’t know if they do it so much anymore cause like, the Philippines has been getting a lot better, since back then. This was fourth or fifth grade. It was just kind of interesting. I don’t know how old I was, I don’t want to remember hahahaha.
“You know that Twilight Zone episode? Eye of the Beholder? I was kind of like that. Except there was no pig on the end, yeah. It wasn’t that bad. Just a lot of gauze and pills.”
This piece really sheds some light on the overlap between modern medicine and folk medicine. Circumcision is an ancient tradition, however the advent of modern medicine has propelled it further into the mainstream. This friend of mine describes how even to this day, modern Filipino circumcision are influenced by folk belief in that it is considered bad luck to get it down as a baby. Later, he mentioned to me how the timing of the circumcision (around the age of 9 or 10) was also meant to be a sort of ritual celebration of adulthood, although his family did not really celebrate it. Rather, they viewed it more as something that just happens without imparting a significance related to maturity.