Circumcision Ceremonies in My Experience

First I must introduce Omer and Lemon. They were born and raised in Turkey and met while going to a University in Istanbul. They both were majoring in Political Science, and got married, resolving to emigrate to some English speaking country. Upon graduation they sent out applications for work, and received an offer from San Jose State College for Omer to run the audio visual lab. He took the job, and he and Lemon happily moved to San Jose, CA.

They both enjoyed their Turkish heritage and maintained many aspects of their cultural life. Omer started a Turkish folk dance performance group, and within a couple of years they were performing up and down the West Coast, winning honors from the Turkish and the folk dance communities.

After a few years they decided to mount a tour of Turkey during the summer of 1987. They gathered dancers, musicians, friends from Turkey, and interested tourists.

Among their friends was a young man named Sam, who had been born in Ankara, Turkey, emigrated to San Jose, California, and was working in a home for the elderly. He met a lovely young Japanese girl who also worked there. They married, and had two sons, who at the time of this tour were ages three and five.


When the tour group first arrived in Istanbul we visited some museums. One of the exhibits displaying Turkish culture was a large four-poster bed draped with a luxurious canopy over all four sides. In the bed were two young boy mannequins with their heads on pillows. Over the elegant quilt covering them each had a coat that looked like a drum major’s uniform with gold trim, brass buttons, and a tall hat at their feet. When I asked about what that was I was told that that was the depiction of the boys’ circumcision ceremony. Once I got the significance of the elegant coats, I noticed there were young boys wearing them as they walked along the streets.

It was important to Sam that he take his boys back to Ankara to meet his family. We all wondered about Sam’s boys. We asked him whether he was planning for the circumcision party this trip and he always evaded answering. We asked their mom, and she said that he wouldn’t talk to her about it. She was completely in the dark about what was going on in that regard with her kids.

Sam had brothers who raised Arabian horses in the Santa Cruz mountains, and one day on this trip we were invited to visit the Turkish National Arabian Horse Stables. When we got there, we were invited into the stables where forty mares had recently foaled. The mares were tethered in their stalls, but the foals were cavorting around the huge stables, and were delighted and excited to meet us all, and nuzzled up to us so we would pet them. Sam was negotiating to buy a mare, and on our way back to the bus we watched as Sam put a mare through her paces. He decided that he wouldn’t buy her, but we enjoyed watching them work out.


Towards the end of the trip we were invited to visit a Shiite Village for three days and nights. The villagers welcomed us with open arms, housed us in their homes, and enjoyed showing off their life styles. There were enough people who spoke both English and Turkish that we got along fine.

There was a three year old boy in the village, and his parents felt he was not old enough for his circumcision ceremony for a couple more years—the idea is that the boy is supposed to be old enough to know what is happening to him. However, with these two visiting boys they decided to have the ceremony while we were there. We were all invited. I showed up to be polite, but I was not interested in being at the ceremony. They had the large bed set up with posts at each corner, and a large canopy draped over the top. The boy was lying between Sam’s two sons. He had his drill team coat spread over him and the tall hat at his feet. All the guests were honoring the boy by talking to him, giving him gifts and toys, and especially paper money.

I did not want to be in the party, and besides I had the opportunity to visit Hittite Ruins, so I left. When I returned to the village that party was over and the town looked deserted. Then, to my surprise, the “oldest lady in the village” came over and grabbed my sleeve and started pulling me towards the houses. I followed her, completely bewildered as to what she had in mind.

She took me up a flight of outside stairs, and there was the little boy with his mother and father. I realized what she wanted—I had a Polaroid camera, and she wanted me to take a picture of him. But just then he had to urinate and was scared it would hurt. He screamed while his father held him and his mother held the brass basin. I decided I didn’t need to be there so I put the camera on a chair and walked out to the deck.

When I heard the stream of urine hit the pan he stopped crying immediately. I gave them time to get themselves together and came back into the room. To my surprise the father was standing on the chair with my camera focused on the boy in the canopied bed, with the gifts and balloons around him. What surprised me was that the father knew how to operate the camera and got two or three excellent shots.


Two days later we were in Ankara, and were invited to the Circumcision celebration of Sam’s two boys. It seems the night before a taxi had come and picked up the family and driven to Ankara where they joined Sam’s Turkish family. The party was at a five-star hotel. There were two bus loads of us—about sixty people. When we walked into the party it was so crowded that we didn’t make a dent in the crowd. In one part of the banquet room was the traditional canopied bed, and the two boys were in it. The bed was covered with gifts and paper money. The women of the family sat with the boys constantly while the party progressed. There was a marvelous spread of foods, professional bands and singers kept the program going and there was continuous ballroom dancing, Turkish style.

Since Omer was big into audiovisual equipment—that being his profession—when the trip was over he gave us all video films that were shot all along the way. There towards the end was a close-up of the circumcision being performed on Sam’s boys. Five men were involved in the procedure—one man for holding each arm, one for holding each leg, and the man who performed the ritual. The whole business lasted only about two minutes, but I always close my eyes when that part comes, so even today I don’t know what actually happens.


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