What is Ulwaluko, the controversial practice at the heart of Inxeba?

What is Ulwaluko, the controversial practice at the heart of Inxeba?

Screenings of the controversial South African movie Inxeba (The Wound) have been cancelled all across the country this weekend, as protesters demanded the flick gets pulled from cinemas. By Tom Head

Despite being nominated for eight SAFTAS and currently on 19 award wins, the hugely popular film hasn't won over every critic. As those from the Xhosa community leading the protests will tell you, this film has staunch opposition.

Why are people protesting against Inxeba (The Wound)?

Demonstrators are particularly 'wound' up at the film's premise. Not only do men from Xhosa culture feel like a homosexual relationship devalues the practice, but they aren't too happy that the movie lifts a lid on Ulwaluko itself.

It's a ritual shrouded in secrecy, and it those who still partake in the tradition want to guard the truth around Ulwaluko. They are very of the belief that "what happens in the mountains, stays in the mountains".

What is Ulwaluko?

What we're about to tell you can be found by a simple Google search, reading Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk To Freedom", or just by watching Inxeba itself. The secrets have since become public knowledge.

The process sees young men head into the Eastern Cape mountains with elder mentor figures. They administer a circumcision to the adolescents, who have to suffer the pain of a less-than-medically accurate procedure. The boys spend one or two weeks in the hills, adapting to their 'new manhood'.

How dangerous is Ulwaluko?

In 2014, a Dutch medical doctor created a website devoted to highlighting the dangers of the ceremony. He estimates that over 1,000 boys have lost their lives to Ulwaluko since 1995. The doctor had worked and lived in South Africa, and recalls one particularly gruesome winter season.

He had 68 initiates admitted to hospital, with severely mutilated genitals. Eight of those adolescents died. He decided enough was enough, and started the website. It soon received protests, but the South African Film and Publication Board supported the site for its "great educational value".

For many of Xhosa heritage, it still remains a right of passage, and a hugely significant cultural event. However, what Inxeba has done is open this debate up to a wider audience. This is an issue that won't be receding any time soon.


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