Cutting the anthill : the symbolic foundations of female and male circumcision rituals among the Mandinka of Brikama, the Gambia
The main task of this thesis is to elucidate the historical and symbolic contexts of female and
male initiation rituals among the Mandinka as well as linkages to matricentric or mother
focused religious ideologies. The main argument of this thesis is that female and male
initiation rituals correspond with ancient Mande creation mythology. I argue that, in Mande
cosmology, excision and circumcision are "hidden" iconographic representations that refer to
the creation and transformation of the world from androgynous nature to sexually
differentiated culture marked by cross-sex relations of power. Female and male initiation
rituals are re-enactments of this cosmology, particularly the third phase of creation, which
concerns the symbolic reproduction of culture and the social world: female elders transform
female initiates into "male" "seeds" and male elders transform male initiates into "female"
"vaginas". In marriage, female elders represent the "Phallus" that transplant the "male"
"seed" as "bride" or "foetus" through the groom's "vagina" and into the agnatic "Womb"
which the male elders represent. I argue further that when women assert excision as
"tradition" and "culture" they are claiming the power of their "grandmothers", or female
elders, in passing on prehistoric "matriarchal" religious ideologies that buttress women's key
roles in ritual, as well as their socioeconomic and symbolic value as producers of "rice" and
reproducers of humans. Chapters one to four of this thesis set the ethnographic and
theoretical stage for the analysis of ritual and mythical symbols. Chapters five to seven
unravel dominant initiation ritual symbols and their parallels with creation myths and
conquer/settlement narratives. This thesis concludes that female and male initiation assert the
interdependence and complementarity of both "matriarchy" and "patriarchy" centred on the
ideological axis of mother and son, which was in the past embodied by the "circumcision"
queen (ngansimbaa) and the "warrior" king (mansoo) or the custodians of "tradition" and