The Tour The Guidebook Life Celebrations

Whilst people in Khiva have lost many of their traditional Muslim practices during the Soviet times, it would be unheard of for an Uzbek boy to grow up uncircumcised and Uzbek men consider it a strong part of their identity. However, there are some boys who are born with very little foreskin and are considered to have been heavenly circumcised. These boys are often given the name ‘Surnat’ which means circumcision. They are not circumcised but a party is still given without the actual snip being performed.

Robes and hats are sold in the Caravanserai

The hats are designed to look like turbans

Boys tour the Holy Mausoleums of the old city

Boys are circumcised aged three, five or seven. Often brothers or cousins will be circumcised together to cut down on costs. The first step is for the boy’s mother to sew a new pair of white, baggy pajama bottoms for her son, along with a new mattress and new sheets. The family then contacts the local ‘chimanchi’ who will make a ‘chiman’ for the boy. A chiman looks a bit like a kite and is made from paper and wood with strings of balloons, sweets and toy cars hanging down from it. The family also invites the local barber to come as it is usually barbers who perform the actual snip. A video camera man is also invited to take footage of the whole circumcision day, including close ups of the deed itself to provide the boy with a momento of the day he became a real boy and took his first step towards manhood.

On the day of the circumcision the boy is given a turban-like hat to wear and a decorated robe. He then makes a tour of the Said Allaudin and Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleums with his parents, who offer the resident Mullahs money and bread and ask for blessings. They then return home and await the chimanchi who arrives with the chiman and a drummer. Together they entertain the boy or boys, singing funny songs and making jokes and giving the chiman to the boy. This will be hung up outside the house for a month as a sign that a circumcision has just taken place. Traditionally the chimanchi is paid with a sheep, but these days a monetary payment is more common.

At around lunch time the barber arrives and a bed is made with the new mattress, pillow and sheets in one of the rooms. Bread is placed under the pillow for luck and sweets are thrown over the bed, which are then eaten by the children of the house. The women leave the room and the barber, father of the son, his brothers and close friends, bring the boy into the room and remove his trousers. Up until this point, the atmosphere is usually one of fun and celebration with the boy or boys about to be circumcised either unaware or distracted from what is about to take place. However, at this point the boy will often become scared and start kicking. Usually the father is as upset as his son, so his friends take over, holding the boys arms and legs tight and placing him onto the newly made mattress on the floor.

The barber then cleans the penis, rolling the foreskin back as far as it will go. The foreskin is then pulled up and stretched onto a small wooden stick. The barber then takes out a piece of bamboo that has been cut in half length ways and has a slit down the middle. This is slid across the foreskin, shielding the penis but exposing the stretched foreskin still held taught between the barber’s thumb and stick. With his free hand the barber then takes a sharp knife and with a guillotine motion slices accross the bamboo, cutting off the foreskin. The remaining foreskin skin is quickly rolled back and daubed with cotton wool soaked in antiseptic. At this point the father looks dazed, the boy cries and screams and the various friends and relatives crowd around waving money and toys in the boys face, congratulating him on becoming a real boy.

Meanwhile, the women of the house have been sitting in another room with the mother of the boy who keeps her finger immersed in oil in order to assuage some of her son’s pain. The barber then enters this room and congratulates the mother on a successful circumcision. It is the mother and not the father who must pay the barber and in return she is given her son’s foreskin. She carefully wraps this up and later sews it into the new mattress she has made for her son. This will be the mattress that her son will spend his wedding night on, following the old superstition that a man who is not near his foreskin during love making will not be able to have children.

The boy or boys who have been circumcised have pillows built up around each side of their mattresses and then a quilt placed over, in order not to touch the boy’s body. They then rest for a few hours and when they want to get up they are given baggy new, white pajamas to wear. Newly circumcised boys are not to leave the house for three days.

On the evening of the third day or within that week, those who can afford it hold a large party. This is similar to a wedding party, with lots of guests invited, seated outside with musicians and a dancer and the ubiquitous mountains of plov. The newly circumcised boy or boys wear their special hats and robes as well as the baggy pajamas. They proudly limp around collecting money, sweets and compliments from the various guests. The memory of the snip itself already a hazy memory.

Gifts are given and the newly circumcised boys rest

During the actual circumcision party, the newly circumcised boy or boys wear their special hat and robes

Tour Links:

‘Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum’

‘Said Allaudin Mausoleum’
Guidebook Links:
‘Islam in Khorezm’