The Corner

African Wisdom Vs. African Wisdom

A tragic state of events, but eerily relevant to yesterday’s conversations. From the Washington Post:  

MBITA, Kenya — Family gatherings for Collins Omondi once were boisterous affairs here on the verdant shores of Lake Victoria. But in just 11 years, AIDS has killed seven of his uncles, six aunts, five cousins and both his parents. His extended family now consists of one surviving uncle, an aunt and their 2-year-old child — all of whom have AIDS.

Omondi, 28, a tall, broad-shouldered fish trader, has come to believe that a quirk of culture contributed to the decimation of his family. They were Luos, members of the only major tribe in Kenya that does not routinely circumcise boys. The absence of this ritual, Omondi said, helps explain why Luos are dying from AIDS at a rate unheard of among other Kenyans and rare in East Africa.

Twenty years after the first reports of a connection between HIV rates and circumcision, scientists are saying it is essential to understanding the path of the disease through Africa and possibly to reversing its course. President Bush’s $15 billion anti-AIDS program is pledging millions of dollars to Kenya and other countries so they can offer circumcision services in communities long defined, in part, by their reluctance to perform the procedure.

The unprecedented effort already has provoked a backlash from the Council of Luo Tribal Elders, which decided last year to officially oppose it. But along the beaches of Lake Victoria, where fishermen push their colorful sailboats into the waves before dawn each day, many express a willingness to leave this tradition behind if it means surviving an epidemic that seems to have no end.

“We are the people who are sick,” said Omondi, who recalled the haunting feeling of walking through his father’s empty home on a nearby beach. “We are the ones who lose people every day.”

Most African tribes traditionally circumcise boys in rituals marking the onset of manhood. But the Luos and some other Nilotic tribes, whose ancestors migrated south from Sudan, used to mark the end of childhood in a different but also painful way — removing six bottom front teeth.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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