Tue, Aug 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

87 circumcised in one day in Kosovo

NO ANESTHETIC In a traditional ceremony that occurs every five years, all a village's boys five years old or younger will fall under a barber's scalpel

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , GORNJE LUBINJE, KOSOVO

It is hard to place the inhabitants of this unusual village in the web of identities that make up the Balkans.

They are neither Serbs nor Albanians, the main ethnic groups vying for control of the internationally administered province of Kosovo. Perhaps the closest match -- and this is how these Slavic-speaking Muslims who form a minority here in Kosovo describe themselves -- would be to call them Bosnians.

But the language spoken here, a sprawling mixture of Macedonian and Serbian sprinkled with a few Turkish words thrown in, is not the same as any other in the Balkans, including Bosnia. And Gornje Lubinje's customs, as well as those of its neighboring village, Donje Lubinje, are unlike those of any other people in Kosovo.

Every five years, the inhabitants of the two villages, high up in Kosovo's Shar mountain range, which is close to the boundary with Macedonia, come together for an extraordinary festival -- a version of a Muslim rite of passage. For three days, more than 3,000 people gather here to feast, sing and dance and take part in traditional Turkish sports like wrestling. In a region sharply divided along ethnic lines, Gornje Lubinje's festival this year has attracted Serbs, Albanians and members of Kosovo's diaspora from as far away as Switzerland and Germany.

But the distinguishing feature of this festival is the Sunet ceremony, or circumcision, that takes place in one day for all of the host village's boys that are age 5 or younger -- 111 of them this year in Gornje Lubinje (Donje Lubinje will perform the rite next year).

The tradition, with origins dating from beyond living memory, is viewed with pride by almost all residents because it symbolizes this place's special identity.

"It gives us a sense of unity," said Rafik Kasi, a local journalist from Gornje Lubinje, whose nephew was being circumcised.

Zaber Kaplani, who had traveled from Donje Lubinje, farther down the Zupa Valley, to join the ceremonies, said: "When parents have a boy, they spend months and years preparing for this ceremony. This is one of the greatest traditions we have."

Some parents chose to send their children to be circumcised at the village's clinic, where this year, on Saturday, two surgeons and a doctor performed operations on 24 boys under local anesthetic. But the vast majority opted to put their children in the care of the nimble hands of Zulfikar Shishko, 69, who normally works in the Ekspres barber shop in the nearby city of Prizen.

For 25 euros each, Shishko performed the operation in the boys' homes, without anesthetic. He was accompanied by two burly assistants dressed in red aprons who were tasked with restraining the boys during the operation.

"We have a special technique," explained Hajrulla Osmani, one of the assistants.

Armed with just one scalpel, a bottle of iodine and some scouring powder to help clean his hands after each operation, Shishko had the air of man possessed, as he proceeded to circumcise 87 boys in just over 12 hours on Saturday. At that pace, Shishko spoke hardly a word as he scurried from house to house.

"I would work even faster if they let me," he said, explaining that too many people wanted to talk to him.

Villagers here say the performing of the circumcisions on one day has a simple explanation: poverty.

"It dates from a period of crisis when people had no money. It was simpler for everybody to come together and share the expenses," Kasi said.

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