Circumcision among the Tachoni community

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As circumcision season among  the Tachoni and Bukusu community continues, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia residents have been urged to not only embrace the culture of circumcision but also education for their children.

Speaking when they attended circumcision ceremony hosted by Mzee Ben Sirengo Weramondi, Bungoma County Assembly Member of the County Assembly Martin Wanyonyi Pepela and Kuppet Executive official Catherine Wambilianga urged communities that circumcise young boys to take their children to school for a better future.

“Let us embrace our beautiful culture of circumcision but please don’t forget to take children to school because after circumcision, we need our children to pursue their education up to the highest level in order for them to live well in future,” said Mrs Wambilianga.

“Education is the key to success and therefore even you the initiates don’t think after your circumcision then everything is finished, you must go to school and prepare yourselves well,” she added.

Mrs Wambilianga appealed to residents not to over spend on circumcision but save resources for educating their children.

Her sentiments were echoed by the Member of the County Assembly Martin Pepela who said Communities should embrace their culture while at the same time giving education the greatest priority.

The circumcision ceremony that took place in Sango, village, Ndivisi location, Webuye East Sub County was conducted according to Tachoni Culture.

Circumcision among Tachoni people is believed to have been started long time ago although they stopped practicing it for some time when one of their leaders, Musebe went to the mountain promising to come back with a message to his people but unfortunately he never came back. That made Tachoni people to stay for several years without circumcision.

Note that Circumcision among Tachoni and Bukusu people is related very closely except some minor differences that I will let you know as we go through.

Tachoni people used to circumcise both boys and girls although at the moment, they only circumcise boys thanks to the retired president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi`s regime which Mzee Kakai from tachoni Community says managed to stop Female Genital Mutilation completely among Tachoni people.

Initially both boys and girls would inform their parents about their interest to be circumcised who will then plan for the ceremony. Candidates would move around inviting relatives, friends and neighbours to witness their big day of circumcision.

Later, they will take part in a ceremony equated to swearing where they will go to the river to draw water that will be use to prepare traditional beer that will later be taken by the circumcisers.

There are some rules that those who will be initiated follow when they go to the river to draw the said water. One must not look back when going and coming back, you must not talk to anyone even if there are any attempts on the way to make you answer.

That ceremony is called Okhuchukhila and it marks the start of a serious process of the whole ceremony of circumcision and after performing it, the boy cannot turn around and avoid circumcision come what may. Even if a person dies in the family, they must circumcise the boy then embark on burial plans for the deceased.

The initiates may be smeared with wet millet or sorghum. Note that not all clans can be smeared with the wet millet or sorghum.

The initiates will then go to the uncles place where a cow or goat is slaughtered and a section of the meat is put in the boy`s neck. That meat is called Oluliki. It is normally eaten by the boy`s grandmother or aunt.

The animal skin of the slaughtered bull is carried together with other pieces of meat to show the colour of the bull that was slaughtered for him.

From the uncle’s home they are not to go to any other place other than their home without stopping even if it rains they endure the rains. Clan members for example uncles must accompany the team after giving them all the requirements.

In case the boy`s uncle gives him a live bull then his father will give his brother in law a piece of meat, Esinama to take home.

At the boys place, another cow or goat will be slaughtered then a piece of the internal parts of the cow or goat, rumen, Lisombo, is put in the boy`s neck then he will proceed to dance with it in his neck the whole night. The initiate is also smeared with Busee, internal content of the rumen.

The reason for putting Lisombo around the neck of the initiate according to Tachoni people is to ensure it makes the initiate rich as it is believed to attract wealth from all directions to the initiate. Lisombo lisomba Kimiandu. The part that is picked for this ceremony is from the rumen but not from other stomachs of the bull.

All the cows or goats slaughtered at the boy`s uncles place and home are also used by traditional experts to determine if there might be something sinister during the ceremony. Just like Bukusu people and many other Luhya sub tribes, Tachoni people have special people who can tell if something sinister might happen just by observing some internal organs of a slaughtered animal.

Sinister things we mean the boy might run away from the cut, he might call his mother or father`s name after encountering a lot of pain during the cut, he might die from bleeding, the circumciser might chop off the whole of the boy`s sexual organ and many more.

Then boys start dancing as people sing and dance around them, Okhuminya for some time as they take local brew Kwete. Different categories of people are served in different pots, for example Babakoki, (those initiated the same year with the initiate’s father), Bakhocha, (maternal uncles), other relatives and friends.

Then Babakoki sing to the initiates to celebrate then finish by singing Esioyayisho before allowing the initiates to go and sleep.

Before the circumcision candidate is allowed to sleep, he is given meat without salt to reduce bleeding during the cutting process. The meat is given in sizable pieces of meat as the initiates is supposed to put the whole piece in mouth without biting.

This is meant to make the circumcision exercise to be faster for the circumcisers. Tachoni people believe if the boy bites the pieces then the circumciser will do exactly that way when circumcising him resulting into a lot of pain.

The person to roast meat for the initiates must be a person of good character, a person who can be emulated. The stick used for roasting meat is kept safely to prevent ill intentioned people from using it in witch craft.

When a circumcision candidate starts inviting relatives for the circumcision ceremony, there are various ululations, Ebikalakala that are raised but the major ones are three.

The first ululation is done when the initiate undergoes Okhuchukhila, at their home, usually done by the mother. The second one is done at the uncles’ place after putting Oluliki around the neck. The third one is immediately after circumcision as people celebrate the bravery of the initiates. Other ululations can be made at the homes of relatives, neighbors, friends and Bakoki when the initiate goes to invite them.

The rule is that, ululations can only be made by women; men were not allowed to.

The circumcision candidate is usually taken to the river very early in the morning to be smeared with mud to make the body cold hence reduce bleeding during the cutting. In certain cases first born boys were taken to their grandfather’s graves very early in the morning to give respect to the dead before they go to the river. At the graveside, a goat is slaughtered and Mzee Se Wekesa says it is a way of giving respect to the deceased and honoring him as the senior most person in the family. It is also the ceremony that clears any appeasement that might have been overlooked. From that exercise, the whole family will receive blessings.

The place where initiates are taken to be smeared with mud Musiloba among Tachoni while Bukusu people call it Musitosi is so special as it is associated with cultural spirits concerning circumcision that make initiates withstand the circumcision pain.

After smearing him with mud, a special grass Wututu is put on the head of the circumcision candidate. Wututu is a special grass among Tachoni and putting it on the boy`s head signifies that the boy is now fully connected with the ancestors and also sends the message to the boy`s mother back at home that the son is coming and is ready to face the knife.

Boys were shaved a few days before the circumcision day because after initiation they would not be allowed to shave until their passing out day called Okhualukha.

At the river, person to smear the initiates with mud is supposed to be a person of good character, who was circumcised traditionally, married with children, a person who did not bleed during his own circumcision and is known for his bravery. In most cases it is the boy`s uncle who married a fresh woman not a widow, a woman who had given birth at her parents’ home nor a divorced woman would do it.

When they are coming from the river after smearing the initiates with mud, they are supposed to order the circumcision candidates to urinate and/or defecate before reaching home to prevent embarrassment of some initiates who might urinate during the process.

There are a few cases where immediately after smearing the initiates with mud, he becomes weak and start shivering, in such a case he is given the circumciser’s  knife, Amaalo or Enyuli, a traditional metal used by blacksmiths to hold then he becomes normal again as they proceed with their process. This was seen as an indicator that the initiate has cultural spirits for circumcision or Bubasi blacksmith.

Etiang`i is a special place where the boy will stand straight when he is being cut. Initially elders used to sprinkle flour plus special baked sand around the place where the boy will head to straight when he reaches the homestead.

The circumciser will not recognize the presence of the crowd of people and in case he cuts himself while in the process of cutting, he will not feel any pain until after the process.

It is believed if the boy is approaching the scene and it happens that the circumciser feels the presence of people then he will automatically not perform his duty well. He might even chop off the whole of the boy`s organ which of course will result into beating from the crowd.

Also note that when the boy is on the way home from the river, the circumciser will send his assistants to check on him. They will run and reach the boy to confirm because if at all the boy is afraid of the cut, those with the spirit of circumcising will automatically know and in turn inform the real circumciser that the boy is afraid.

Normally when the boy is on the way he should not turn around and look at anybody, he should just be focused ahead. Confirming whether the boy is afraid of the knife helps the circumciser to apply a faster way of initiating him so that before he realizes any pain he will be through.

Before the boy gets to Etiang`i, he must pass through two spears placed in the homestead where he will be given instructions informing him to understand that he will no longer be a child. He is told to realize that from that moment he will no longer be in his mother`s shoes but his father`s.

Amaalo is respected so much because it serves many other functions. The medicine for curing the injury obtained during the circumcision exercise for instance if the circumciser cuts himself is the circumcision knife Amaalo that is pointed at the cut place and it heals automatically with time.

In the community if one has a wound that has taken a very long time without curing, he or she had to mark the circumciser immediately after he cuts an initiate so that he points the knife, Amaalo at it and it will heal after a while.

Sometimes, circumcisers would punish initiates who are known to be rude by sharpening the circumcision knife Amaalo using black ants, Chindangunywe a particular species of insects, to make the initiates have Chisalila, a lot of internal pain immediately after the circumcision exercise.

Just in case the circumciser makes a mistake in the circumcision process and is beaten by relatives he should not fight back using the circumcision knife as if he uses it to fight the cultural spirit Omusambwa will desert him and he will no longer circumcise.

Chisalila is an abnormal pain that affects initiates immediately after the circumcision exercise. It can come naturally or induced by circumcisers.

When the circumciser finishes cutting the boy, he whistles and then the boy`s mother seated in the house in a group of other women will come out with ululations as they sing the songs.

If in any case the boy shouts out the mothers name during the cutting exercise a ritual had to be performed to cleanse the mother or else she might pass on or live unfortunate life. Among both Tachoni and Bukusu people, they must slaughter a sheep for the cleansing exercise.

On the other hand it is important for you to note that, any boys, who lack courage to face the knife and maybe cries in pain during the cut are always blessed according to Tachoni belief. In most cases if more than one boy are circumcised at the same place and one of them fails to withstand the pain of the knife then he would have taken the fortune from the one that withstood the pain. That has made many Tachoni and Bukusu people at the moment to avoid group circumcision for fear of such occurrences.

The initiate is usually taken in the house Likombe in a backward position. Mzee Iningilo says the act of taking the initiate in the house in a backward position means the boy has now moved from childhood to adulthood. However Bukusu people who use the same backward position while taking the initiates in the houses have a different meaning for it. To them the position emulates how the snake that was killed by Mango used to enter its hole.

Among Tachoni people, after the boy has been taken to the house, a cow for those people who were circumcised the same year with his father, Babakoki, is slaughtered so that they roast and eat its meat. There is a special stick that will be erected outside the house where every Bakoki will put a piece of meat from what he will be given. That meat is for the boy who has been circumcised and any Bakoki who will not put there his piece will be taken as the one who has bad intentions to the boy. He will be slapped with a fine of a cow.

The boy`s father would not be allowed to have conjugal right with the boy`s mother until the boy is healed. The same applies to the circumcisers.

After circumcision, the initiate is given Olusanja to sleep on. A few hours after the exercise, the circumciser usually returns to advice to the initiates in a process known as Okhuluma.  During Okhuluma, the initiate is also informed of the person who circumcised him. There are mostly three people who take part in the real cutting. The one who cuts, the one who puts baked sand, Lifu in the boy`s organ, then the one who pulls the foreskin before it is cut.

There are specific requirements before one is ordained to be a circumciser. One had to come from a clan that had the spirit of circumcising.

Clans that circumcise among Tachoni people according to Mzee Se Wekesa include Ababiya, Abayumbu.

Bukusu people have Bakhoma, Balako, Babasaba, Baleyi, Babichu among others.

Note that one had to be married and his first born child should be male before he could be allowed to initiate. On top of that there were stages that one passed through before being allowed to circumcise.

One started with preparing sand for the rite, sharpening the knives, putting sand into the boy’s organ before it is cut, holding the skin for the real circumciser to cut the boy before being the knife officially to start circumcising on his own.

On cutting the first skin, it is placed on the boy`s body at either side of his waist. Elders reveal that it was placed there to avoid people with ill intentions taking it to bewitch the initiate.

We have had some situations where old women have been beaten to death after they swallowed the boy’s skin immediately it is dropped on the ground.

Note that unlike Bukusu boys who face the West when they are being circumcised, Tachoni boys face the East.

That according to elders is because Bukusu people migrated and settled at their current places from West while Tachoni are believed to have moved their current place through the East.

The circumciser always steps on the boy`s left foot to cut the first skin but changes quickly to finish the inner skin. Remember that the whole exercise takes place very fast, a maximum of thirty seconds and while doing it the circumcisers communicates but no one can understand them because it is spiritual.

The handle of the knives used to initiate is made from a traditional tree called Kumukimila which means tradition. Note that the said tree must have roots that have crossed the road. Not every Mukimila tree has roots crossing the road.

If the knife becomes worn out, a special ceremony is conducted where a cow or goat is slaughtered and then the knife taken to the river, Musitabicha and buried. Both Tachoni and Bukusu people argue that if it is just thrown away anyhow then it will cause a curse to the many people it was used to circumcise.

If a circumciser dies, his knives are placed on the house before burial and his fellow circumcisers will conduct a traditional ceremony before taking them back in his house.

Just like Bukusu people, when the circumcision month, August, approaches, circumcisers conduct a blessing ceremony called Okhubita Amaalo where they bless the knives.

Just like Bukusu people, during the ceremony, a white or spotted goat is slaughtered plus a white chicken and the chicken’s blood is sprinkled on the knives while blood from the goat is mixed with Obusee and some herbs and placed on the calabash.

The old circumciser takes up the duty of blessing the knives praying that god allows them to use them well without sinister happenings. There after certain pieces of meat from the goat and chicken are roasted and boiled for the gathering to eat and then drink beer later.

After the ceremony, one can circumcise without fear because the knives are blessed. Each circumciser keeps his own knife tied with banana leaves and kept in a very special bag.

Circumcision opens a way to special instructions and rule called Esibito given to the initiate.

It is a moral awareness development of a man as she/ he grows physically and mentally to help him/her grow conscientiously through society.
The youth will have to go through processes which will guide them to form a conscience. These processes are peer group, egoism (self identification) Esibito makes a great impact on a developing person as it makes the individual aware of him/ herself as a mentor of a society because of the co-operation implied.

Self respect replaces fear as a basis of moral conduct.

The main impact is the great development of awareness of others and responsibility towards them, sensitivity is their opinions and attitudes.

The rules given are organized to mould and prepare the youths into a morally upright and decent adult lifestyle. Any good role model from the community (clan) is allowed to perform it. One must be an elder of good morals, knowledgeable in Tachoni or Bukusu for Bukusu people customs and of good standing in society.

The process that differentiates circumcision among Tachoni and Bukusu is the passing out ceremony. Among the Tachoni people on the eve of the ceremony which is also called Okhualukha, the boy will not sleep as he will be moved around with relatives, friends singing the whole night. If the boy sleeps the father will be fined by producing a sheep that will be slaughtered.

Note that before the boy starts a process of passing out, he uses ants to strengthen his manhood and make it ready for the future role of procreation. Here the boy will place the ants to his circumcised manhood for them to bite as he wipes blood that comes out as a result of the bites. Among Bukusu people, they use the same although they can use a branch of a traditional tree called Namumusuni which has thorns compressed. It is a process called Okhupa Inenaki and it is very painful. Because of the pain experienced during the process, some people may choose to avoid it although their sexual life might be interfered with in future.

Boys are always taken to a sacred place called Sitabicha aka Jordan where they are given instructions by elders who have specialized in it. There boys go through hard things with many Tachoni people saying they always fight with the leopard. That fight with the leopard has remained the greatest secret among Tachoni people as they are completely prohibited from revealing it. The only thing they can let you see is the mark that is always left on their hands which they say is as a result of fighting with the leopard.

When boys come from Sitabicha or Jordan the way some of them call it, no one is allowed to appear in front of them and if it happens, he or she will be cursed. They say one will be cursed making him or her to experience sinister things. According to Mzee Eli Khamala of Mechimeru if you cross their line, a tree might grow on your head, your private parts might move to your face, termites might suddenly start coming out from your head.

The boys will be shaved with milk being poured from a traditional stool and used to sprinkle on the head as the shaver shaves.

At night there will be sex lessons where the initiates will be taught how to deal with sex lives. That is the time that funny dances are performed with some participants dancing naked. Mzee Eli Khamala says at that time you can dance naked even with your mother or father in law so long as you don`t show any sexual intention to the opposite person.

The following day, the initiates will graduate then be dressed in new clothes and start moving out to collect presents from the relatives. That process is called Okhubachukha.

Just like Bukusu people, Tachoni people have classified all the people who have been circumcised in eight age sets. Omusawa, Omukolongolo, Omukikwameti, Omukananachi, Omukinyikewi, Omunyange, Omumaina, Omuchuuma.

Omukolongolo ran from 2000 to 2010. Bakikwameti group was launched in 2012 with this year`s being Bakikwameti number three.