Written by Nandemu Barasa and Timothy Makokha
Read 8566 Times
Circumcisers in a cultural practice of khubiita chingembe to bless their knives in preparation of the circumcision exercise. [PHOTOS|Nandemu Barasa|West FM]
This month of August 2012 is yet another even year and all boys of the ages between 12 years to 14 years among the Bukusu Community will undergo the over 300 years old circumcision ritual. The age set from 2012 to 2022 will be called Bakikwameti No.III and by December 2012 they will have a defining event that will be attached to the 2012 circumcision year.
The test of courage, fearlessness underpins that broad day light fully naked and transparent all the world to view circumcision that marks the transition from childhood to manhood.
One wonders why Bukusu people circumcise their male children. It is not just for the sake of having a circumcised son in a home but it’s a process that is so significant in the life of an individual.
Talk about circumcision anywhere in this country and people will say, they recognize Bukusu people for it as much as many tribes circumcise their male children across the country.
That is why the retired president Daniel arap Moi knew that Bukusu are people of bakheba, people who swear in the name of the way they were circumcised and would do anything they want but not accepting to be called uncircumcised or to be circumcised for a second time.
Circumcision among Bamasaaba people is believed to have been started by a man called Samba Sambaranila Engunyi. Who was initiated by a woman called Khabale. We have featured how circumcision started and how it spread in our earlier articles on this website.
When the boy is mature enough, for example at the age of 15, he would inform his parents that he wants to be circumcised. Note that initially Bukusu people circumcised their males when they were as old as thirty years with some being married.
Sometimes if the child fears the father may use a mediator to deliver the message and later faces the father and explain his position as far as circumcision is concerned. In many cases the boy would first tell his mother who will in turn inform the father.
After the child has been given permission by his parents or guardians to be circumcised, he will be given a hen to take to the black smith to make chinyimba and birere (bells) for him. This is because the person who makes the bells birere needs to know the size required according to the size of the hand.
Sometimes a boy could borrow the bells from a friend only to use them and return after circumcision with a fee or chicken.
A special tree called lufufu is used for tying the chinyimba as a handle. Lufufu is usually used as it is believed to be a shrub of life as it renews the life of an initiate.
The parents need to prepare in advance, for example by informing the clan members of the mother to know how they can welcome the initiate and reward the young accordingly including slaughtering a bull.
The parents should also ensure they have done all the cultural requirements concerning marriage, for example dowry payment, sitiso, sitekho, and chinyinja. If the mother has not undergone all these, she will not be allowed to cook for her son after circumcision.
The boy will then begin khusaula chinyimba after the circumcision date has been set to move around dancing while playing chinyimba to invite relatives and friends from their homes.
Circumcision candidates being led to the river by their uncle in the morning before smearing them with mud.
Two days to the circumcision day, the circumcision candidate undergoes a process called khuchukhila which serves as a covenant with his father that he must be circumcised let come what may.
After khuchukhila the boy is send by the father to invite key relatives and friends that are required at the function. For example to call senge (aunt) and bakoki (people who were circumcised at the same time with his father).
On the eve of the circumcision day, the initiate is send to his maternal uncles’ home (ebukhocha) as the clan members to the mother bless him and give him the mandate to be circumcised.
One of the uncles’ will slaughter a bull and put a special part of meat called luliki around the neck of the initiate to walk with it up to their home to show how the parents of the candidate were sleeping on one another in the child making process.
The reason for smearing initiates with busee (internal content of the rumen) is to neutralize in hindrances to the circumcision of the boy, nga liosio khurusiao bubi.
The animal skin of the slaughtered bull is carried together with other pieces of meat to show the color of the bull that was slaughtered for him.
The bull is only slaughtered at the uncle’s home in the presence of the initiate. Elders will then check the internal organs and intestines to interpret the initiation matters and matters affecting the community at large.
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.
An uncle giving some important tips to the initiates to be before smearing them with mud at the river in the morning
In case the boy`s uncle gives him a live bull then his father will give his brother in law a piece of meat, sinama to take home. In the evening after returning from the uncle’s home lisombo a piece of meat from the cow or goat`s internal parts is put around the neck of the circumcision candidate, smeared with busee.
The reason for putting lisombo around the neck of the initiate 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.
Then boys start dancing as people sing and dance around them, khuminya 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), balebe, other relatives and friends.
Then babakoki sing to the initiates to celebrate then finish by singing sioyayo 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. Bamasaaba 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.
An initiate to be being brought at the circumcision scene in front of the house to be circumcised
When a circumcision candidate starts calling relatives for the circumcision ceremony, there are various ululations, bikalakala that are raised but the major ones are three.
The first ululation is done when the initiate undergoes khuchukhila, at their home, usually done by the mother. The second one is done at the uncles’ place after putting luliki 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 boys were taken to their grandfather’s or father`s graves very early in the morning to give respect to the dead before they go to the river. At the graveside, a cow or goat is slaughtered and Mzee Manyasi says it connects, invites the dead to witness the circumcision exercise.
Twins (a girl and a boy) being brought from the river as they are welcomed by their father to direct them to the circumcision scene in front of the house.
Twins are circumcised in a slightly different way as they are treated as special people. They are usually circumcised very early before sun rise and just in case one of the twins is a girl, the girl is tied with a banana fibre across her waist that is cut as a sign of the real circumcision cutting.
One of the twins, Mukhwana is usually cut first before Mulongo is circumcised. If one of them is a girl, she should also stand firm just like the boy during the process or else if she jokes about the circumcision exercise the boy that is being circumcised with will encounter problems in his life.
The circumcision process being done by a circumciser
Remember that all the cows or goats slaughtered before the boy is initiated are also used to confirm whether something sinister might happen to the boy during and after the circumcision exercise. People from the community who have the spirit of sensing sinister things by just examining the internal parts of the cow, goat or chicken are the ones who did it and gave the report immediately to the father and close uncles.
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.
The place where initiates are taken to be smeared with mud 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 kwaututu is put on the head of the circumcision candidate. Kwaututu is a special grass among Bamasaaba people 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.
According to a 73 year Mama Priscilla Nasimiyu, from Namanje village in Bumula Bungoma County who has initiated all her six sons traditionally, she could experience a different feeling suddenly back at home when her sons were at the river. To her that was the time Kwaututu grass was being placed on the boys head. Note that that grass could not stand on its own and as such a piece of clay soil was placed on the boy`s head first to hold it.
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 Khukhwalukha.
Traditionally, a person who was meant to smear the initiate with mud was to strip naked and then smear the initiates with mud as he tells them words of courage to face the knife without fear. Striping naked was to tell the boy that he must also appear like him in a very short time after circumcision.
The person to smear the initiates with mud at the river is supposed to be a person of good character, who was circumcised traditionally 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.
Bamasaaba people believe that the initiate will emulate the person who smeared him so if he is contrary to those set requirements then it will affect the boy.
An initiate immediately after undergoing the cut is sitting to relax before he is taken to the house.
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, lukembe 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.
According to one of the long serving circumcisers Mzee Watibini of Kimalewa village, when the candidate is brought to the circumcision scene mutiang’i the circumciser at that time does not see anything else apart from the fore skin of the boy.
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.
He says that 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 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.
He is not told direct, they only say Omwana abona the boy is seeing. 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 he will be through.
When the boy is approaching the homestead, his aunt goes out to receive him. The aunt is smeared with soot, she carries a cooking stick dipped in beer that the boy prepared during khuchukhila, then ties a piece of meat on her ear. She is supposed to slap the boy using the cooking stick although in most cases many boys hit it down. All that the aunt carries signifies transformation of the boy from childhood to adulthood and also wishing him to be rich, produce and welcome people.
The medicine for curing the injury obtained during the circumcision exercise for instance if the circumciser cuts himself is the circumcision knife lukembe that is pointed at the cut place and it heals automatically with time.
In Bamasaaba 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, lukembe 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 lukembe 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 kumusambwa will desert him and he will no longer circumcise again.
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 famous song khwera omurwa.
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.
The entire circumcision process is identified by the famous circumcision song sioyayo that is sung five times for a person to be circumcised.
Sioyayo is sung first when a son is making a covenant with his father, Khuchukhila, second is sung when luliki special piece of meat is put around the neck of the initiate at the uncles’ place. The third one is sung when lisombo is put around the neck of the initiate in the evening a day to the circumcision day. The fourth is sung at midnight by babakoki before the initiate is given permission to sleep in readiness for the cut the following day. The final sioyayo is sung when the initiate is being brought from the river in the morning for circumcision.
The initiate is usually taken in the house likombe in a backward position.
The girl who removes the soil from the head of the initiate immediately after circumcision is usually special to the initiate.
After circumcision, the initiate is given lusanja to sleep on. A few hours after the exercise, the circumciser usually returns to advice to the initiates in a process known as khulumia. During khulumia, 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, lipukhulu 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 include 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. Mzee Watibini says 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.
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.
Bamasaaba people believe by the tree crossing the path or road shows that the tree has been crossed by both bad and good people.A circumciser can stop performing his duties if he circumcises a dead person, if he suddenly falls while running with his knife or if he develops lifwa (swelling of his testicles).
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, musitosi and buried. Bamasaaba 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.
When the circumcision month, August, approaches, circumcisers conduct a blessing ceremony called khubita chingembe where they bless the knives.
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 busee 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 lubito 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.
An initiate being taken to the house in a backward position after circumcision
The youth will have to go through processes which will guide hum to form a conscience. These processes are peer group, egoism (self identification) Lubitomakes 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 perfom it. One must be an elder of good morals, knowledgeable in Bukusu customs and of good standing in society.
Bamasaaba people have classified all the people who have been circumcised in eight age sets. Omusawa, Omukolongolo, Omukikwameti, Omukananachi, Omukinyikeu, Omunyange, Omumaina, Omuchuuma.
The most recent has been Omukolongolo which ran from 2000 to 2010. This year, 2012 they are launching Omukikwameti group. This is the onset of the third generation of bakikwameti circumcision age group.
The first generation of bakikwameti was between the year 1812 to 1822 while the second generation was between the year 1912 to 1922. This third bakikwameti age group generation is likely to run from 2012 to the year 2022.
Note that like we had explained in the last story a new age set cannot find a person who was classified in the same group alive. That means right now there is no Omukikwameti still alive. Apart from the age sets, Bamasaaba people also attach on them unique happens.
For instance Omusawa who was circumcised in 1998 the age set was called Omusawa Okhalaka, sia bomu in relation to the bomb blast that exploded in Nairobi at US Embassy. Those in the same age set have a special bonding and they share meat or any gift, Lubaka whenever one circumcises his son.
Switch to Our Mobile Site