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Mango, the circumcision hero among the Bukusu community

Written by Timothy Makokha
2012-02-21 14:01:00
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Initiates hitting cow bells as they head to their uncles on the eve of the circumsion. [Photo/ File]

Mango is a legend among the Bukusu people. He is a circumcision hero in the tribe who has been celebrated over ages.

Many songs have been sung about him, especially circumcision songs.

According to Manguliechi, Mango was a member of ‘Bameme’ Clan although some historians argue that he was ‘Omukhurarwa’. He was a son of Kambisi wa Wetungu, Omumeme (father) and his mother was omunyala Musiondo-Nabwile.

 He was circumcised on behalf of his father who killed ‘Yabebe’ the snake that had killed so many people in the Luhyia land.  The award he was to receive from the Bukusu elders after killing the snake was to be made the first ‘omusani’ among the bukusu people.

 Since Mango’s father was very old, it was then him who was circumcised instead of his old father.

He was circumcised by Nalukaye under the assistance of Wele musiku-Omuleyi  Omuchesongwa Omumila Masondo Omulusanya. This made Mango the first Omukolongolo in the year 1800 of the ‘Bakolongolo’ age set among Babukusu.

Originally, circumcision was meant for ‘Barwa bakinisu’ of the Kalenjin su-tribe. Mango’s mother was surprised when she learnt that her son had undergone circumcision, a thing that was only meant for ‘Barwa’.

‘Sioyayo’, a song sung when someone is being taken for the cut is associated with the interjections made by mango’s mother in vernacular after the circumcision of mango. She was saying, ‘khaa! Khee!  Khoo!’ The famous ‘sioyayo’ has seven stanzas and a chorus.

Other theorists associate the origin of Sioyayo’ with the sounds produced by the hyenas. This song was produced in the tune of Namunyu- the hyena. For instance, the sounds hyenas make in the evening when they are returning to their caves from their daily routine.

The Yabebe snake that was killed by Kambisi, had killed so many people. It is believed that it was a flying snake that could bite people directly on the head.  After the snake killing his third child, Kambisi took the risk of hunting for the snake to kill it even if it meant endangering his own life. He took embalu the sword and hid himself in the cave where the snake resides. When the snake entered the cave it did not sense the presence of Kambisi and that is when he chopped off its head leaving it dead.

Yabebe the snake had a unique lifestyle in the since that it could not return to its residence using the path that was used for its departure. It could also enter into its cave backwards beginning with the body then lastly the head. That’s why when candidates for circumcision are taken to the river very early in the morning they never return home to be cut following the same route. It is the same reason why initiates are taken to the house immediately after circumcision in a backward position.

When the circumcision exercise is successful, a song ‘khwera omurwa’ is sung in praise of initiates. It also means that they have defeated Barwa who were originally the only ones undergoing circumcision. A girl is then selected to remove a lump of soil from the head of initiates. The girl becomes very special to the initiates as she takes care of them. Such a girl is to be respected without demur by her subjects for the rest of their lives. Any curse from this woman can be very lethal. After the cut, Omukhebi, the circumciser gives the first informal education in a process known as Khulumia.  

After circumcision initiates stay in a house called ‘likombe’. When they have healed completely, a pass out ceremony is organized where initiates graduate and come out of ‘likombe’. It is the same time they are given lubito, a kind of informal education that nurtures boys to adulthood.

After Mango was circumcised, he declared that all Bukusu men must be circumcised and those who resist the cut to seek refuge in a land where men are not circumcised.  In the year 1812, he moved to Uganda and told the Bamasaba who were staying at Emitoto, to begin circumcising their male children.

That was when the first Bakikwameti were circumcised among Bukusu of Kenya and Bamasaba of Uganda. Mango is then commemorated to have re-introduced circumcision to Babukusu in Kenya in the year 1800 and rekindling the same in Uganda the year 1812.

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