Written by Timothy Makokha
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Boys who have been initiated a sign of joining the ranks of maturity from that of childhood from Malava in Kakamega County. [PHOTO | West Fm File]
The cultural spirit (bukhebi) among Bamasaaba people that makes them to circumcise effectively is associated with specific clans only as not everybody can do it. Traditionally, it was believed that mostly the cultural spirit for circumcision is inherited from the mother’s side.
This is usually identified in an individual at an early age when a person is seen shivering and running whenever the circumcision song sioyayo is heard.
When such signs are noticed in an individual, circumcisers are invited to interrogate the subject during the circumcision season to confirm if he really has the cultural spirit for circumcision.
If the person is underage, he is not allowed to practice circumcising until he comes of age. The circumcisers will hide the circumcision knife (lukembe) and then sing the circumcision song sioyayo and then instruct him to search and bring it. In this process the person is supposed discover where the knife is and bring it.
Then, the circumcisers will do a few rituals in the process of khumuambia lukembe, involving the parents of the person and some special herbs for the function. They will then find out about the origin of the circumcision spirit in the person and then guide accordingly.
After this ceremony a newly ordained circumciser is allowed to move around with senior circumcisers as they show him how to do the cut. He is also allowed to attend the special ceremony for circumcisers such as the one for blessing the knives (khubita lukembe).
After marrying, a man who is supposed to become circumciser is expected to produce a son as his first born child in order to be allowed to circumcise or else he is not allowed. After producing a first born son, he is then allowed to assist the circumcisers by holding the foreskin for the circumciser to cut.
This goes on until the senior circumcisers are fully satisfied that the person has learnt how to circumcise. He is given rules to govern him when dealing with circumcision candidates of various varied foreskins.
At this stage a person is advised not to circumcise own child or a child of a member of his age set (omwana wa bakoki). During the circumcision process, a man who belongs to the same age set with the circumciser is not supposed to stand behind as the circumcision process is being done.
When the wife of the circumciser dies, he is not allowed to continue circumcising people’s children.
The knives for circumcising are never bought from shops; instead they are made locally by village iron workers.
This being a circumcision year among the Bamasaaba people of both Kenya and Uganda, circumcisers are on spot as they are meant to uphold hygiene standards. The issue of circumcisers was discussed in length during the Bamasaaba retreat at Mbale Retreat resort in Uganda.
The cornerstone of Bamasaaba culture is centered on the rituals performed during the circumcision of the male youth (embalu).
The programming of the male sexual behavior throughout his life is imparted in allegories and idioms (lubito). Circumcision is the “sex driving license” as the essence of lubito is the virility of the man and the phallic conquest of womanhood.
The Bamasaaba sages, elders and circumcisers recognize and acknowledge that HIV/Aids are sexually transmitted and can be curbed through behavior change.
During the Mbale Bamasaaba retreat in Uganda it was agreed that Circumcisers should use one knife per initiate to avoid contamination with infected blood. Circumcisers should be assisted and advised to purchase enough knives and a carrying case.
Delegates were of the view that for a long time there have been complaints about dirty circumcisers who do not know how to bath or wash hands before embarking on the cutting process. It was then resolved that circumcisers should observe hygiene all the time.
There are several rules that were put in place long time ago to guide circumcisers and these are as follows. First is that they should not circumcise the corpse and then continue circumcising the living.
A person who has the power to circumcise is not supposed to slaughter or skin animals, neither are they supposed to castrate male livestock animals.
A circumciser should not be a person with a hunch back or with elephantiasis of the testicles. They are supposed to avoid promiscuity and stay away from wives or women during the circumcision season.
A circumciser should not be temperamental. They should be of good health and of good groom. They are not supposed to be thieves or bachelors.
Just in case a circumciser trips and fall, he should not circumcise that day. They are also not required to circumcise within four years of his own circumcision.
The elders should ensure that circumcision songs and dance must include anti- HIV/Aids messages. The circumcision season should begin in the last week of July to allow children to complete the school term and avoid obscene songs and dances.
The circumciser must wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and apply the sterile dust to maintain hygiene of the hands.
Parents are the ones to invite the circumciser and the circumciser should not impose himself to the family.
The circumcision knives must be deposited overnight in the home of the candidate, then sharpening and sterilizing on burning charcoal must be done in the morning shortly before the circumcision.
Each circumciser must have at least 5 knives and a suitable case for carrying and storage.
After the circumcision exercise the initiates undergoes a traditional process called khulumia meant for strengthening moral integrity counseling given by the circumciser on the day of circumcision.
At this time initiates are told that they abandon childish ways, abandon the mothers’ apron strings and are to be in the image of their father.
Traditional circumcision among Bamasaaba is associated with blessings from elders and advisers of the clan and therefore is the best. This is where an individual is guided into adulthood as persistence, endurance, patience, bravery and other virtues are imparted to individuals.
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