How fertility was determined traditionally among the Bukusu people of Kenya.
Written by Timothy Makokha
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Elders were very keen with their children to discover matters of fertility. The reason for this was to ensure that necessary measures were taken in time to save a child before it was too late. Some causes of infertility included hereditary factors where a person in the family had a similar problem.
Other causes of infertility were cultural spirits which include: night running, and other ‘kimisambwa’. Such infertility could be controlled easily if discovered in good time. There were cases where a couple could delay to get children in some families and only begin to reproduce children when either the husband or wife begun running at night. This is just specific to particular families, and it keeps on recurring in the family.
Witch craft was another cause of infertility. Some people with ill intentions carry out magic that prevent a person from siring children. When such a scenario occurs some herbs were administered to counter the situation.
Under normal circumstances, a baby boy would erect when he woke up in the morning to show that he is fertile. An erected child will pass urine under pressure to create a depression on the ground. Can pee on a far place from where he is standing.
For a girl, old women were checking the abdomen of the child to know if that girl will have children or not. They will also detect whether the girl is likely to experience problems with child bearing. If such cases are detected on time some herbs were sought to control if possible.
During circumcision the fertile boy would have a shrunk penis but for the infertile it will be loose even after being washed in the cold water of the river in the morning. Immediately after the circumcision exercise, the penis of the initiate normally shrinks and in case it does not do so, questions were raised about it. The circumciser was at the right position to learn about the fertility of a person, he will then advise the parents accordingly.
For girls, old women would learn from breasts about their fertility. The size and shape of a breast/nipple will determine whether a woman is fertile or not.
Elders were very keen while children as they pass urine. A normal baby boy would urinate upwards far away, in fact some could even urinate in the face of the caretaker. For a child with fertility problems, they would urinate on their thighs.
When a normal child is urinating on the ground, especially the first urine in the morning, the urine is supposed to produce foam apart from creating a small round depression on the ground.
A similar scenario is expected when a girl is passing urine. A normal girl should also pass urine that makes a hole on the ground with some foam to show she is fertile.
Elders were also checking the elbows of the girl to detect their fertility. A normal fertile girl will have some rough small dots on the elbow. A similar sign could be noticed on the boy’s elbow.
A boy who had undergone circumcision was expected to develop interest in girls. A boy who does not show interest in women at this point is investigated to establish whether he is fertile or not. Traditionally such a boy was called ‘omusila we bakhana’. Parents of such a boy would look for a girl and give her to him by force. After some time he got used to the girl and produce children.
For a girl who feared talking to boys was called ‘omusila we basoleli’. Such a girl was also forced into marriage with a suitable gentleman. After some time she got accustomed to her marriage and bore children.
Just in case the fertility of a man/boy was doubted, an aunt (a sister to the father of the boy) was invited to confirm the fertility of her nephew. The aunt will enter into the house of this boy in question and pretend to be in love with him. The two in a locked up room undress and become intimate. The aunt will definitely know whether the boy has a problem or not. She will then hand over the report to elders who will then know what to do next. If the report says he is fertile, a girl was found and brought for him to marry.
Traditionally a barren woman (omukhasi omukumba) was equally respected just like any other woman. In a marriage when one discovers that he married a woman who does not give birth, is painful but one was expected to treat her with due respect she deserves. Clan members of such a wife would offer to give another girl to the man to bear children on behalf of the barren woman. Alternatively, a man would choose a woman of his choice from anywhere and marry with hopes of getting children with her. This does not mean that the barren one is chased away; she has to remain in her husband’s homestead and assist her husband to create wealth for the family.
For a man who does not sire children (omuchili/owakwa ne likunia), a close relative was selected to sire children on behalf of the owner of the wife. The children still belonged to the owner of the wife and the one who sired them has no right over them. As elders believed in proverb; ‘weunwa kalia mosi?’ which translates to; the owner of the bull cannot claim for a calf that was sired by his bull in a different homestead. This means the man who was given authority by the clan to sire children for another man is like a bull that was used to sire a calf with another person’s cow.