By Maurice W Barasa
Life will never be the same again for Martin Nganga and his wife Grace. Their halcyon daily routines were brought to a rude, abrupt end early this month. Nganga can no longer engage members of his age-set Bachuma in any cultural intercourse.
His candidacy for eldership in the Bukusu community has now been permanently revoked and members of his clan, Baala will for a long time to come, walk dejectedly with bowed heads.
Grace will never again freely socialise with other women and share intimate conversations with them at the market place. Her clan Babuya, has been blamed for what befell her son (name withheld because he is a minor). The activities of the morning of August 2, will forever be engrained in her mind, that of her husband and in the collective memory of the Baala clan.
On this fateful day, the gods conspired to rob her family whose head, Nganga once served as a village elder, of the dignity it had accumulated over the years as it reigned over other families in Busiraka Village of Bungoma County in western Kenya.
The family’s second born son did the abominable. He, out of fear of the circumciser’s knife (embalu) and contrary to the dictates of culture, fidgeted before letting out a loud cry, calling on his parents to rescue him from the “intruders who want to mutilate my manhood”.
The class seven pupil at Kasosi Primary School soon found himself on the receiving end of a whirling vortex of crowd anger and his attempts to dash for freedom were quickly thwarted by the sea of humanity that surrounded him. To the uninitiated, the manner in which he was wrestled to the ground and circumcised was iniquitous.
However, to many within the Bamasaaba cultural macrocosm, the boy deserved the treatment that was meted upon him. Initiates among Bamasaaba are supposed to hanker for the knife and face it nonchalantly. The Bukusu of Kenya and Bagisu of Uganda share a common patriarch – Masaaba. They are thus known as Bamasaaba (children of Masaaba).
Among Bamasaaba, a circumcision candidate who exhibits signs of cowardice is regarded as an outcast and will forever not fit in the socio-cultural stratum of the society. And for bellowing out his parents’ names when faced with the traditional surgeon’s knife, the boy caused his parents and clan unfathomed agony.
An expensive cleansing ceremony, which culminated in the slaughter of a ram was held to “purify the circumcisers” whose dignity and trade the boy sallied. Nganga had to sell part of his shamba and sugarcane plantation to get the funds needed in fulfilling this cultural requirement. To compound Nganga’s misery, his first-born son is in police custody on robbery charges. “My wife has now gone into depression,” he laments.
Many would ask why the boy was forcefully circumcised. In the Bukusu community, the moment a candidate goes through the ritual of khuchukhila, which precedes the actual circumcision, his fate is sealed. He must be circumcised.