As circumcision period approaches in the month of August, Bungoma County residents are anxiously waiting to practice traditional male circumcision (the cut) where 2000 initiates are expected to be circumcised.
Early this week in Nalondo, Kabuchai constituency initiators (Bakhebi, Balusanya) knives (Lukembe) were anointed by elders in Bukusu tribe. In the fete, Busaa was prepared to mark the celebration and also link initiators with ancestors. In addition white chicken (Ewanga) was used to signify blessings and to show that the event was not being held in secrecy.
"In case Ewanga is not available, Enaholo and Embangabanga (reddish and blackish feathers) could be used" says Fred Wafula 54, an elder of Lumasaba. He adds that initiators and elders then examined intestines which used to signify what could happen during the cut period. "Initiators and special elders then examined intestines, which used to interpret many things" he says.
The event also saw the initiators and knives being anointed. According to Mr. Wafula, the initiator had to meet certain qualifications before being given the privilege to circumcise. "To be an initiator one has to belong to the family of initiators and has to have undergone traditional cut himself" he notes.
He further adds that one must also be married and has completed marriage cultural practices, and his firstborn be a boy child. It is also worth noting that the initiator should not be baled headed and not lame.
During the whole circumcision period the initiator should keep of sexual intercourse. "This is important because he may not perform the cut appropriately" explains Wafula. He further adds that even those preparing Busaa (a traditional liquor) are advised to keep off sex.
Knives that are used in the cut should also be kept carefully. According to Wafula after circumcision period, a goat was slaughtered and Busaa prepared, a ceremony that was used to bless knives and bury the deep down at a secret place only known by the initiators.
In addition knives which were was used to circumcise the father could not be used to cut the son. "It was a taboo and in case the initiator had only one knife, then he could use one side to circumcise the father then the other side to circumcise the son" he says.
Funny enough a knife used to cut the child outside wedlock could not be used to cut the child who was born in a family with both parents.
However some cuts were botched and the initiates could succumb due to injuries sustained during the circumcision exercise. In case the initiate died, he would be buried close to a place where ash was dumped, signifying that the deceased initiate was similar to ash.
According to Wafula it is a taboo in Bukusu tribe to bury a boy child who has reached circumcision age, uncircumcised. In case one dies an initiator could perform the cut and it would mark his end in his initiation career. "After an initiator circumcises a dead person, he was not allowed to circumcise any initiate as he could cast his curse to other initiates" he notes.
Twin initiates was a special case as they are circumcised at 4.00 am to 5.00 am in the morning after performing some rituals. It is believed that circumcising them during day time was dangerous as they are perceived to be weak.
In case they were heterogeneous twins (a boy and a girl) the girl would be tied with a banana leaf around her waist and a mock circumcision could be performed on her before circumcising the boy. The girl is supposed to accompany her twin brother during seclusion period tendering to him till he recovered.
According to Mr. Wafula, a mother who got married to a different husband is not allowed to take care of her initiated son adding that a woman who had not been paid dowry was also not allowed to tender to her initiated son.
The handle of the knife (Lukembe) used in the cut, is from a special root of a Kamukimira tree. The root usually cuts across the path, this implies that the knife will be used to circumcise many people.
According to Mr. Wafula circumcision dates back to Stone Age period where stones were used to circumcise and later knives were embraced. "It is believed that in 1800, knives began to be used by Kalenjin tribe" he says. He adds that the first initiate to be circumcised among the Bukusa tribe was Mango the son of Wetungu who killed the snake (Yabebe) at a place called Muyala (present day St. Mary's girls' high school Amukura).
Mango sat on a three legged stool which had been poured milk and was circumcised by Olukayet, Olukesi-helped by clan of Baleyi called Wele Musiku Omuchesongwa.