Boys to men: A modern cut with Samburu touch

Elderly women from the Samburu community in Laikipia shave a boy in readiness for him to be circumcised as per tradition. [James Munyeki, Standard]

The Samburu people, just like the Maasai, are very traditional. For many years, traditional healers and old men were the ones to circumcise boys when they came of age.

But for a small village in the outskirts of Rumuruti town in Laikipia County, the elders have chosen a different path.

As the sun rises on the eve of the big day when more than 300 boys are set to get circumcised, there is song and dance in the GG village, named after the late politician GG Kariuki.

The boys first take their animals to the grazing field early in the morning. They then fetch water for their parents before their mothers and grandmothers shave their heads.

This is as they await a professional clinical officer, who is the only one within the community trained to carry out the exercise.

The elders have decided to do away with traditional healers who initially were the ones performing the delicate task.

They have chosen to go the modern way by embracing the work of Peter Kandele, a clinic officer who convinced the community to adopt modernity.

Mr Kandele says the modern programme was not meant to replace traditional male circumcision, but to enhance it.

“The initial engagement itself was based on the fact that we as medics add value to circumcision,” he told The Standard on Monday during the initiation rites for the boys.

According to Kandele, he uses modern medicine to treat the boys unlike in the past where herbs were used.

“The era of using herbs to treat them is long gone. I get the medicine and the equipment to do the cut from the hospitals and private pharmacies. All I need is Sh1,000 from the parents and everything is done the modern way,” he said.

He noted that he advises the parents to feed the boys with sour milk mixed with blood as one way of preserving tradition.

“We, however, do not want to do away with everything and that is why after the cut, the boys are fed with fresh blood mixed with sour milk, which is very healthy,” he said.

According to John Leroshe, a village elder, the traditional way of circumcising the boys had exposed them to diseases.

“Previously, the old men who used to do the cut used only one knife for all the boys. This exposed them to diseases and that is why we chose to use one of our own who is a professional,” he said. Mr Leroshe said at first, the community saw this as going against their tradition, but they have now embraced it.

“They thought that it was against our tradition, but upon explaining to them the benefits, they have now embraced the method of using professionals,” said the elder.

Kandele said male circumcision — the removal of the skin that covers the head of the penis (foreskin) — is part of the HIV prevention package that also covers men’s sexual reproductive health.

HIV infection

Experts say male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60 per cent.

“Male circumcision improves hygiene (it becomes easier to maintain a clean penis), helps to prevent cancer of the penis and also reduces chances of contracting cervical cancer for the woman with a circumcised sexual partner,” Kandele said. He noted that traditional male circumcision is usually associated with higher genital mutilation because of over-circumcision by either removing too much foreskin or too little.