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Reformed FGM promoter quits practice, hands over tools of trade

By Fred Kibor | June 18th 2020 at 02:14:51 GMT +0300

Mzee Benjamin Latim famously known as Chelele at the Uasin Gishu County headquarters. [Fred Kibor/Standard]

The name Mzee Benjamin Latim may not ring a bell in the minds of many but when one mentions ‘Chelele’, it conjures memories of a legendary Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) promoter before the state outlawed the practice.

He was well versed with the season of the outdated culture that was then highly valued, and traversed the vast Rift Valley fascinating women prior to the cut.

Chelele is famously known for garlanding female initiates with a constellation of traditional ornaments and soothing songs.

Those who practiced the act even valued Chelele's roles as a 'morale builder' for new initiates.

Legend has it that any FGM ceremony without him would be disastrous, since the initiates would not attract high profile men to marry because it was considered expensive to be decorated by Chelele and it was a class of the rich girls.

Traditionally, women who had not passed the rite of passage were not married thus Chelele’s services were highly sought.

This made Chelele a prized person and would travel far and wide to the Kalenjin sub tribes that practiced the age-old culture to entertain and garland the initiates the way he knew best.

But on Tuesday, the man in his 70s called it a day and handed over his prized artifacts to Uasin Gishu County government over ‘diminished business prospects’.

It was a sight to behold as he donned the attire and instruments he used to decorate the initiates with and performed a mock ceremony of how he conducted the rituals.

“At the moment, FGM has been outlawed in the country and no one is still interested in my services. That is why I have decided to surrender the traditional ornaments and other relics to be showcased in their museum,” he said.

Mzee Chelele said he has travelled to many places performing songs and dances to praise the initiates, in turn bringing suitors to them.

“Men who were seeking girls to marry always thronged the initiations ceremonies because they knew they would get the best wives,” he said.

He explained that the initiates would be bestowed with traditional jingles bells, whistles, fly whisks, whips, an array of beads for the neck, hands and legs as well on the necks.

However, his transformation to abandonment of the tradition came at a cost.

“After FGM was outlawed, I turned into changa’a brewing to sustain myself and as fate would have it, I was arrested after I found to be in possession of the illicit liquor, he narrates.

He was taken to Kaplelach quarantine facility where illicit brewers and those who defy Covid-19 measures are put on a 14-day quarantine.

It is at the quarantine facility that he embraced salvation of Jesus Christ and chose a new life.

Speaking after receiving the artefacts, Mr Chemno said that they shall be handed to the Department of Culture and Social Services and that Kipserem will be enlisted as one of the county’s anti- FGM and anti- illicit brew campaigners.

He asked those yet to reform to do so before the law catches up with them.

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