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Initiation rites hit by Covid-19 setbacks

By Boniface Gikandi | April 6th 2021
Young initiates of Abang'ayo sub tribe of Wanga community sing and dance at Matungu cultural area in Kakamega county during celebrations to mark Jamhuri day on December 12, 2020. [Photo by Benjamin Sakwa/ Standard]

The initiation of adolescent boys has kicked off in Mt Kenya, but on a low scale and setup never seen before due to the prevailing Covid-19 health protocols.

The initiation rites and adulthood mentoring is usually sponsored by churches and the Kikuyu Council of Elders, and take place in neighbourhood groups, which are now disrupted by Covid-19 protocols.

Initiation in the Kikuyu, Embu and the Meru communities is an elaborate communal affair and several boys usually recuperate after the cut under the care of adult mentors in their parents’ homes.

This usually happens during the December holidays and mostly targets boys who have just completed primary schooling.

However, last December the ceremony did not happen for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the potential initiates were in school until late in the year following a disrupted calendar.

It was also around the same time that Kenya was going through the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

After failing to take place in December as is the norm, the ceremony kicked off last month, albeit on a low scale, after the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam was concluded.

At least 160 boys are now being mentored at the Green Cottage School in Mukuyu market, Murang’a County, in a programme facilitated by the Kikuyu Council of Elders.

The initiates paid Sh7,500 each for services to be rendered between March 29 and April 7. The charges include clinical procedure, boot camp and purchase of personal items.

But some counties such as Nyeri have outlawed these camps, meaning boys will most likely be clustered in small neigbbourhood groupings organised by their parents, thereby pushing up the costs. 

In other arrangements, the charges range between Sh6,500 and Sh11,500, depending on the venue of the camps.

Reclaim the activity

Kikuyu elders have been working on overdrive to reclaim the activity from the stranglehold of the church. They are marketing their initiative under the slogan “Ni Rucoke Mukaro”, which translates to ‘returning the river to its course’.

Under the elders' boot camps, the boys are introduced to culture among other traditional doctrines.

Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria shakes hand with a beneficiary of the Murang'a county boy child mentorship programme in 2015. [PHOTO: BONIFACE GIKANDI]

Mzee Kiarie Rugami, an official of the elders’ council, says they prioritise sessions that integrate the boys into the Kikuyu culture and traditions.

“There had been a lot of disconnect between the boys and their parents on the values and elders decided to come to the rescue of the young ones,” he said.

Rugami, who hails from Gatanga Sub-county, said the trend led to the elders to take over the circumcision of boys from the faith-based institutions.

“Never again shall the Gikuyu boychild be a laughing stock because the elders have taken over the stewardship of their mentoring,” he said.

In Nyeri, the county government has advised the groups that had organised the initiation camps to seek permits from the Health Department.

Governor Mutahi Kahiga, who spoke in the company of County Commissioner Lyford Kibaara last week, said the Covid-19 committee had resolved to carry out stringent inspections on any initiation rite camps and advised the organisers to postpone the events until the pandemic was under control.

“We are not against the initiation ceremonies, but we must protect our youth from Covid-19. It would be advisable to postpone the camps until the third wave of the pandemic is under control,” Kahiga said.

Nyeri County Interfaith Council of Bishops chairman Nick Wanjohi said the church leaders would adhere to the protocols.

“We have had meetings with the committee and they have advised the clergy on the way forward,” he said.

Camps suspended

Wanjohi said the decision to postpone the initiation camps would be addressed on a case by case basis.

Kikuyu Council of Elders Vice Chairman David Muthoga said the pandemic had regrettably disrupted the rite of passage.

“Most of the camps have been suspended until further notice because the elders and youth must also adhere to the guidelines,” Muthoga said.

Murang’a Town and Nanyuki Town PCEA churches said they had stopped preparations for boot camps following the rise of coronavirus infections in the region.

Church officials said the preparations were underway but the senior management felt it was wise to avoid activities that could fuel the spread of Covid-19, especially as the third wave continues to ravage the country.

Mt Kenya Central ACK Diocesan Bishop Timothy Gichere said they had left the discretion to hold boot camps to individual parishes, citing ongoing preparations at St James Cathedral, Njumbi and Mihuti parishes.

“We have advised the parishes to ensure there is social distance, adequate hand-washing points and limitation of visits to those camps,” said Gichere.

Covid 19 Time Series


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