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Forget coronavirus, ‘boys will have to be cut’

Bukusu initiates during circumcision rituals in 2018. This year's ceremonies have been postponed due to Covid-19. [File, Standard]

An association of men who conduct circumcisions in Bungoma has vowed to defy elders who have postponed this year’s circumcision ceremony in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

Every even year a new set is ushered in among the Bukusu, Tachoni, Batura and Sabaot through circumcision.

Worried that the ceremony could violate the social distancing and other measures announced by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19, elders have postponed this year’s event.

The postponement has not gone down well with the men who make boys men, as they have vowed to go ahead with the cut regardless of the elders’ directive.

The elders from the four communities that hold the practice in high esteem reached a consensus and postponed this year’s circumcision season, noting that the ceremonies that go with it attract huge crowds that might fuel the spread of Covid-19.

They also considered that the Ministry of Health had banned public gatherings as a way of curbing the spread of the virus.

More than 10,000 boys had been lined up to face the knife. These would have attracted a bigger crowd of relatives and friends eager to witness the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Bukusu Council of Elders chairman Richard Walukano defended the postponement, saying it was not the first time a circumcision ceremony was put off. He urged the circumcisers to heed the directive.

“Shortly before World War (II), we postponed circumcision in 1938 and instead held it in 1939, 1940 and 1942. We also cancelled the ceremonies in 1960s,” said Walukano.

According to Walukano, whenever there is war and a serious pandemic like Covid-19, circumcision must be halted as per the Bukusu traditions, because such occurrences are considered bad omen.

But the men who carry out the cut are determined to go all the way despite the threat posed by Covid-19.

“We shall go ahead and have our boys face the knife. The elders did not consult us when they arrived at the decision to postpone this year’s circumcision and their decision is null and void,” said Joseph Sinino Omukongolo, the chairman of Bungoma Circumcisers Association.

Omukongolo said the circumcisers would not give parents an excuse to have the procedure performed in hospitals.

“We realised that many people are now circumcising their teenage boys in hospitals and this is against the Bukusu traditions. Anyone who is circumcised in the hospital in our culture is considered a coward. Such a person cannot sit on the same table where serious decisions are made,” he said.

According to Omukongolo, rituals to prepare the circumcisers for the ceremonies had already been conducted.

“We had already taken more than 500 circumcisers (Bakhebi) to the shrines to appease the gods and we had already performed the required rituals (‘Chingembe’) ahead of the circumcision exercise. If they (the elders) stop us, a bad omen will befall us,” he said.

A traditional circumciser (Omukhebi) is believed to have inborn talent. They believe one’s prowess in circumcising is bestowed upon them by some powerful magical powers called “kumusambwa.”

On the eve of circumcision, the circumcisers meet at night to sharpen their knives and subsequently bless them in a ceremony known as ‘khubita chingembe.’

They also take a local brew (kamalwa), slaughter a red cock and smear its blood on the knives as a sign that they are ready to undertake the rite.

This year, the knives may have nothing to cut if the elders have their way.

Covid 19 Time Series


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