Rite of passage for boys is the newest business in town

A nurse conducts Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision procedures on boys at Kagoto Primary School in Bahati, Nakuru, on November 12, 2016. [Joseph Kpsang, Standard]

The signboards are everywhere as we approach the festive season. They advertise camps for rites of passage for boys, mostly after Class Eight.   

Entrepreneurs have seen a gap in that market. They form groups where they hire premises like schools for that purpose. The other key players are churches. Why the new business?  

Traditionally, the cut as they call the boys‘ rite of passage was communal. There were set traditions, on when and where the ceremony took place.

They had sacred places where elaborate ceremonies took place. Rivers were popular sites, cold water was good anaesthesia.  

The whole community prepared with pride. A new generation was coming of age, the community had warriors to defend the society and perpetuate the next generation.  

Colonialism ended that, but it’s still common in some societies. The very westernized societies have commercialized the rite of passage. A big paradox because they claim they are going back to the basics. One often-quoted complaint is that lots of boys are too soft.

Why not? There are few dangers to confront and technology has reduced drudgery. The softness could also be a result of the focus on the girl child. Could boys be admiring the lifestyle of the girl child? 

The obsession with the girl child has always left my head spinning. I have not found it in developed countries. While there is no doubt that traditionally women were oppressed, with more work and responsibilities, the rebalancing has gone too far. And we are noticing that in university classrooms. 

What of some churches in the “cut“ business? Not so surprisingly, the church has been on the opposing side in many traditions. They see themselves as fighting for the return of some traditions in some regions of Kenya.

They do not support some of the traditions creeping back. They see themselves as the bulwark against bad influence. I shall deliberately not name the churches. Find out, please. 

Truth be told, as they do that, they have some commercial interests. Some pundits could argue that parents have a choice between the traditional and modern (read religious) route to manhood.

Whichever route, there is some money involved. Beyond the cut, the churches or groups running the rite of passage ceremonies add some teachings that range from relationships to sexuality, and life skills. 

These efforts by churches and groups want to ‘rescue’ the boy child. And it is region-specific. In some regions, the cut can’t happen in churches or hospitals, no “shortcuts.” 

Maybe we should ask which route gives us a better man, with deep cultural roots and economic empowerment.  We can do a simple study, follow up with these initiates for several years or wait till they marry and ask their wives.