Monday, 18 March 2013

Namunyu's Journey to Manhood, Khuminya Ceremony - Circumcision....

According to the AbaBukusu elder Mzee Wafula, the origin of Khuminya, the circumcision was introduced to the AbaBukusu by the Sabawoot through Mango Mukhurarwa. Mango had wanted to marry a lady from the Sabaot but could not do so because he was uncircumcised. He was challenged to kill a serpent that was disturbing Sabawoot villagers before he could be circumcised. “After he killed the serpent, Mango was circumcised and the practice was passed on to the rest of the AbaBukusu community and other Abaluhya communities like the AbaManyala of Kakamega”.

In planning a traditional circumcision, the preparations are elaborate, leaving no detail to chance.
To begin with, preparatory meetings to lay the groundwork begin several months to the big occasion. The meetings are attended by close relatives, notably the uncles from the paternal and occasionally those from the maternal side. Uncles from the paternal side, known as baba in banyala dialect draw up the budget and organize how funds will be mobilized.

The budget, though, ought not to be expensive. The main item on the budget list is the bull to be slaughtered on the big day. Traditional brew (busaa) and a few crates of beer for distinguished guests are also included in the budget. More often than not it is one of the uncles who will donate the bull out of own volition. Once the issue of the bull is settled, the nitty gritty of the budget are handled by the immediate family.

But one other item worth mentioning is the special clothes of the boy. The relatives especially the paternal aunts are tasked with responsibility of shopping around for a nice dress befitting the young man. The role of maternal uncles or khocha in AbaManyala dialect is equally significant although it is done behind the scenes. The uncles provide the special gift to be given to the boy after the cut. Predictably, the gift will be a bull. Once every item on the list has been ticked, it is now the role of the boy’s father to set aside the date of the circumcision. It is vital that he agrees with the circumciser on the specific date.
Namunyu is taken through a traditional dance known as “khuminya” with various songs to encourage him prior to the circumcision the following day.
 It is an early, chilly morning. The day of reckoning for eight year old Andrew Namunyu has finally arrived. On this day, custom dictates that he breaks to manhood, a process that will be delightful but as chilling as the morning.

In this small village of Simuli in Kakamega County, many age old customs have disappeared but traditional circumcision has survived. Young men of Namunyu’s age routinely go through this rite of passage in every August of a lean year. Traditional circumcision process is still revered. It remains one of the few ceremonies that attract huge crowds to a homestead. Relatives drawn from afar are mobilized to witness a kinsman go through the crucial rite of passage

On this morning, Namunyu will undergo circumcision at his grandfather’s home. This is the place his father, 38 year old local primary school teacher choose for his elder boy to be circumcised.
“It is because I was also circumcised here. But more important, my grandfather was buried here. The blood that will drip from my son will be safe in the bones of my ancestors”, said Mr.Matete, the father. Circumcision is not a rite of passage only. It is believed the rite itself tests the steeliness of the young man.
Namunyu being plastered with clay at the river bank.
 In the coldness of the morning, the boy will be escorted to the river by a horde of dirge singing young men who already have passed through the rite.  At the river he will be plastered with white clay by the men and encouraged to stand firm like ‘man’ through the cut. Some will yell at him, intimidate him and even slap him to test his mental fortitude.

Namunyu went through this and when the time for the real act arrived he stood firm like a ‘man’ through the cut. The crowd broke into wild jubilation when the circumciser comically announced he was done by dashing out as fast as his legs could run. 

Namunyu sitted after the cut.
 The women burst into singing, the young men danced around the young man and old men spoke with a smile worn on their faces interspersed with a benediction to the creator. Namunyu smiled to the crowd as he was led to his room set aside for his healing in the grandfather’s house. Despite the pain, he was happy that he had executed an obligation that every man in his culture is supposed to go through. But more importantly he was now a fully recognized man. He could now walk confidently in the company of other boys of his age who had passed through the cut.

Whilst many Kenyans are preferring hospital procedure of circumcision, diehards still believe traditional circumcision is the only way to satisfy their hearts that ‘the cut’ has taken place. Among the arguments that have been advanced against traditional circumcision is that it is unhygienic, painful and can spread STDs and HIV/Aids. However diehards have countered the arguments noting that they have a way of ensuring the tools used are hygienic. They also argue that they have drugs that would not only relieve the pain but heal the wound quickly. “Traditional circumcision has been there with us since time immemorial. No one complained until hospitals came on board to compete with our customs”, countered  Luchira Wesonga, an elder in the village.

The diehards see the arguments as a continuation of culture clash between African traditions and modernity. They warn against blindly embracing western cultures. During August, the circumcisers are busy men as they are in hot demand. One who has a good record of having not caused a fatal or minor accident would normally circumcise about three or four boys a day.

Circumcision is most prevalent in the Muslim world, parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, the United States, Israel and South Korea. It is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa and most of Asia and Oceania. In Kenya, WHO says Kenya accounts for over 50% of men circumcised in 13 sub-Saharan African countries under the voluntary medical male circumcision programme (VMMC).
The World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) states that male circumcision is an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention.
However the rider is that it should be carried out by well-trained medical professionals and under conditions of informed consent. According to WHO; it is estimated that 664.5 million males aged 15 and over are circumcised (30% global prevalence).

Compiled and written by;
Emmy Makokha
Kitale Museum
Photograph Courtesy of Gilbert Ondeko

1 comment:

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