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Friday, 31 May 2013
BUKUSU CIRCUMCISION CEREMONY
The Bukusu are from the
Bantu speaking group and is one of the sub-tribes which constitutes the Luhyia
community, the third largest tribe in Kenya after the Agikuyu and the Luo. They
are mostly found in Western part of our country Kenya.
They are still holding
to some of their traditions which, among them, the traditional rite of passage
from childhood to adulthood-traditional circumcision ceremony called
khukhwingila (which when translated means to enter). When a male boy feels
that he is ready for the ceremony, he approaches his father who prepares the
required materials that are necessary for the ceremony. These are a male bull
or a he goat, traditional beer called kamalwa, the circumciser and a small
house called Likombe for the boy.
boy then gets the jingles (chinyimba) ready. They are played by the boy as
people sing and dance for him during the entire process called Khulanga
He plays them calling
on relatives from near and a far. During the process, those who are approached
by the boy must give something in appreciation and they must attend or be
present during the circumcision day. If for instance the boy avoids a relative,
then the relative feels bad and launches a complain.
The last person to be
called is the paternal uncle. It should be noted that in this ethnic group, the
Uncle and the Aunt are very important persons in this occasion. Before he calls
the Uncle, a small pot is put outside the father’s house. In this pot, the
fermented maize flour (kamakhalange) that is fried is put in.
The boy is then ordered
to go to the river to fetch water in the company of two other boys. After
drawing the water from the river, he puts it on his head and he is not supposed
to look back whatsoever. The main reason why he is not supposed to look behind
is a mythical belief showing a sign of bravery. By looking behind, it sends
some message of cowardice and the boy might cry during the circumcision day,
which is considered a big shame to the family and entire clan.
The father pours the kamakhalange in to the put then the boy
pours in water he brought from the river. This process is called khuchukhila, which means pouring. That
beer is especially for the circumciser, which they will drink while counseling
the boy after circumcision.
The boy is then ordered
to take and play jingles and a song called Sioyayo
is sung for a few minutes. The boys just going around within the neighborhood.
The next day he pays a
courtesy call to his Uncle who is usually the last person to be called. The
Uncle slaughters the bull in honor of his nephew. The father would have
prepared Lusombo (This is sexual
organ of the bull that is cut and made in to a necklace form which replaces the
one the Uncle gives the boy).
The necklace is called Luliki. While putting
Luliki on the boy’s neck he utters some warnings. From the Uncle’s, he comes
back home where he cannot leave until the ceremony is over.
the evening arrangements are made where the dancing process called Khuminya
will take place. Another large beer pot called Emange is prepared. The pot is
put in the centre of the father’s house whereby the brew is filled. The meaning
of this emange is that, the age mates of the boy’s father in this case known as
bakoki will open the beer with either money or something valuable.
The circumcision age
mate of the father in this case called bamaina takes a drinking straw called
lusekhe, sips the beer after which he permits others to go ahead with the
drinking. At around 9:00 to 10:00 O’clock PM, the boy is fed to his satisfaction.
He is taken to a small shrine called Namwima.
Namwima shrine is for pouring libations to the ancestors. A piece of meat,
blood called Kamalasile and beer is put in the shrine. The meat is stuck on a
special twig from a special tree and put in the centre of the shrine. All these
are meant for the ancestors to feed on.
Another animal would have been
slaughtered in advance of which the stomach is torn apart.
stomach waste called busee is smeared on the boy from the head to the chest
while uttering some words (whoever does
this is either the paternal or dad or cousin to the boy).
Another necklace is
made from the very stomach and put on his neck. This one is different from that
of the uncle’s.
is then ordered to play the jingles or chinyimba and the song sioyoya is sung
again. This is done while every body in the home watches, after this the boy is
left to play the jingles until when he will be ordered to take a short break
for a meal
While the singing is
going on outside, the drinking of the brew from emange port in the house
continues. This port is not allowed to run empty and therefore refilling is
constantly done to keep the men awake.
The women are not allowed to partake the
emange using the drinking straw. During
khuminya, some funny songs are sung.
At midnight, the boy is
allowed to have three hours sleep. At 3 O”clock, he is woken up to be taken to
the river where khulonga (a process of putting mad on the boy’s head and
between the eyes with some smeared on the chest, hands and thighs) and lwanautu
As they proceed to the
river, songs are sang while the boy plays chinyimba.
the river, a cousin of the boy does the khulonga and lwanautu to the boy.
Khulonga is the mud smearing on the boy’s body
while he is totally naked. Then some mud is put on his head and between the
eyes along the nose.
particular type of grass called lusinyande is plucked and stuck on the head. The
process is called lwanautu.
His sister carries his clothes and the jingles. She
also undergoes some ritual of mud smearing but on the face, hands and legs. She
is the one who will be preparing food for his brother.
A few meters from the
river, the sioyoya is sang which continues until they arrive home stopping the
singing only a few meters from the house, but this time using a different
There is a mythical believe that it is not safe to use the same route as
a witch might have planted some charms which might harm the boy.
Before the boy arrives
home, his aunt comes running with a cooking stick in an attempt to slap him. At
this particular point, the boy is expected to discourage such moves by blocking
it. This is believed to portray courage. She then returns home to inform others
that the boy is actually ready for circumcision.
The father receives the
boy and he can be actually be identified from the rest of the people as he is visibly
seen wrapped in the blanket.
then leads his to the point where he is left to stand at hands akimbo. The circumciser
cuts the boy.
No eye blinking or shaking the boy should exhibit.
After the circumcision is over, the man can’t sit down until the father gives him a present in appreciation of his manhood. Other people also give whatever presents they might have brought
After some time, the man is taken to his house likombe where he will stay until he heals. While being taken to the house, he is taken round it in a backward style until he goes in. This backward entry means that after healing, he will never go back to that likombe again marking the complete rite of from childhood to adulthood.
Mwikombe is the small
thatched hut,which the initiate used to live in since the time of circumcision
to the time of khukhwalukha. Therefore khurula mwikombe when translated means coming
out of the hut.
To celebrate this
occasion, all the initiates from around the village who were circumcised the
same month assemble together. In their hands are twigs of nanjaka plant ant
dried banana leaves called kamasanja together with the beddings they were using
which in most cases are always the banana leaves.
They then set them on fire
running down the river while calling the name of the person who circumcised
them. This part of khukhwalukha is called khukhuosia lusanja meaning lighting
the twigs or setting the twigs on fire.
The fire should not go off
before they reach the river. It is believed that if the fire went off before
its destination, the initiate might either turn to be a night-runner or be
unable to marry or just have bad luck in life. These occasions are always
accompanied with the traditional beer (kamalwa) called busaa. When the
initiates have gone to the river, the rest of the people remain at home and the
drinking of the beer commences.
At the river some of
the kamasanja are taken with them for beddings overnight. While at the river,
they are not allowed to leave that place no matter what happens. It is indeed a
taboo. In the morning the kamasanja are burnt.
After burning the kamasanja
at around 5AM, they take a cold bath in the river. They then put on their new
clothes and the old ones are given to the uncircumcised (Omusinde).
Between 11am and
12noon, they leave the river for home while singing a song which says, “We are
going to feed using new utensils.”
On arrival, they are
not allowed to enter in any house. Food comprising of boiled banana is given to
them outside. As they pick pieces of them, each initiate becomes pre-cautious
guarding himself against being hit by the same food from his comrades. This in
Bukusu ethnic group is called khukhupanila kamatore meaning fighting using the cooked
banana. This is a symbol of having plenty of food in your home. It also
After that, ugali with
chicken stew or beef stew is served. After eating, every father of the initiate
gives his son some pieces of advice concerning the adulthood. From that moment
they shall be called Omutembete (singular), Batembete (plural). The name
symbolizes a new thing. Whenever and wherever the initiate visits
his people during this month (December), he is given a present which in most
cases is the chicken. The Khukhwalukha is always done in the month of December.
The Likombe hut is not
demolished instead it is passed on to the uncircumcised boys or to the sisters.
*Those who are circumcised the same year call
someone has never seen or experienced cultural tourism at its best, then this
is really a test of it. As a Tourist Information Officer, I did take an English
Tourist by the name Gill Pirt to witness one of the most dreaded rites of passage
from childhood to adulthood (circumcision ceremony) of the Bukusu ethnic group
– a sub-tribe of the Luhyia community.
The ceremony which takes place every
even year is a sign of bravery that every boy has to undergo. I came to learn
that most foreign visitors would like to meet and stay with the local people
and learn more about them and experience much more of their lifestyles.
In organizing for this
occasion, the host family has to be contacted in advance to give consent for
the interview and the entire process which I already explained above with
possibilities of taking photographs. After consent from the father and other
family members, we were able to attend and participate in the entire Khuminya
There was so much
singing and dancing to the chinyimba (jingles) lyrics and watching with keen
interest how the initiate (omusinde - uncircumcised) plays the jingles as he
prepares to enter in to adulthood. Songs are sung in Kibukusu language using
obscene words directed at both the mother of the initiate and the boy himself.
If you don’t understand the language, you might take it for granted that they
are songs good to sing but the wordings used are quite obscene although all
songs. But it is quite interesting and enjoyable to dance to these lyrics. As a
matter of fact, you will find yourself shaking to the tunes as the soloist
leads while others respond in a vigorous uniform manner.
It worth to note that
all who are concerned are unaware of the dust created by the dancers which
could lead to respiratory infections. It is my advise to anyone wishing to
attend and participate in it, to take a packet of milk afterwards. While the
dance is going on outside, the brew continues to feel the emange pot in the
father’s house. The stylish plays of the chinyimba and the whistling the boy
makes, enriches the mood and the entire home and the surrounding village is in
the mood of celebration. All are happy.
What also goes on in
the background leaves a lot to be desired, since young boys and girls leaves a
lot to be desired. Even the old men and women are at times lost in these
unbecoming behaviors I was keen to note an incident and through curiosity, I
inquired and was told that at times such incidences do happen as it is in the
night during the celebration!!
would like to thank Mr. Maurice Wabomba famously known as madudu (insects) as
he is the breeder of butterflies and beetles and his entire family for their
warm welcome and cooperation in providing the information that made my work
much easier and successfully and the management of Menowecto under the
chairmanship of Mr. Anthony C. Mills for their cooperation during my field
STORY BY: Mr. Gilbert Ondeko
Elgon & North-West Kenya Ecotourism Promotion Ltd (Menowecto),
P.O Box 1219 – 30200 Kitale. Kenya (E.A).