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Circumcision festival kicks off in Western

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2008

By Robert Wanyonyi and Stephen Makabila

A carnival mood has descended on the greater Bungoma District as the month-long circumcision festivities gain momentum.

A candidate inviting relatives to his big day, in Bungoma. PHOTO: ISAAC WALE

The practice is part of the cultural activities of the community and its done in August every even year.

It is estimated that between 25,000 and 35,000 boys are to face the knife, known as lukembe, in a transition to adulthood.

Schoolboys abandoned classes weeks back and have been going around villages with jingles, chinyimba, and traditional head gears ekutwa to announce to relatives and family friends their day of reckoning.

School children in uniform have been common features along major roads and highways. They have been escorting the candidates and singing circumcision songs, some obscene and others abusive. Although most schools in Bungoma have not closed the number of children reporting to school had reduced.

“Traditional circumcision among the Bukusu is deep-rooted and it is very difficult to change the practice because it is part of our culture that has to be preserved at all costs,” said Mr John Simiyu, a 60-year-old elder in Kanduyi.

Conservative Bukusus, among them elders, political leaders and even leading professionals support the rite, although Christianity poses a challenge to its survival.

Assistant Lands Minister Silvester Wakoli and his Kimilili counterpart Dr Eseli Simiyu urge the community to preserve its culture.

The Inter-Christian Fellowships Evangelical Mission, (Icfem) based in Kimilili, has since 2002 circumcised 16,000 boys, in hospitals, and its crusade is currently paying considerable dividends.

A Bukusu circumciser from Maliki village, in Webuye sharpens his knives in readiness for the rite.

“This year, we have 16 circumcision centres in Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia and Lugari to circumcise boys who do not prefer the traditional way,” says Mr Solomon Nabie, Icfems director.

The organisation is targeting at least 12,000 boys this season. Christians are opposed to traditional circumcision rites.

“In this era of HIV/Aids, one of the identified avenues for the transmission of the virus is traditional circumcision. Boys undergo a ritual that involves cutting of their foreskin by medically unqualified circumcisers who repeatedly use unsterilised knives,” said Nabie.

He says the ceremonies are accompanied by immoral activities, which lead to schoolgirls being impregnated, youths being infected with venereal diseases, and an increase in insecurity.

Nabie says performance by primary schools in national examinations during even years is not impressive in the district since a lot of time is wasted over the festivities.

Dr Nyukuri Mulati, a lecturer at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology says cultures that are retrogressive should be abandoned. He, however, says circumcision decisions are made at the family level.

“Traditional circumcision breeds poverty. A home can have as many as 1,000 guests or even more during the ritual and they all have to be fed,” says Ms Evelyne Namalwa.

In 2002 workshop convened by the provincial administration it was established that the minimum cost of traditional circumcision is Sh25,000.

Nabie says the cost is much higher given the inflation in the country.

“Today the traditional ceremony may not cost less than Sh60,000,” adds Nabie who says hospital circumcision costs less than Sh1,000.

The chairman of the Bukusu Association of Traditional Circumcisers Dr Isaac Misiko, however strongly dismisses this line of thought, saying most community members are preserving their culture. Circumcisers are drawn from all fields.

Schooled circumcisers

A case in point is this years rites, where six primary teachers, two secondary teachers, two medical doctors, one university lecturer and three elected councillors form part of the traditional circumcisers.

There are several clans of the Bukusu from which the circumcisers are drawn from. They include Bayaya, Bamasike, Basime, Baleyi, Basonge, Baengele and Bakhoma.

“Many community members never allow their children to be circumcised in hospitals. About 70 per cent do it traditionally,” says Misiko.

He says traditional circumcision gives blessings to the initiate.

“The knife is sterilised because it is sharpened and kept hot throughout the night ahead of the ceremony. We also use one knife for each initiate,” adds Misiko. He says circumcisers are trusted and honest and are carefully chosen. “We usually ensure circumcisers have no wounds on their hands, must be mentally sound and must know traditional practices that enhance hygiene,” says Misiko.

He also claims the cost of traditional circumcision is usually exaggerated. He says a family requires around Sh35,000 to carry out the ceremony.

He however says traditional circumcision has some challenges, which include failure to dress the wounds immediately after circumcision. The mud that is used to cover the initiate may not be safe from germs.

Wakoli, says traditional circumcision should be maintained as part of preserving culture. He says there is need for the Government to train traditional circumcisers on the proper hygiene.



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