By Elimu Asilia
Circumcision In The Luhya Community
Of all other cultural practices in the Luhya community,circucision happens to be the most valued, enaging .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.
The boy gets the jingles ready to playThe 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 (calling).
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 neighbourhood.
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 honour 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.
In 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.
The 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. The 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.
He 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 take place.
As they proceed to the river, songs are sang while the boy plays chinyimba.
In 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.
A 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 route. 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.
He 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 symbolizes happiness.
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 themselves Bakoki.
***This brings us to the end of the Bukusu circumcision ceremony***
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.
If 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 everyone 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 lifestyle.
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, you would be able to attend and participate in the entire Khuminya process.
There is 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 . 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 is 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 fill 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.