Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu
Before the 'white men' came to Kenya there was no Christmas. Traditionally, children are being initiated into their respective tribes. Part of the initiations is circumcision. Most tribes that circumcise boys also circumcise their girls.
The initiation ceremonies generally take from October through December. They are important as they signify a child's acceptance in the tribe and his or her place in the adult community within the tribe. The initiation takes place anywhere from age 8 or 9 to age 17 or 18 depending on the tribe. Some tribes do one set of initial rites as young as 5 or 6 and then another set when the child is in his or her teens.
The boys to be circumcised generally go through a ceremony before they are circumcised. This can last from one to several days depending on the tribe. Personally, I was awakened early one morning by boys running through the village singing songs. Later, I learned that this was part of their circumcision rituals.
Many boys are usually circumcised at one time. The knife, razor, or tool used is used on each boy. This was bringing on health problems including AIDS since the knife was not sterilized between each boy. It is a source of pride for these boys to be circumcised with the same knife as his peers. Slowly, people are being educated on the dangers of using an unsterilized knife and the rituals are changing to accommodate the new practice.
During the circumcision the boys are encouraged not to cry out or flinch to show that they are truly men. Some tribes would have their tribesmen holding spears toward the boy being circumcised as a threat not to flinch or cry out. The boy would also be told that if he did show signs of pain he would be killed. They felt that if a boy showed pain then he would not make a good warrior.
After the circumcision is done many tribes allow the newly circumcised to rest and relax for a period of time. During this time they are taught the tribal history and traditions. The mothers of the boys cook a lot of food for their sons so the boys can gain strength. The boys don't do any chores that they normally would do until after the period of rest is over.
Boys and adult men view other males who are not circumcised as 'boys'. This means they feel that the uncircumcised are not able to be a parent or hold a position of authority as they are not an adult.
There are some tribes that do not circumcise their members at all. One of these tribes is the Luo tribe. Because the Luo tribe does not circumcise neighboring tribes view that tribe as consisting of children. You will find boys from the neighboring tribes teasing and bullying members of the Luo tribe.
In 1992, the first multi-party elections took place. What does that have to do with circumcision? Kenyans wondered what would happen if an uncircumcised male won the election. Since the uncircumcised are viewed as children, in their eyes it would be the equivalent of having a seven year old become president of the United States.
The circumcision rituals are slowly dying out and are being replaced with more modern techniques of circumcision. If a boy is near a large city anesthesia may be used.