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Bukusus defy the covid 19 guidelines and circumcise their boys

Mulongo David ready for circumcision at their home. Photo by KNA.

When corona virus hit Kenya in March this year, many parents whose boys were eagerly waiting for initiation into adulthood had mixed reactions. Being a year of circumcision, Bukusu elders were a worried lot. Some were for the idea that the rite of passage into adulthood be postponed while others said they will only decide ones a goat is slaughtered and the colour of intestines determine whether the rite will be performed or not.

Indeed when the circumcisers event came on July 25, this year, the elders said that goats bowels gave the “all clear” indication that there was no problem going ahead with the rite of passage. The elders also added that corona virus was going to kill many. But this did not stop them from going ahead with the initiation into adulthood for their boys.

The Lead circumciser, Madesta Wekesa who started work in 1960 advised that it was okay for the rite of passage to be carried out this year. In an interview with KNA, Wekesa said that indications in the intestines had shown that nothing bad will happen to the initiates. He admitted hearing about social distancing but was hesitant to comment on it. He gave a go ahead for the initiation to take place this year.

Come August 1, 2020 when mostly children of circumcisers undergo the passage before allowing their fathers to perform the same on other candidates, many traditionalists were ready for the one month event that saw boys run around informing relatives and friends on their intention to the event.

The boys move into groups and defy the ministry of health guidelines on social distancing and wearing masks. In an interview with one of the boys in Sikhendu village in Kiminini sub county Monday August 3, 2020, Ben Waswa who was leading a team of 10 youths to a relative’s home said that coronavirus is for the people of Nairobi.

“Here in the rural area there is no corona,” he told KNA. He said tradition must be done despite the spread of the diseases. “Hapa kwetu hatujasikia mtu amekufa corona, he said. (At our place here we have not heard anyone has died of coronavirus). Asked why they were not wearing masks, a participant by name Eliud Barasa said that masks will deny them the act of singing and dancing. “How do you sing and dance in a mask?” he posed.

Even as candidates visited their uncle’s place on the eve of circumcision, people freely mingled and cared less to Ministry of Health protocols on prevention of coronavirus. A Cow is slaughtered and part of it is hung on the candidate’s neck. The crowd is large. No one cares about community transmissions.

Asked whether they have heard about the warnings on media, they admitted of seeing and hearing of the adverts but to them, this belonged to Nairobi people. They said that their traditions must be followed to later and boys must be initiated to adulthood at all costs. “Hii corona tutaikata na kisu ya kutairi,” one participant at the event told KNA partially (we will cut coronavirus with the circumcision knife).

A parent who circumcised his twins  on Monday morning at Chepkoro village in Kiminini sub county, Ben Murefu Chafua told KNA that traditions must be followed without fail.

“My twin boys have been circumcised today and all traditions followed without fail,” he said.

His wife, Violet expressed satisfaction that her boys had finally paid a debt to traditions of her people. Am proud of my two sons, Mulongo and Mukhwana for going through the initiation as expected of them, she told KNA at her home in Chepkoro after the circumcision.

She confirmed that she hosted around 50 people Sunday night that helped her celebrate the initiation rites of her twin sons. Asked why she was flouting curfew rules she said that those rules do not apply to traditions.

Generally, Bukusus fear death during circumcision. Children dying as they nursed wounds of the knife were believed to bring a curse to his people. Death was avoided by all means.

In 1938, for instance, there was no circumcision that took place. The elders that time advised that following blood shed brought by the Second World War, more blood could not be shed again through circumcision.

They ordered that circumcision be done the following year. The year has popularly been know as sikumenya meaning not normal circumcision. Though it affected the age set that time, elders were firm and it happened as advised.

This year, elders were divided and could not give appropriate advice to the traditionalists. The community, according to Bukusu Council of Elders chair Trans Nzoia branch, Peter Masinde said that they had rightly advised the community to go ahead and perform the rites of passage to the boys.

With the circumcision on, fears of community transmissions could be real and increasing figures of those who test positive could go up.

By  Pauline Ikanda

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