As communities adjust to new cultures and adopt new ways of thinking, traditions such as ear piercing and stretching earlobes among the Kalenjin community have been overtaken by modernity.
Piercing one’s ear was done during transition rituals, especially during graduation from childhood to youth, from youth to adulthood and preparation of young women for marriage.
Others especially young warriors pierced their ears further to adorn themselves with ornaments that were a sign of their bravery.
79 year old Naum Chumba still stands out with the beauty she bought with immense pain and endurance.
With her pierced and over stretched earlobes hanging over the shoulders, Chumba stated that she is proud of her culture and that’s why she retained her uniquely ornamental earlobes.
Chumba, a resident of Cheboror village in Nandi County, said piercing of the earlobes was a significant aspect for both men and women in the entire Kalenjin sub tribe adding that loosely swinging earlobes were valued in the community.
“I underwent the process during my teenage years among other girls, prior to our initiation to adulthood in the late 1950s. It was compulsory for girls at puberty to possess all the women’s ornaments,” she said.
The mother of four pointed out that girls from age of 14 years and above were taken through the rigorous surgery process that would last up to six months, depending on the earlobes expansion rate.
She said to achieve the desired size of the loose earlobes; the medicine men specialized in doing the exercise cuts below the ears with caution.
The round designed sticks known as ‘Kabareiwek’ were inserted gradually to pull down the earlobes and expand them to the desired sizes.
“The process was painful but we had to endure because we love our culture. The sticks were changed weekly and the ear could take up to even six months to fully heal,” she said.
73 year old Anne Sawe noted that piercing of ears was a common practice in almost every Kenyan community in the past but nowadays people no longer practice it due to modernization.
She recalled that for women, the ornaments were made from leather artistically designed with beads.
The Kalenjin men too pierced their ears but their ornaments were different from those of women. The ornaments were made from copper and aluminum metals by the community’s blacksmith.
Apart from Kalenjin, Turkana, Samburu and Maasai are among communities who pierced and decorated their ears in Kenya.
By Linet Wafula