The Bukusu are a sub-tribe of the larger luhya community in Kenya. The Bukusu are the third largest tribe after the Agikuyu and the Luo.
The tribe is mostly found in the Western part of Kenya, more specifically, Bungoma County. Bungoma County is not new in making news headlines as well as setting an agenda for people to dwell on for weeks. If it is not the County Government spending more than 100 thousand shillings to purchase a wheelbarrow, it is a man nicknamed James Bond hanging dangerously on a helicopter and so much more.
During the month of August even year, Bungoma County often makes news and this year is not going to be different. It is 2016, an even year and the Bukusu land is burning with ecstasy and excitement. This is a year that the tribe is going to conduct a circumcision ceremony for their boys.
The Bukusu circumcision ceremony is one of the most interesting things in this tribe. For a visitor, they seem crazy and uncivilized things but for the tribe, those deeply rooted into the tradition, the ceremony is the very being of the tribe. It is the real existence of the community.
“Circumcision has been there since time immemorial. It is a source of our unity,” says Mzee Ambrose Wangamati, from Kamukuywa in Bungoma during an interview.
The old man tells me that the circumcision rite of the Bukusu dates back to the Father of Bukusu circumcision called Mango. He says that once upon a time, there was a huge snake that killed many of the Bukusu people. The snake was so mysterious that it only used to strike people on the heads. This forced the Bukusu people to start walking with boiling porridge on their heads so as to keep away the monstrous snake. One day, that snake made a mistake. It killed the son of Mango. Mango was furious. He armed himself with a knife known as Embalu and went and killed the snake. Since that day he became a hero and to officially make him a hero, his foreskin had to be removed and that was when circumcision started among the Bukusu.
The ceremony is always done during the month of August of every even year. The activities have however, been reducing with each coming year as civilization continues to take root among the tribe members. At the moment, only a few undertake the traditional cut as most of them opt to take their sons to hospital to be worked on by a professional medical practitioner.
When a Bukusu boy feels that he is strong enough to face the knife or Embalu as they call it, he informs his father. His father then consults with his peers over a pot of traditional brew known as busaa. Once a consensus is reached, preparations are set in motion.
The man of the house, a father, selects a bull that would be slaughtered during the ceremony and if there is no bull, one has to buy. That is why during this season, in Bungoma County, the price of bulls and cows in general usually skyrockets. A bull having been chosen, gives the boy a go ahead to look for special jingles or bells or traditionally known as chinyimba and a whistle. These are the two important tools that the candidate or the initiate will need during the ceremony.
A period of inviting relatives and friends then starts. This is called Khulanga or simply calling. The boy has to move from homestead to homestead, far and wide, within and without, playing the jingles or chinyimba with a group of other singing and dancing to traditional circumcision songs. During this season of Khulanga, the boy is given gifts mostly foodstuffs, birds like chicken and money as some tease him to taste his courage.
The last person to be invited before the last ceremony is the uncle. This is the most important person. The uncle is informed in advance. He then slaughters a bull and when nephew, he takes piece of meat, called luliki and makes something like a necklace (simply a whole to fit the neck) and puts on his nephew’s neck. This meat is called Likhoni. The rest of the meat is carried is bags to go and be eaten during the ceremony.
“Once the boy accepts Likhoni from his uncle, his fate is sealed. He cannot escape the knife. Even if he dies, he must be circumcised, “Mzee Wangamati tells me with a roaring laughter.
Another important person during this ceremony is a traditional surgeon, a circumciser, the man without no knowledge in the medical world but with the ability to perform surgeries on young boys’ foreskins and turning them into men. It is said that the man is often guided by powerful spirits that are within him in what the tribe calls Kumusambwa. The guy uses a special kind of knife called Embalu to work on his customers without anything to reduce the pain as a true measure of bravery of the initiate.
The night before the cut is usually the final one. During this night, people come from all walks of life, both invited and those who have invited themselves. They sing and dance the whole night as they mock the initiate. Beer is usually in plenty especially what is commonly known as busaa. Young people and old are usually united during this night. They dance, they sing, they drink, the play sex, they do all manner of nasty things during this night. The night and the ceremony is called Khuminya. In the past, old men are the ones who used to conduct the singing but nowadays, it is the young men who do.
At exactly four in the morning, the boy is taken to the river, at a special place known as Silongo or Sitosi. Here, there is a special kind of soil that the initiate is smeared with. He is then told some words by his uncle, slapped in the face before a special song known as sioyayo, for the Bukusu is like the national anthem, and is sung. The boy is then made to walk totally naked from the river to the homestead where the traditional surgeon will be waiting to work on him.
Selling animals is one of the lucrative business in Bungoma during this season. Animals like chicken, bulls and sheep are the most bought. Chicken are the most bought during this season and if there is time to sell them, is during this season.
Cereals are another business opportunity that thrives during this season. People buy a lot of maize during this season to prepare for the traditional brew especially busaa and also for ugali. Many people make money from selling foodstuffs during this season in Bungoma County.
People also buy new sheets, blankets and new clothes during this season. Starting a small business in clothes just for a month will see you making some profits.
All in all, the season is here. Circumcision in Bukusu land is fast approaching and the business mood is setting in.