Samburu circumcision: Of sheep skin cover, ostrich feathers and the cut


Samburu circumcision: Of sheep skin cover, ostrich feathers and the cut

In the Samburu culture, this is the time of the year when most young boys across the country have to pass through circumcision.

The community is however slowly abandoning the traditional way of circumcision.

From using crude tools, the community has begun to adopt modern methods which are easier and help prevent contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Citizen Digital spoke to Peter Kandele, a community doctor who goes door-to-door conducting the exercise.

Kandele says he also educates the communities on the need to embrace modern ways of circumcision. His tools are sterilised and cannot be used by anybody else once he has used it.

Most the tools he acquires are from the local health facilities through an outreach program.

Samburu children, known as Layeni, go through the initiation ritual that signifies transition to adulthood when they are 15 years old.

The boy is escorted to his mother’s house by a group of young men who also lead calves to their shed.

During the ceremony, the boy is clean shaved, given new shoes/sandals and then covered with a sheepskin on which the mother has previously sprinkled grease and coal dust.

The boy is then taken back to the field and returns with a herd of cattle driving them at a break-necking speed to the home.

This is a sign of how swift he can be in protecting the animals and showing a courageous demeanor needed to safeguard his family and the community.

With the help of an elder, the circumcision exercise takes place.

The boy is not allowed to show any signs of fear such as moaning in pain or crying which are seen as acts of cowardice hence a taboo.

After the ceremony, the young man receives gifts in form of food and a bow and arrows.

His mother wears a necklace made with black and white beads that indicates that her son is now a moran: a warrior.

For the next month, which is usually the time to recover, the young man stays in his mother’s hut.

After that, he leaves the village to go learn how to hunt birds with the bows and arrows he received as gifts.

When he returns home, he is given an ostrich feather soaked in milk by the mother.

A ceremony is also held, during which a bull is killed and the young man must swear not to eat meat in the presence of women and then smears red ochre on his body.

Celebrations continue into the night. Each moran chooses a new name to celebrate the passage to adulthood.

The celebration includes the sacrifice of an ox that is killed by suffocation.

The animal however, should not fall to the ground; it must be held up by the young people for whom the ceremony is held: as a demonstration of their strength.

Elders say they are slowly embracing the modern day circumcision practices for the initiates and also shunning passing the same rites to young girls.

Meanwhile, the Kikuyu Council of Elders has cancelled all its ceremonies and functions until January next year in order to take charge of the circumcision of boys.

This, is to ensure there is no repeat of incidents witnessed last year where initiates were molested, with several deaths also reported.

Speaking in Tumaini area in Nyandarua County, the council’s national and regional officials resolved to cancel ceremonies of welcoming new members in the association until January to give priority to the initiation of boys into adulthood.

Led by the Kiama Kia Ma Spiritual leader (Muthamaki) Thiongo Giatu and Kikuyu Cultural Association Elders Chairman Ndung’u Gaithuma, the elders appealed to parents have their sons initiated to adulthood in places where they can get proper counseling and lessons on positive cultural practices.

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Story By Peter Mwangi
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