Clash between culture, MoH rules as Bukusu circumcision fete held

Sunday August 02 2020

Bukusu elders have vowed to proceed with the traditional circumcision of boys despite stern warning from the government against performing the annual rite of passage this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Bukusu, Tachoni and Batura elders drawn from the nine constituencies of Bungoma County on Friday threatened to “bewitch” anyone who tries to stand in the way of the practice that is highly regarded by locals.

Speaking in Sirisia village while officially start of the circumcision ceremonies, the elders said that the cut must proceed but under strict adherence to health directives aimed at fighting Covid-19.

The government has issued a stern warning that firm action will be taken against anyone performing the traditional ceremony which is held every even year in Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and parts of Kakamega County.

Health guidelines

The elders said that they will defy the order after they performed a traditional ritual and agreed that the circumcision of boys must proceed under strict supervision and adherence to health guidelines.


The traditional circumcisers drawn from the sub-tribes Luhya of the Bukusu, Batura and Tachoni last week held a knife cleansing ritual locally known as 'Khubita kimibano' in readiness for the ceremony that officially kicked off on Friday and is expected to end in December.

Led by Mzee Mwali Malaa, the elders said that it is a very important thing to cleanse the knives in readiness for the cut.

They said that the ritual ensures that the circumcision ceremony runs smoothly without mishaps like deaths or the knives injuring the boys.

Mzee Malaa said that the only thing that can stop the ceremony is a serious intercommunity war or a disease that is killing people.

White goat

The elders, who slaughtered a white goat before examining its intestines to predict weather it will be a bad year or not for the cut, said that all was well and the circumcision should go on.

A white cock was also slaughtered and burned together with its feathers before elders ate it.

The elders said that the intestines of the goat revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic will be around for a while, possibly for two years.

Mzee Maala said they agreed to ensure that they observe all the Ministry of Health directives as they proceed with the cut.

"We have resolved that we will take care of ourselves as we go on initiating our boys to adulthood," he said.

The elders called upon residents to be careful and guard against contracting Covid-19.

Mr Ayub Wepukhuku, who has been circumcising boys since 2002, said that as a renowned circumciser, he will adhere to the government’s health directives.

"We will ensure we observe social distancing, we wash our hands regularly and we also wear masks and maintain a high standard of hygiene,” he said.

No merry making

He said that this year the ceremony will be very different since there will be no singing, dancing and merry making as has been the case in the past.

Mr Machacha Majembe, a Bungoma politician, urged those participating in the circumcision ceremonies to be cautious and observe all the health directives.

Even as the cut goes on, Bungoma County Commissioner Abdi Hassan has maintained that the festival will not take place as the accompanying practices and activities are against the Word Health Organisation’s directives in the war against Covid-19.

Speaking to the Nation Sunday at his office in Bungoma town, Mr Hassan said that he has instructed all security committees in the nine sub-counties to firmly deal with anyone who will be found performing the cut.

The county chief said that the circumcision ceremony had been called off due to its nature of endangering the residents during the Covid-19 times.

"Many of the activities that accompany this ceremony include singing together, dancing and merry making that might expose our people to the pandemic," he said.

Tourist attraction

The annual Bukusu circumcision is one of Kenya’s most-anticipated traditional ceremonies and attracts more than 40,000 tourists, both local and foreign.

The last circumcision took place in 2018.

Generations or age-sets are named after every ceremony.

While some people want the ceremony postponed to 2022 because of Covid 19, the circumcisers have opposed the move and have started preparing for the event.

At the same time, a spot check by Nation on Sunday revealed that some parents have started circumcising boys quietly in hospitals, something some elders say will bring a curse.

Against the law

Mr Michael Misiko, a herbalist and a Luhya elder, said that those who are circumcising boys are going against the law.

"It’s really bad to ignore the government’s directives in combating the spread of Covid-19. During this ceremony, many people come together to sing, dance and drink local brews, something that was blacklisted by the Ministry of Health due to the fear of spreading the coronavirus,’’ he said.

He blamed the circumcisers for the turn of events, accusing them of being money hungry and ignoring the government directive.

"Some initiators are after money, in fact they deliver poor services whenever given an opportunity. I really condemn them,’’ he said.

He said that whenever there is crisis during the circumcision year, the ceremony is always postponed to avoid losing lives.

"Those who have already circumcised their boys have broken the law,’’ he said, adding the best circumcision should be done in 2022.