So for the sake of this story let’s imagine you are a teenage boy from Shangila village somewhere in Bungoma. You are a Bukusu, naturally, and your body is starting to resemble that of a grown ass man but no, you are not yet a man. You are not yet a man because you haven’t faced the knife. And because you haven’t faced the knife, Margaret, who everybody calls Mangrita thanks to the Bukusu’s natural talent of mutilating names in such a way you will never recognise them again, has been giving you a cold shoulder every time you profess your love for her. She is older than you. Even slightly taller than you. You are both in high school but she is two classes ahead. You are in form one. Her body is filling out. Of particular interest to you is her round breasts she has decided not to be heartless enough to cage in a bra. God bless her.
So yes, you love Margret, or rather Mangrita. But she has been taking you round and round so one day you bump into her on her way from the river, balancing 20 litres jerry can of water on her head. The can doesn’t have its lead so excess water freely flows out, down to her neck and further down soaking her blouse which now sticks to her skin in a way that perfectly outlines these very breasts tormenting you. You block her way and say, “Okay, Mangrita, today you must tell me why you don’t want to be my girlfriend before I let you pass.”
She sighs and then shakes her head. She looks at you and asks, “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Okay, Wangila, first of all, you are just a boy and I do not roll with boys, leave alone those who aren’t circumcised.”
The truth hurts. It stings. It stings so bad that you are unable to open your mouth and argue that that is no reason for her to refuse you. You want to tell her that your tool, though not circumcised, works just fine and that you can give referees if you have to. But then that would give her another reason to say No to you so you leave her alone. That evening you go to where your father is seated under a tree staring at the sunset without really looking and announce, “I want to be circumcised.” He looks at you, and then at the sunset, and then back at you and asks you? “Kumoyo kulimo?” which if translated directly will be “Do you have the heart?” which does not make any sense because the true meaning is, Do you think you have the courage to face the knife? Something like that.
You say yes.
That night your father will discuss the issue with your mother. Then the next day he will discuss it with his fellow old men. The discussions will continue and then a date will be set. December 8th, 2016 will be decided as the day when you will face the knife. When you will transition from just being a mere boy to a man. When you will acquire the right to confuse all girls, including Indian girls who are tired of their mediocre and lousy lovers and are looking for the real thing (Remember My Bukusu Darling?) Now, Bukusu circumcision ceremony is one filled with many things which, for the purposes of word count and because we do not have the whole day here, I won’t dwell on much. I will instead focus on the eve to the actual cut.
But first, let me mention the process where you have to invite your relatives for the ceremony, officially. Why am I saying officially? Because they will be already aware of the ceremony and the date but they will still wait for you to trek for kilometres to their homes, ringing bells, and inviting them over. They will cook for you. They will even give you money. But before the money, they will counsel you first and even drop a few slaps on your cheeks especially if you have been a rude boy. You can’t retaliate. Usually, the hotter the slaps the more the money.
A day to facing the knife you will visit your maternal uncles and one of them is supposed to award you with a bull. But if you have stingy uncles, they may just point to a bull and promise you that it will be yours but you will never see that bull again with your two eyes. There are things that happen which again I am not too keen to dive into them right now.
But a bull should be slaughtered and the bulls’ stomach should be placed on your neck.
That night you will be made to dance the whole night, surrounded by sweaty drunk men who have voices to kill for. This is usually called Khuminya. I am telling you if only those singers in Bukusu circumcision ceremonies could take their singing talents seriously, they would save the face of Kenya’s music industry which is filled with quark musicians in colourful underwears, musicians who think that the epitome of success for any musician is having other people’s girlfriends and wives bending over for them. When other people’s girlfriends twist their knickers and bend over for them, baaaaas! wamefika. Some say that our politicians are our curse and I agree. But most of our secular musicians are part of that curse. Our gospel musicians? Those ones are punishment.
So they proudly sing about this in their songs. This thing about our girlfriends going gaga and wanting to strip and bend over for them. It is part of their lyrics. Go listen to them. Especially for these rappers with an accent of a fish. As a reality check, most ladies will bend over for you after 5 guaranas so boss, stop kidding yourself and write real music!
Anyway, I digress. Bukusu Circumcision songs are the shit. I kid you not. The songs usually reek of profanity, but you wouldn’t even feel like it because both men and women will be singing to them, smiling like they were gospel songs. Kick-ass songs. These songs are also used to settle scores. To set records straight. And to rebuke the evil and evil doers. Have you been ploughing other men’s wives? There will be a song for you, completely marinated with your full names and those of the women you have been ploughing. Have you been bragging in drinking dens that you are a mafia in bed and that if in doubt people should ask your wife? Well, turns out your wife has been too generous with this information during chamaas, and her truth is different from yours. In fact, so different that even the kids you have been thinking are yours are not! So for you too, there will be a song for you. Are you a damsel, moving about the entire village offering services to all, a song for you will be there. And oh, your name won’t be spared. It is brutal, I TELL YOU.
And during this time, the singers enjoy immunity. You can never hold anything they say, or rather sing against them.
So there will be singing and dancing the whole night. Then when the morning comes you will be taken to a river (esitosi) where you will be smeared with mud all over your body. Of course, you will have to strip down to nothing. What this means is that everyone, including women, has the chance to stare at your manhood. Yes, for ladies, I know, this is an opportunity to gauge this man and see if he has what it takes just in case he chases after your skirt later on. Now the river can be near or far, so here it is matter of chance.
You will then be walked home, people chanting what will sound like war song (sioyayo) to your father’s compound were eluant will be waiting for you. You will stand there, hands on your waist, and then a traditional circumciser (I don’t know why I am saying traditional circumciser because obviously, it has to be a traditional circumciser. Not like Dr. Patel will push through a crowd of people with his sterilised knives and circumcise you there, right?) will work on your penis at a record speed. They are referred to as Vakhebi, by the way. And the moment his whistle blows, you will be a man. Now, Mangrita can look for another excuse for saying No!
P.S: There are a lot of things, traditions, rituals that take place during circumcision that I haven’t mentioned. So do not sit for an exam about this tradition only armed with the knowledge of what I have shared with you, sawa?