Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 17:53 UK

Circumciser story: Making boys men

A Luhya initiate during the circumcision ritual

Edward Wafula Mayende, a traditional circumciser at a biennial festival in western Kenya where hundreds of boys face the knife, tells the BBC about the ancient practice.

The circumcision ritual is of huge cultural significance amongst the Luhya people, who believe only by undergoing the cut does a boy becomes a man.

Traditional circumcisers, known in Luhya as ombukhebis, have been accused of using dirty knives on many initiates exposing them to various infections including HIV.

I circumcise young men to make them full men.

My father was an omukhebi and my grandfather before him. I hope that one of my sons will also take up the trade.

The knives and materials we use are sterilised with methylated spirit and heated in fire
I live in the village of Binyinya in Lugari district near Eldoret. I normally perform circumcision in August every other year.

At other times I work in the fields as a peasant farmer. I am 40 years old and have been a traditional circumciser for eight years.

I am married with six children but it is taboo to circumcise your own children so I took them to another circumciser.

Some say that traditional omukhebi use unhygienic tools that can spread infection.

But I don't believe that, because the knives and materials we use are sterilised with methylated spirit and heated in fire.

'Won't die out'

That way the germs are eliminated. So I don't think circumcision is a danger to the health of initiates.

Boy after circumcision ritual
Circumcisers must have certificates to show they are qualified

I actually think uncircumcised men are more open to infection because the foreskin is warm and can hold germs and viruses which then enter the body.

Some say that as more young people now use hospitals, the tradition of circumcision could die out. But I don't think this will happen.

We will proceed with our traditions and we will maintain our culture to the very end.

It started a long long time ago. In the Biblical time of Abraham, it was said that Sarah circumcised Abraham.

So it must proceed until the last man.

There is a programme at the moment to circumcise young Luo men in nearby Nyanza province to prevent the spread of HIV and Aids.

Luo men do not believe in circumcision so there is now a controversy that they will be forced into another tradition.

But I will be very happy if I am invited to take part in this programme, because I like to get involved in these things.

We always go to seminars to learn more about the practice and we produce our certificates of circumcision to show that we are qualified.

Circumcision diary
30 Nov 07 |  Africa
Kenya struggles to combat HIV
31 May 06 |  Health
Mass circumcision to fight Aids
07 Jun 07 |  Africa


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific