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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Kenya's unkindest cut

By Muliro Telewa in Nakuru, Kenya

Hundreds of boys from the Bukusu clan of the Luhya Tribe in western Kenya are undergoing traditional circumcision during August.

Many Kenyan tribes that circumcise their males do so in hospitals, but the Bukusu clan has religiously clung onto its the traditional way of circumcision.


If I go to hospital they will call me a sissy because they know in hospital one uses anaesthesia

Simiyu Kwoma, 12
In Webuye town, 420km (260 miles) west of Nairobi, I witnessed hundreds of friends and relatives dancing frantically round 12-year-old Simiyu Kwoma.

The young boy was wearing a bright red, green and black pair of shorts.

Instead of a shirt, he wore a big piece of bull's flesh, with the animal's penis and testicles conspicuously dangling in front as proof that the slaughtered animal was actually a bull.


Simiyu, the son of a retired educated civil servant, later told me he had refused the advice of some of his friends and relatives to undergo the operation in hospital because others would laugh at him.

"If I go to hospital they will call me a sissy because they know in hospital one uses anaesthesia,'' the boy said.

Unflinching

The following morning I witnessed Simiyu stripped naked at a river, six miles away from from home.

He was dipped in the icy cold water and smeared with mud all over the body, and accompanied his five peers walking like soldiers the long trip home.


The God of the Bukusus, does not admit uncircumcised adults in his heaven

Hudson Masinde, traditional surgeon
Each of the young men withstood the two-minute operation without as much as a blink of the eye. Their mothers ululated to signify the promotion of new Bukusus into adulthold.

Simiyu's father, Kwoma Senior, told me a Bukusu undergoing the operation in hospital is derided as a coward.

Health risks

On the dangers of the knife used by the traditional surgeons infecting the the initiates with diseases such as Aids, Kwoma Senior insists that it is not possible because the knife is heated in a hot flame and sharpened on a red hot brick thus sterilising it.

A consortium of Aids awareness non-governmental organisations has unsuccessfully appealed to Bukusus to shun traditional circumcision.

The groups have done research in many parts of Bungoma district to establish whether or not traditional surgeons use one knife for each initiate.


With time more Bukusus will send their children to hospital but for now the traditional surgeons should be encouraged to use modern methods of sterilising their knives

Jane Siminyu, doctor
Their fears were confirmed as a single knife was used on as many as 10 boys, thereby posing a major health risk.

A traditional Bukusu surgeon with 30 years experience, Hudson Masinde, says circumcision for his tribe is "a religion".

"The God of the Bukusus, does not admit uncircumcised adults in his heaven," Masinde told me as he sharpened his double edged knife and sipped away traditional beer from a calabash.

Post-mortem circumcision

The Bukusus are so fanatical about circumcision that in very rare cases when it is discovered that a deceased adult is uncircumcised they will perfom full rituals.

This entails circumcising the body before the burial, which is often accompanied with slaughtering of animals and drinking of traditional beer.

A Nakuru-based medical doctor, Jane Siminyu, also a Bukusu, emphasizes that the traditional surgeons should be encouraged to use one knife for each initiate.

"With time more Bukusus will send their children to hospital but for now the traditional surgeons should be encouraged to use modern methods of sterilising their knives."

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See also:

09 Jun 00 | Health
Circumcision cuts HIV risk
18 Jun 99 | Health
Six diseases threaten world
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