“Alluding to the botched circumcision where 11 boys are said to have gone for the cut for a second time at Wanjengi village in Kiharu, Mr Chomba blamed the church for the error, saying the initiates mothers’ took them to the church and even went for them, which is against the Kikuyu traditions.
By: Gocho wa Thuo
“Wisdom is like a goatskin bag; every man carries his own.” – Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe
A troublesome row has emerged between the church and Kikuyu elders over who should give counsel to initiates before and after circumcision. Traditional Gikuyu elders are accusing the church of engaging in “counselling for business gain” while the church is accusing the elders of propaganda aimed at preventing it from counselling the initiates. The elders maintain that the church has no business engaging in the rite of passage and that it has no structures to carry out any advisory role on the initiates. This comes at a time when just a few weeks back a clash between traditionalists and parents on how and when to circumcise boys left a string of casualties in the Mount Kenya region.
The conduct of the rite of passage was hijacked by criminal gangs that forcibly circumcised boys as young as 10 and used lethal violence on initiates. A few weeks later, relatives and friends of 15-year-old Juliano Kanyonyo Mbatha, who was tortured to death after circumcision, buried him in Gaitu, Murang’a. His demise opened up to the public the dark cloud of pain that has overshadowed what was once regarded as an important rite. Soon after, news broke that 16-year-old Jimmy Egururu, who had undergone the cut and was left in the hands of a caretaker in Kamirithu, Limuru, had been found dead in unclear circumstances. This has created a situation where parents of teenage boys in Mt Kenya region are torn between entrusting their sons to churches to organise circumcision rites and surrendering them to traditionalist relatives.
If the latter route is taken a huge number of the boys are secretly circumcised and kept in unhygienic conditions. They seem to take an oath not to reveal any information about who circumcised them. In Kiambu, parents tell saddening tales of molestation of the freshly circumcised boys. John Kanja, 69, an elder in Kiambu, said the traditional way of conducting circumcision and subsequent healing had been infiltrated by bad habits that were undermining the fundamental reason of the initiation: turning boys into responsible young men. Angered by reports of gangs taking over circumcision and fresh initiates being subjected to violence, drugs and sex, many parents have turned to churches for help.
The first wave of church-run circumcision ceremonies for boys started in Murang’a due to concerns about the treatment meted out to fresh initiates, much of it perpetuated by the outlawed Mungiki sect. At first, Elders from the mainstream churches would identify a secluded place where the boys would camp to undergo circumcision after intensive guidance and counselling. , the elders, led by Kinyanjui Karindi, faced strong opposition from the community.
Years later, the idea has spread throughout the country, with more churches taking part. However it was a costly affair with churches charging as much as Sh10,000 for each initiate. Parents who cannot afford the church fees leave their sons at the mercy of ‘circumcision guardians’, some of whom are violent bullies and extortionists. In Murang’a, the traditional elders have distanced themselves from the claims of torture of initiates, saying this went against the traditional way of conducting circumcision. The elders expressed dismay at the killing of the 15-year-old initiate and the commercialisation of the rite of passage. The traditional elders say that the church should leave it to them to perform the circumcision ceremonies and concentrate in spreading the gospel.
According to the one of nation dailies the elders’ council, known as Kĩama Kĩa Ma, in Murang’a, through its branch chairman Rugami Wa Chomba, said that in the Kikuyu tradition, the elders and the clan of the initiates were the ones who would take charge in mentoring and guiding the newly-circumcised men by taking them through teachings on their culture, traditions and taboos. He said before and after circumcision, the elders would train the boys’ parents and the guardians how to “remain clean” so as not to interfere with the initiates’ healing process.
“This process must be conducted by elders who are clean and who can guide the parents of the initiates not to engage in sex during this period. But all the heritage and Kikuyu traditions have been eroded by the church who are seeking monetary gains,” claimed Mr Chomba. Alluding to the botched circumcision where 11 boys are said to have gone for the cut for a second time at Wanjengi village in Kiharu, Mr Chomba blamed the church for the error, saying the initiates mothers’ took them to the church and even went for them, which is against the Kikuyu traditions.
“The women should never be seen near the initiates but in this case the boys even showed the mother’s their organ which in Kikuyu tradition is a taboo,” he claimed. “The church is clueless on the type of food to be fed the initiates on and the subsequent ceremony to re-integrate them back to the society. This could bring calamity in Kikuyu land,” he added. Mr Chomba further revealed that elders are scheduled to meet on December 5 to “consult the gods over the matter”.
On the other hand, the Anglican Church of Kenya Bishop of Mt Kenya Central Timothy Gichere maintained that it is the role of church to obey Christ’s mission to assist the society in counselling so as to prevent the initiates from joining illegal groups. Bishop Gichere said that the church cannot not rule out the possibility that the elders are on a spirited campaign to blow the issue of the “botched circumcision” out of proportion as they want to establish themselves and win back the support of locals in carrying out the advisory role on the initiates.
The church took issue with the manner in which the issue of the “botched circumcision” was handled, saying that while no operation was repeated as widely perceived, the initiates have been exposed to ridicule and intimidation by their colleagues who believe they are not complete adults. This confrontation has brought to fore the deep differences that exist between Christianity and traditional African religion. Africans are often stuck in the middle of following Christ who is God according to Christianity and a raft of pluralistic gods of local tradition.
Whether it’s in circumcision or other issues, every parent must choose whom they will serve, whether it is the God of the Bible or the gods of tradition or even Traditional God in monolithic tradition like Ngai in Gikuyu tradition. But even in this parents must be careful not to be lured by tares pretending to be followers of the christian faith who are just out to extort them.