It’s all systems go in the Western parts of Kenya as the circumcision season sets in. Since the 1800s, the Bukusu clan has been practicing this traditional every even year, and this year (2018), is no exception.
Circumcision is a rite of passage, and when performed on young adults and adolescents, it marks a transition from boyhood to manhood. But for the Bukusu tribe in the western part of Kenya, it isn’t all black and white, a series of cultural aspects go into the process.
Before a boy faces the knife, they have to go through a spectrum of rituals, both publicly and privately. For instance, they are required to bring two chickens to a local blacksmith as a price for two bells that they’ll ring across villages to invite their relatives to the ceremony.
As part of the practice, the candidates from each area gather at a central location every night, and jog for many kilometres chanting circumcision songs, and blowing whistles until a few hours to dawn.
A few days before the circumcision day, the boys ring their bells while singing their songs as they head to the homesteads of all their relatives, to invite them officially. During this time, they undergo lots of bullying from those who already went through the initiation process (with the intention of hardening them).
On the last day before the ceremony, the boys go to their maternal uncles and have a cow slaughtered in their honour, and some raw meat placed on their shoulders.
At wee hours of the circumcision day, the uncle takes the boy to the river, (and dips him in cold water to numb his body). Then he smears him with clay and places a piece of grass on his head (held by the clay) to symbolize that the initiate is communicating with the ancestors.
Villagers, along with other relatives then escort the naked boy back to their homes while chanting the circumcision songs – this time around, the boy does not ring bells, neither does he dance; instead, he walks upright, with courage to his father’s home, and stands on top of a paper with some ashes.
The ritual is performed out in public without any anaesthetic. The boy is expected to face it bravely, without shaking, or blinking, as a sign of courage. Once the bleeding slows, the graduate goes into his father’s house walking backward.
The people of western Kenya treasure this tradition; after all, it’s been part of their lives for centuries. However, it doesn’t come without a price.
The Bukusu community plans to circumcise more than 2,000 boys traditionally – without the help of a professional medical doctor, or correctly sterilized equipment. According to Makala, the chair of National AIDS/STD Control Programme in Kenya, out of the 2,000 young boys who are to undergo the initiation, about 800 of them will end up with complications ranging from mild to life-threatening.
Often, untrained individuals execute the cut, and do so in unhygienic conditions. But this is not the only reason why these boys are at risk of complications. After the cut, they are secluded to a place where they’ll spend a few weeks, as they recuperate. Since there are no follow-ups or check-ups, the boys suffer in solitude, even as some of them face potentially life-threatening issues like bacterial infections, gangrene, severe bleeding, and penis mutilation.
Although male circumcision is said to reduce the risk of HIV infections, Makala says some cultural practices like circumcision can increase HIV transmission risk, especially when a knife is shared amongst different boys. Besides, since these boys transition to men after the initiation, they are even encouraged to engage in sexual intercourse.
An inside look
Even with the glaring risk, boys are still willing to go through the traditional cut. We asked one of the initiates why he didn’t want to go to the hospital for the circumcision. His response was, “I fancy my culture, so I have to uphold it no matter what. In my community, circumcised men are respected. And unlike awhile back when the knife was shared among several boys, circumcisers today only use one knife, for one boy, so the risk of infections is minimized.”
Both governmental and non-governmental organizations in Kenya are striving to find a way to let the families uphold their traditions without exposing their little ones to risk. They encourage families to carry on with their practices, but in the end, have a trained medical doctor to execute the cut, instead of the traditional circumcisers.
Childhood Experiences Growing Up with an African Mother
If I may ask, why did our mothers give us that “THAT LOOK” when we did something wrong in public? Couldn’t they tell us to stop whatever it was we were doing?
Don’t bother answering. I got the answer yesterday when I took my son to the mall for some little fun. He was getting all fussy about a toy that he wanted me to buy. I tried talking him out of it, but he didn’t want to hear a word. Well, out of the blues, I found myself giving him “THAT LOOK”, and to my surprise, it worked.
My African mother
Our mothers were tough, nothing more, nothing less. You make a mistake; you face the consequences, sometimes, there and then.
I remember one day, a few church members came to our place for prayers. So my mom prepared some chapatis and chicken and told us to go out and play. It was around one o’clock, and since we hadn’t had anything since morning, my brothers, and I were starving.
So, I decided to crawl back into the house, and squeeze myself in between two ladies – my mom had gone to the kitchen. When she came back and saw me, she made a joke or two, then she said, “Olivia, good you are here, I wanted to send you to the shops. Please come with me; I’ll give you some money.”
No sooner had we left the living room, did she grasp some flesh on my thighs. Then she squeezed and twisted it tightly for about five seconds and gave me “THAT LOOK” that said, “Let me hear a sound.” Guess what happened? I walked slowly past the visitors, with a smile, through to the front door (we had no back doors), and silently cried outside.
20 minutes later, she calls me, “Olivia, come and recite that poem for the visitors.”
And don’t get it wrong, she’s just a typical African mother. Just about any other African mother does that. It’s like they were born to the same mother.
In fact, one friend told me that her mom used to say a letter for every stroke of cane, like, “I-t-o-l-d y-o-u n-o-t t-o g-o o-u-t.
Don’t get out of this house…
Growing up, my friends and I weren’t privileged enough to have fancy toys, computers, or things to entertain us at home. As bad as it was; still our disciplinarian parents didn’t want us to go out (imagine sitting at home for the entire holiday, doing nothing!) Nevertheless, that forced us to think out of the box.
We had to master the art of timelessness. By that I mean, knowing which time our parents went for work and when they came back home. The idea was to carry on with our activities and go back home before they could arrive.
We had to create our toys and fun activities. For instance, if we needed to play soccer or handball, we could collect many plastic papers and a rope, and craftily create a ball (this ball could bounce, at least three times, so it was quite something). We could also collect clay from a riverbank (which was not less than two kilometres away), to create dolls, cars, and homes.
And when she doesn’t find you home…
While at the river, we would swim or slide through a path of mud into the water, try fishing, or eat some bush fruits for a few hours, before heading back home. Surprisingly, we were disciplined when it came to timing. But every once in a while, you could get at home, only to realize your mother is sitting on the door, with a very long stick, with “THAT LOOK”, and the only thing that goes on your mind is “Today is the day I’m going to die.”
Hats off to our African mothers: they disciplined us the African way, they taught us well, to respect others and to live right by others. They also never let us go hungry even when the times got tough.
Growing up, there was nothing like child support. When a man decided not to take care of his children, nothing much could be done. So, mothers had to step up and fend for the family.
In other cases, our mothers had to endure physical and sexual violence just so that we could live in a complete home.
We cannot thank them enough.
The Challenges Facing Internally Displaced People in Africa
Today, there are five times as many internally displaced persons as they are refugees. This makes them the largest groups of people affected by forced displacement.
IDPs are people who are forced to flee. Like refugees, they have to leave their homes because of fear of persecution or conflict. But there’s a single fundamental difference between the two: to find safety, IDPs move from one area or region to another but still stay within their country, while refugees leave the country that they live in and cross the border for safety.
Why don’t IDPs leave the country like refugees?
Some IDPs may want to stay close to their homes with hopes that things would get better soon, so they can return. Others lack the physical strength or the means to go through the uncertain and sometimes, dangerous journey to a safer country. Often, the internally displaced persons are stuck in conflict areas where threats like violence restrict them from reaching the border.
The troubles that IDPs go through
When refugees move to another country, they are protected by the international law. However, the IDPs depend on their government for protection from persecution and violence. In most cases, the government may not be able or may be unwilling to offer such protection. For this reason, internally displaced are among the most vulnerable displaced persons across the globe.
But like refugees, they also face challenges like loss of jobs, properties, and even livelihoods. Some get injured, some lose loved ones.
IDPs in Number
African countries have more IDPS than refugees – Precisely, there are nearly five times as many internally displaced persons. Towards the end of 2010, there were about 2 million refugees and 11 million IDPs in sub-Saharan Africa.
For the longest time, Africa has been leading region with the most IDPs in the world. From approximately 26.4 million IDPs globally in 2011, 9.7 million were from sub-Saharan Africa.
One would imagine that because the IDPs are in their country, they would receive a special type of care. Unfortunately, this is never the case. Most African countries still do not have a comprehensive and coherent policy or legal framework to address the internal displacement issues. And while they may have a range of laws that they can use to take care of the problem, it’s highly likely that none directly focuses on protection and provision of help to the internally displaced and affected communities.
Following the Post-election Violence incident in Kenya, for instance, the government initiated Operation Rudi Nyumbani (go back home) campaign and provided goodwill payments to the IDPs. While this intervention sufficed the immediate need, it did not take care of the long-term need as envisaged by the Kampala Convention or the UN Guiding Principles.
Problems facing the internally displaced persons in Africa
Some documented challenges that the internally displaced persons in the African countries encounter are:
- Finding employment
- Finding housing’
- Impact of disrupted education
- Financial difficulties
- Ongoing mental issues because of trauma
- Community attitudes
- Changes in status and roles of family members
- Separation from family members
Impact on children
Children face specific challenges because of their experiences and age. It is difficult for them to forget what happened, so they stay with the scars of violence and displacement. And while children are often resilient, some will:
- Experience psychological effects of trauma
- Have identity and belonging issues
- Go through changing family responsibilities
- Loose out in education
Impact on women
During wars or violence, women and children experience all kinds of abuses, including sexual and physical violence. They even end up losing their husbands or fathers, who often, are the providers. And when they flee, they have to figure out a way to fend for the children. It’s difficult because they have to start from the scratch.
Since the IDPs are moving to a new place, and are doing that suddenly (without preparation), they are forced to stay in temporary structures like tents. This means they will experience frigid nights, lack of clean water, bites from insects, and even attacks from people and animals.
There are three ways to handle the IDP situation: resettlement in a third location, voluntary repatriation, and local integration. Repatriation is perhaps the easiest solution to displacement because most displacement crises are temporary. However, it can be a poor option due to limited prospects of a safe return.
In cases when the displaced people can neither continue to live in the temporary shelter or dire camp nor go back to their homes, then they can be resettled in a new and safe area within the country.
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