When it comes to cultural experiences, Uganda is best recognized for unique dances, inspiring songs, music, theatre and art; with over forty indigenous languages in the country, Ugandan people are the most warmly welcoming and gently gracious in the world. Are you interested in culture? Are you looking for family destination or a romantic gateway? Then visit the Bagisu people (the Bamasaba) in the Western and Southern slopes of Mount Elgon (Mount Masaba), Uganda!! The Bagisu speak “Lugisu” which as well is understood by the Bukusu.
|THE BAGISU PEOPLE|
The Bagisu are incredible people to interact with especially for their famous “Imbalu” circumcision which comes after every two (2) years specifically in the month of August. Looking at the brief history of the Bagisu! Remarkably, the Bagisu are unique group as they do not have that migratory tradition that other tribes tend to portray. The Bagisu believed that their ancestors “Mundu” and “Sera” originated from the hole in Mount Elgon commonly called “Masaba.” Previously, the Bagisu were regarded as anti social people who applied mostly the principle of survival for the fittest. Their history is also not as famous as other the Bantu groups do despite the fact that they broke a way from the Bukusu in the 19th century. The Bukusu is a sub-group of the Luhya in Western Kenya. It is hard to affirm that the Bagisu are the ancient occupants in Mount Elgon since the first immigrants to be in the Bagisu land are sought to have occupied the place from the Eastern plains since 16th century. The ancient settlement for two groups is sighted to be in Kenya specifically at Usian Gishu plateau and hence the Bagisu are believed to be mixture of different cultures and origins but due to a common language “Bantu” that is being shared, the predecessors of the Bagisu are also ingrained to the Bantu.
|IMBALU CULTURAL CIRCUMCISION|
Unlike other Bantu groups, the Bagisu had or have a weak political structure. Every clan had an elder known as the “Umwami we sikoka (Chief of the clan).” The clan leader was chosen based on the wealth and age and it is a responsibility of the “chief” to keep law and order as well as ensuring continuity and unity of the clan but also providing sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. If the chiefs were strong, then their influence was meant to extend to other clans but no chief was supposed to subdue other clans into one entity. However, there are also other notable groups within the Bagisu people and they include the “Sorceress” and “Rainmakers.”
From time memorial, the Bagisu are recognized for their “Male circumcision”, a traditional practice that has been unclear to many people including the Bagisu themselves. It is believed that the practice originated from the Kalenjin demand at the time when the Bagisu heroic ancestor expressed interest in marrying a Kalenjin girl. Whereas other sources state that the first person to be circumcised had got a difficulty in the male organ and a surgical operation was carried out in order to save the man’s life. Others assert that the first person to be circumcised had got it in form of punishment as a result of seducing other men’s wives, however, the practice was a success to the man since it elevated the man’s sexual power by attracting many women to him and in turn influenced other men to follow soot so as to be competitive in the community.
During circumcision, some herb “Ityanyi” is applied to the person in order to increase his interest. The herb is tied around the candidate’s big toe or at the place where he will jump over without his consent. What is important to note is that even if the candidate who takes the herb delays or hinders the circumcision, he can as well circumcise himself since his mind is set to circumcision that nothing else can prevent him from performing the act. After every two years, the Bagisu carryout the “Imbalu” cultural circumcision and it is applicable for only males who approach their puberty period. Males are therefore not hunted or brought forcefully to be circumcised but prior the event, the men to be circumcised are set for a walk and dance through out the village area for 3 (three) days. Candidates are assigned leaders who are sprinted with cassava flour and paint of Malwa yeast paste, and lots of drumming, singing and dancing will be performed by relatives.
The Bagisu believe that uncircumcised person is not a man until he proves his manhood during or after circumcision. Uncircumcised Mugisu is locally called a “Musinde.” The Imbalu cultural practice is fast enough with the circumciser and the assistant moving around and performing the appropriate ritual and the assistant circumciser holds the candidate’s penis foreskin by pulling it as the circumciser cuts it off! Besides the foreskin, the layer on the top of the penis is as well cut off because the Bagisu believe that it will grow again at one time into the sheath if it is left without being cut. The circumciser also cuts off a muscle on the lower part of the candidates penis which marks 3 (three) cuttings in Imbalu circumcision process.
As soon as the circumcision is done, the candidates are wrapped in a piece of cloth and taken to their fathers’ house, moved around the house before entering. The circumcised person is not permitted to eat using his hands fro a period of 3 (three) days, the person will be fed and at this stage still, the person is regarded not dully into manhood. Based on the three days, the circumciser invited to carry out the washing hands ritual and after the ritual, the candidate is eligible to eat on his own and it is in the day that he will be declared a “Man.” After, opportunities come by the circumcised person including marriage and according to the Bagisu custom the circumcised person is supposed to be directed based on the demands and duties that are supposed to be performed by man. Other things that are taught to initiates include the importance of agriculture and how to behave like a man. However, a number of goats that are slaughtered on the vague of the event are main determinants for the healing of the wounds.
Lastly, a ritual known as “Iremba” is carried out and all the new candidates in the area are required to be there. During this performance, authorities and other village members are invited and the candidates (initiates) and it is at the same the function that the initiate is meant to pick a girl of his choice to play sex with and the girl was not to reject. The Bagisu believed that if the girl rejected, she would not get children when she gets married. This traditional practice seems challenging especially for the Christian females. Before, the congregation would stay out side the enclosure and wait to hear from outside as the candidates and the circumciser were enclosed. However, things have changed in that the cultural practice is performed publicly when all people can be looking at the whole circle of circumcision. The candidate’s firmness and endurance in the Bagisu culture demonstrates some ones braveness.
In conclusion, Imbalu cultural practice is one of the extraordinary experiences in East Africa. Imbalu culture is one of the challenging practice where men prove their fitness and endurance are basics for one to be called a “man.” However, the Ministry of Tourism resolved to promote the Imbalu cultural circumcision ceremony as one of the tourist attraction in Uganda. Don’t miss the Imbalu cultural experiences as young and the old men prove their manhood!