Uganda is a country very rich in culture and tradition. Ever heard about the Imbalu circumcision ritual? There are lots of interesting facts that you probably did not know about this ritual and here we present them to you.
Imbalu refers to the Bagisu ritual of male circumcision, whereby the foreskin of the penis is severed, as a way of clearing a cultural debt. It is a practice every male Gisu is supposed to undergo.
The Bagisu also referred to as the Bamasaba live in Eastern Uganda in the districts of Mbale, Sironko, Bududa, Manafwa, and Bulambuli. This community is very closely related to the Bukusu from western Kenya and all speak a dialect, referred to as Lumasaba, which is understandable to both communities. The Imbalu event thus unites all Lumasaba-speaking people.
The Imbalu tradition is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, as well as payment of a cultural debt. Fulfilling it is believed to appease the gods, simply because the blood which is shed in the process is a sacrifice to them. For this reason it is carried out following some specific procedure and this has been practiced for generations. Any Gisu male who hasn’t been circumcised is referred to as a boy or coward.
It is believed that the ritual dates back to more than a thousand years and the major event is held at the Mutoto grounds in Bulambuli district. At these grounds stand eight grass-thatched houses representing every county in the Bugisu sub-region. It is here that the Umukuuta, the Cultural head of the Bamasaba, presides over the ceremony, which happens once every two years in the month of August.
The event is carried out amidst a frenzy of locals as they crowd streets and roads while playing Kadodi, an ecstatic music made by beating several kinds of drums and other musical instruments. During this time, the boys going to get circumcised, also referred to as candidates take the lead, dancing to the music as they prepare themselves to face the knife. They are smeared with cassava floor mixed with cow dung and are accompanied by fellow tribesmen as they move door-to-door soliciting for presents for the candidates.
In preparation for the surgeon’s knife, the candidates are given a herb called intinyi to make them brave as this is one of the attributes which they are supposed to exhibit as they pass to manhood. The entire process of cutting takes 10-30 seconds.
During this event, ambushes are laid out on men who have been dodging circumcision and these are humiliated and forcefully circumcised. The men are usually reported by their wives or relatives.
In earlier years, surgeons used the same blade on all the candidates, putting them at risk of infection. However, this has since changed and they have been trained and advised to take measures to ensure the safety of candidates and they now use different blades for each candidate.
Imbalu promotes cultural tourism
The Imbalu event has attracted the attention of very many people, including those from abroad, and has thus been recognized as a cultural tourism activity according to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB). Other tribes have also been advised to emulate the Gishu by also promoting their cultures in order to promote the cultural tourism industry.
Safe male circumcision
Originally, circumcision in Uganda was only attributed to the Gishu and Muslims. However, health authorities have recommended that all males should do it in order to maintain penile hygiene and also for protection against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
All in all, Uganda’s cultural heritage is so rich and has the potential to be exploited to widen her tourism base. The Imbalu practice aside, many other communities also have a lot to offer, and these put together will elevate the tourism industry to greater heights.