What happens when Bukusu boys face the knife

A Bukusu circumcision ceremony underway in Bungoma County. 

Photo credit: Brian Ojamaa | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The elders have also not yet given this year's age set a name. 
  • Some have opined that this year's age set be called Bakikwameti sia corona because of Covid-19.
  • This year's ceremony went on despite the global outbreak of Covid-19 that had threatened to stop it.

The journey of initiating young boys into adulthood after facing the knife among the Bukusu, Tachoni and Batura sub-tribes of the Luhya community is usually a long and tough process that entails a lot.

The process, referred to as Khubita, is a delicate one that is carried out with lots of keenness. 

Circumcision in the Luhya community is highly crucial, so much so that Bukusu elders vowed to proceed with this year's fete despite stern warnings from the government against performing the annual rite of passage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ceremony is carried out every even year and is usually accompanied by lots of singing, dancing and merry-making. 

Life lessons

After a Bukusu boy has faced the circumciser's knife, he begins a new journey of life and healing. 

He is taught how to carry himself as an adult not only in the family but also in society.

Some of the life lessons they are taught at this stage include never sleeping with someone's wife. 

Just after the cut, the boy is first cared for by the circumciser who determines the type of food he will eat. 

Some of the foods they are given include traditional grains like millet, ugali, vegetables like kunde (leaves of cowpeas) and bananas. 

The circumcised boy, referred to as omufulu in Bukusu, is not supposed to shave his hair or take a shower until he is completely healed.

The boys are usually smeared with a type of clay called Lulongo that helps them heal quickly while also taking away dirt from the skin.

These boys are also not allowed to enter any other house apart from the one they sleep in, locally known as likombe. 

Photo credit: Brian Ojamaa | Nation Media Group

No greetings

After the cut, the boys are also not allowed to do any chores and they spend most of their time in the forest hunting birds with catapults.

The boys are also not allowed to greet anyone or meet with any woman.

They are usually given a stick that they use to greet people, especially those they have faced the knife with.

According to Bukusu customs, a circumcised boy who delays in returning home from bird hunting will be fined by the girl who has been assigned to take care of him.

If the circumcised boy comes back late, he will find a broom placed at the door of his house and he is not allowed to get in until he pays a fine.

The Nation visited some of the circumcised boys who were recuperating in Kanduyi and they admitted that, this year, the ceremony faced a number of challenges due to Covid-19. 

The boys are now waiting for a pass-out that will take place in December. 

This year, elders were forced to slaughter a goat and check its intestines to ascertain whether or not the cut should proceed. 

The elders unanimously agreed to proceed with the ceremony after the intestines reportedly revealed that nothing bad would occur. 


Led by Bungoma county chairman of circumcisers Sinino Wo Omukolongolo, they warned that they would bewitch anyone who would dare oppose the practice. 

The elders have also not yet given this year's age set a name. 

Some have opined that it be called Bakikwameti sia corona because of Covid-19, while others have suggested it be called Bakikwameti sia chisike because of the appearance of locusts early this year. 

About 15,000 boys aged between 12 and 17 years are expected to face the knife in Bungoma, Kakamega, Transzoia and parts of Busia counties in 2020. 

The Bukusu ceremonies usually attract lots of visitors due to their colourful nature.

Cases of Luo men being forced to face the knife have also been witnessed in Bungoma with the latest case being in Bukembe where a Bukusu wife set up her husband to be circumcised by force. 

The cases have always made Luo men flee the region and only return after the circumcision period is over.