When i was a boy, culture dictated upon us that there would come a time when we must leave our boyhood theatrics and innocence behind to drink at the table of men. We would be welcomed by other men to partake of traditional brews from horns, pouring a little on the ground in honour of our ancestors. We would stop herding goats and playing stupid games and we would start clearing out throats like real men and make life changing decisions; like marrying off our sisters and receiving their dowry.
It would be a time when will not be required to get home early like chicken. At this time it will be considered an abomination staying in the kitchen with the womenfolk. A man’s place is ‘out there’ doing eish, not in the kitchen estimating how much ugali was required to feed the entire family!
It’s a time when society will expect us to fill our fathers, grandfathers and other ancestor’s shoes in accomplishing the duties of a man. It’s not a call that you hear from the desert or maize plantation or Radio BBC, none of that; the call Is a baton handed down to us in form of a cut which glues us together into a formidable force called Rika in Gikuyu culture.
You just might need to grab a copy of Mzee Jomo kenyatta’s book Facing Mount Kenya to learn more about Rika and the Gikuyu culture in general.
Normally, or rather back then (nowadays even Gikuyu boys are circumcised while they are still toddlers, no?) the cut was done when we were big, like around 13-14 years . At this age you understand why the cut is being done and you acknowledge among other things the sensitivity of the area being cut.
A wrong cut and you become ‘crippled’ for life!
In most cultural settings around Kenya circumcision is a huge event, it always has been. Ok, the Luhya way of doing it is a bit overrated don’t you think; how can you televise images of boys facing the cut in such a way? That’s just cruel man. And to imagine how the poor boys are heavily smeared with mud which practically makes it hard to cry or contort the face in pain or pleasure or whatever. If at all they do cry, the tears are absorbed into the mud. Then the circumciser just slashes the wee wee off like it’s a piece of loose hanging polyester!
So even in our times it was a big thing. The entire village had a list of all boys who were to face the knife every end of year, they knew who would be in the next Rika and they could tell whether that Rika could prosper or doom the entire village to a life of incompetence, cowardice and bad character.
In those days the Maasai were very fond of attacking our village to steal our cattle. Young men would be expected to protect the village from these rustlers. I never got to be on such duties (was too engrossed in my novels) but fighting a Maasai was not something i would have fancied doing. Man, these guys are beasts!
Prior to becoming men, we would be tested in various ways to ensure our courage was at par with societal requirements. Society needed men who could face danger in the face with a smile and ask, is that all you got you wicked piece if eish? Society expected us to become men like Dedan Kimathi Waciuri; men who were accustomed to danger and would remain defiant till death. That’s what Gikuyu culture demanded.
For once i was grateful that i was not born a Maasai. Rumour had it that for a Maasai to become a Moran he had to kill a lion. Did you get that? A lion, not a stray village dog or a big domesticated cat, no…… a lion as in king of the freaking jungle! I mean, it’s like saying you wanna walk into Vladimir Putin’s crib to slice off his balls!
As you may know, you cannot just walk to a Lion and say. Hey dude, i wanna become a Moran. Would you be kind enough to just roll over and let me cut of your head? Nah, You don’t!
I used to hear the Maasai boys would smear their bodies with some reddish thing (donno the name) and head out for the hunt. I can only use my imagination to picture what really happened in the jungle but somehow, miraculously the boys would always get back home to become Morans.
When my time came a Mutiri (some guy whose duty is to take care of me) was assigned to me, he was our long time shamba boy who was almost like a big brother to me. The first time he took me to the doctor, who Baethewei as a rule always operated on his patients while drunk, we bounced him, so we had to go back the following day. His wife told us he was too tired to ‘keep his eye on the ball’!
We the Gikuyu, unlike the televised Abaluhya theatrical drama kings, are civilised enough to know that cutting off a wee wee can be painful as hell, so a boy is accorded the luxury of being anaesthetised. This conceals the pain briefly though when it wears out you feel like you got half a dozen demons screaming inside your head.
So the following day am taken back and we find him. Dude was drunk as hell. He looks at me and asked my Mutiri whether i was the one to face the knife. My mutiri nods. We are ushered into the slaughter house. Not much of a place, just a raised bed with eish that a circumciser is required to have. I saw a pack of surgical blades and at that moment i wished i was 6 years younger!
I didn’t feel anything, thanks to the jab of anaesthesia, just a warm feeling on my butt which I presumed to be blood. My Mutiri winced and i encouraged him to be strong, to be a man (haha ebu imagine that).
The Doctor was busy doing his thing and a thought crossed my mind;
What if he had cut it too much, would it ever grow back again?
Wait wait wait! This guy is drunk as stink. What if he thinks this is a sausage (seriously??) and decides to chop it into small pieces…..goodness, this can’t be happening to me!
My Mutiri winced again and closed his eyes. I knew things must be tough down there, the entire thing had been chopped off, i thought; nothing could convince me otherwise. I would never be the man society expected me to be, i would never walk in the footsteps of Dedan Kimathi!
Later on i checked it (oh yes i did). Just a tiny thing with a huge bandage, looked rather pitiful though.
I was ready to drink at the table of men!