Pablo – the Day I Survived the Imbalu Knife

The year was 2008 when Stephen Mujoroto, an elderly UPC veteran from Mbale, was arrested by well-built youth, among them his son, for allegedly dodging ‘imbalu’, the Bagisu cultural circumcision rite.

His family attributed their misfortunes to his cowardice to face the knife. He had successfully evaded the knife for at least 40 years, disguising himself as a Muganda. Mzee Mujoroto was whisked to Nsambya where the foreskin of his manhood was lopped off, as a way of clearing a cultural debt.

The imbalu tradition is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood following some specific procedure and this has been practised for generations. It is believed to appease the gods, simply because the blood which is shed in the process is a sacrifice to them. Any Gisu male who hasn’t been circumcised is referred to as a boy or a coward.

I almost went through this Mujoroto experience when I bumped into a pretty young Gisu lady who introduced herself to me as Beatrice Mujoroto Wanzala, aka BMW, a few years ago when we met in Mbale. I thought she was his relative but she distanced herself from him. I could remember her vividly, not because of her beauty, but because of the circumstances under which we parted in Mbale.

She wanted to know if I was a Gisu at the time and I responded in the negative. My biggest mistake was to inform her that I was actually born in Mbale hospital because my mother was the district commissioner of Mbale then. She immediately qualified me as a Gisu and was very inquisitive to know whether I was circumcised or not.

My inability to give her a straight answer made her refer to me as a young boy who needs to grow up. No sooner had she left than a frenzy of locals playing ecstatic music known as Kadodi, beating drums, tins, calabashes and other traditional instruments, showed up in the streets.

I saw young men smeared with cassava flour mixed with cow dung, accompanied by other tribesmen, moving door to door soliciting money for the candidates. Little did I know that during this event, ambushes were laid out for men who are suspected to have been dodging circumcision.

I noticed BMW whispering to well-built young men, like those who manhandled Mujoroto, while pointing towards my safe haven. I remembered that she had started to refer to me as a boy and got convinced that I was the target. I sneaked out through the back door and managed to get to the first taxi out of Mbale. I even offered to pay for the vacant five seats that were remaining to fill up the taxi so that we could leave immediately.

I later got to learn that they mounted a search in all the taxis but couldn’t find me. They even interrogated boda boda cyclists and wheelbarrow pushers, just in case they had given me a ride. The only thing BMW wanted to know when we met recently was why I didn’t want to get circumcised. I told her that I wasn’t ready to die in installments.

I hereby give maximum respect to all Gisu men who have undergone the imbalu ritual.

Source : The Observer

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