Becoming a Man: Traditional Meru Circumcision

meru circumcision

The circumcision of men is not supposed to be discussed in public with children in the vicinity, but hey! How will y’all know if The Ameru doesn’t tell you? We mentioned in passing how the Merus learned about circumcision – and we covered Female circumcision. 🙂

But how were Meru men circumcised? And why?

The why is, of course, to pass from boyhood to adulthood. It’s like getting born again. It also gave the new man an identity – it determined the guy’s age group and gave him the right to marry. It’s unheard of for a Mwiji to get married.

And circumcision was quite a big deal. It was a sacrifice.

Young men and women would hold a disco called Othi the night before the circumcision day to hype the boys up (and an excuse to party, of course. Have you heard the explicit lyrics?)

Early on The Day, the boy would be given the parents’ blessings complete with an anointing with white soil on their forehead (Ira) before he left to the Circumcision Field (Itiiri).

They would be stripped naked and taken to the ice cold river – to wash their uiji and the flour in their foreskins. 🙂 Seriously though, this was for two reasons: cleanse the boys of their past to signify a new beginning and secondly, the cold water was like anaesthesia – numb the penis for the mighty pain that would follow.

They would then be led back to the Field, sit in a semi-circle facing Mbwaa – East- and brace themselves for the knife. The circumcisor (Mutaani) would start with the first boy on the left, moving right.

And it’s a very complicated process mostly if you thought it’s simply pulling the foreskin and hacking it away.

Especially where the Ndigi was concerned:

Mutaani pushed the skin of the penis backwards and separated the sheath from the inner thingy using his knife, and then pulled the skin with a finger or stick and made a hole on top of the sheath. He then pushed the rest of the penis through this hole until the entire head toklezead. What remained of the old sheath was then arranged and joined together. After healing, this formed a skin appendix called Ndigi or Ngwati. It’s like a crown… which women loved for some reason.

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The Mutaani then blessed the newly circumcised with white soil… and cleaned his knife with milk (yes, one knife for all because HIV came with the beberu).

The candidates were then taken to their respective homes in song and dance and kept secluded in huts till they healed. No woman or uncircumcised boy was allowed see or hear them… not even their parents.

And you know what? There are no bandages or medicine in Kimeru circumcision… you hold your stuff tight in your fist until it heals. And after healing, everything looks so good and natural, you forget how it was before.

circumcision is like holding a microphone
Like a microphone

But they are not men yet… cutting itself did not make you a man… there was another ceremony of burning called Kioro or Mpithio… which we will look at next time.

Image Credits: Joseph4Gi


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