The Imbalu: The Bagishu Circumcision Ceremony

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Imbalu Ceremony

Have you ever heard about the Imbalu ceremony? It is found in Mbale among the Bamasaba also known as Bagishu people. There are lots of interesting facts that you probably might not have known about this ritual but you can get to know more about it when you visit the Pearl of Africa. Imbalu is the Bagishu ritual of male circumcision whereby the foreskin of the penis is severed, as a way of clearing a cultural debt. It is a practice where every male among the Bagishu has to go through.

The Bagisu live in Eastern Uganda and settled in the districts of Mbale, Sironko, Bududa, Manafwa, and Bulambuli. This community is very closely related to the Bukusu from western Kenya and both tribes speak a dialect, referred to as Lumasaba. This language is understandable to both communities. The Imbalu event thus unites all Lumasaba-speaking people.

The Imbalu Tradition is a ritual of passing from boyhood to manhood. Fulfilling the ritual 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 procedures and this has been practiced from one generation to another. Any male among the Bagishu who has not been circumcised is referred to as a coward.

Bamasaaba Imbalu

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 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 collecting 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 the past, 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.

Would you like to experience the Imbalu Initiation Ceremony?
The Imbalu is celebrated every even year. You can book a cultural tour with one of the local operators listed on this website.

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