Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rites of Passage

Rite of Passage -- Irua

Every year at the beginning of December, at the end of the Kenyan School year, Kikuyu boys "enter manhood" through "Irua" -- a traditional rite of passage through male circumcision.

Just over a generation ago, both adolescent boys and girls within the Kikuyu tribe underwent circumcision (genital cutting) as a transition from childhood to adulthood. Our friend Henry shared how boys at 13 to 15 years of age would be taken in the middle of the night to the icy rivers of Kenya's central highlands to numb their bodies for the ritual, by submerging themselves in the cold waters. At sunrise, the village would gather as the boys entered manhood under the sharp knife of an elder.

"You showed your neighbours that you were ready to become a man by not screaming," laughs Henry, "that is how it use to be done. No injection or drugs to help with the pain, only the numbing water and courage." Then he gripped Aaron tightly by the shoulder, "...but usually others would need to hold you down like this."

After the cuttings were over, the entire community would dance and sing by the river. Sadly, over time these customs began to include weeks of drug and alcohol abuse. The Kikuyu community became quite concerned over the reckless and rowdy behaviour of youth during the time of Irua.

Today Irua is still practiced by the Kikuyu people, but it looks a lot different from the days of dipping boys into the river at puberty: This very evening hundreds of Kikuyu boys are entering into Rite of Passage Camps within the African Christian Church & Schools. After dark, a medical doctor will come and with pastors, counsellors and other respected men present, the boys will be circumcised in a clean and safe environment with local anaesthesia.

As the wound heals, the young men will remain in the church for ten days where they will receive counselling and training on subjects important for becoming a man, such as: Sexuality, abstinence, HIV and AIDS, marriage, education, finances, choosing a career... etc.

Although the Kikuyu people no longer circumcise women, adolescent girls do join in the last four days of Irua. The girls also receive special counselling and training from pastors and respected women from the community. At the end of the ten days, the young men and women are presented to their community in a special ceremony, much like a graduation. Typically, these are students who have completed standard 8 (eighth grade) and will be entering form 4 (the beginning of high school) in January.

Guardians of Hope, Nairobi

We have a new podcast available as we share a brief conversation between Patrick Maina and Aaron about the role of hope and spiritual transformation within the GOH.

To listen or download this or any of our podcasts please visit

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