The Legend Of Mango The First Man To Be Circumcised In Kenya.
If, before last night, I were to tell you that I have always been proud of my surname, Mango, I would be lying. In fact, whenever I introduce myself I emphasize on my maiden name Nawiri then whisper Mango hoping that no one catches it. But they always do, and then I never get a break from their teasing.
“Mango Juice,” my primary German teacher once called me, causing me to dash out of class in fury as the rest of the class broke into fits of laughter. Then that evening, I had to endure public humiliation from Mama as she caned me in front of our nosy neighbors for feeling ashamed of my surname. And as if that wasn’t enough, I woke up the following morning to the neighbors’ kids having made a mocking song out of my name. Years later, when I joined high school, I thought I’d be able to outgrow it, but that was wishful thinking. Despite being a multi tribe school, my name still stood out, like a strand of wheat in the vastness of the prairies.
But last night, I finally learnt that Mango is more than just a fruit. Mango is an Abaluhyia name. The Abaluhyia are a tribe from Western Kenya famously known for loving Ugali, chicken and tea. Mango was a legend from Bukusu land. He was the first Abaluhyia man in Bukusu land to be circumcised. Some people say he was from the Bameme clan while others claim he was an Omukhurarwa. His father, Kambisi wa Wetungu was an Omumeme and his Mama, Nabwile, was an Omunyala. My father is an Omunyala and my third born sister’s maiden name is Nabwire.
For many years, Yabebe, a monstrous snake, terrorized the Bukusu people by devouring their livestock and offsprings, among them, Mango’s siblings Yabebe was their greatest enemy and almost impossible to conquer because it was a flying snake that bit people directly on their heads. But that’s not what was special about Yabebe. Yabebe lived deep in his cave, Muyala, and whenever he left his cave he did not return using the same route. He also entered his cave backwards beginning with his tail and then its head. This way it was hard for his enemies to kill him. One crepuscular, in the year 1800, Yabebe killed Masika, on the eve of her dowry introduction. She was Kambisi’s most beautiful, youngest and favorite daughter.
Mango’s father, deciding not to stomach losing his children anymore, wielded his embalu sword, went on a hunt for Yabebe, and came back with its head on his sword.
The Bukusu’s elders decided to award Kambisi by circumcising him, but he was old so Mango bravely offered to be circumcised on behalf of his papa. (Mango was a first born child just like me).He sat on a three legged stool which had milk poured on. Then the traditional herbalist, Wele Musiku from the clan of Omuleyi Omuchesongwa Omulusanya sliced him using a knife known as Lukembe which had also been sprinkled by the same milk poured on the stool. When his mother learnt of his bravery, she broke into a song called Sioyayo, a song that has been passed down generations and is still sang today during circumcision rites carried out annually in the month of August.
Sioyaye song in Lubukusu (Bukusu language) version
Ewe ewe ewe musindewe- hoo o
Ewe ewe ewe khwarakho- hoo o
E siboyo- ho o
Sye bakhale- hoo oo
Omusinde oteremaka acha ebunyolo- haa ho
Acha ebunyolo- haa ho
Ewe ewe ewe sye bakhale- hoo o
You see before then, the Bukusus did not have any traditional songs. Mango’s mother was I a huntress of the mountains and in the course of her hunts; she came across Namunyu the melodious hyena. Namunyu was a widow who lived in a cave on the mountains. Her husband died protecting their children from Yabebe and this pushed her to teach her babies the Sioyayo song so that they could identify her voice when she returned home in the evenings. This way the children were able to distinguish her from any other enemies.
After his circumcision, Mango declared that all Bukusu boys must be circumcised in order to become men who could marry and own land. When Bukusus warriors finally conquered all the other Abaluhyia clans in late 1800 the ritual was adopted and two years later, Mango spread the culture to Uganda when he married a woman from the Bamasaba clan, a clan that habits a place called Emitoto.
To this day, circumcision in Western Kenya takes place in Bukusu land at St. Mary’s Girls High School Amukuru (formerly Yabebe’s cave). On the day of circumcision, the initiates leave home early for the river where they’re cleansed but don’t return home using the same route. Then one by one they enter the circumcision chamber backwards. Busaa made from fermented maize flour is sprinkled on the ground, on a three legged stool and on the Lukembe knife before an initiate is circumcised. The handle of the Lukembe knife must be made from the special root of Kamukimira tree. Unlike other roots, this particular root is special because it extends deeper and far away from the tree. Due to the rarity if the special root, a surgeon buries his knife deep in the ground until the next circumcision ceremony. Other sacrifices offered is a white cock called Ewanga, and in its absence, the Enaholo (red feathered) or Embangabanga (black feathered) cocks are used. After circumcision, the initiates are taken to a hut far deep in the forest to heal and on their return their families welcome them with praise songs and ululations.
Hence next time should the bank teller who has been persistently asking for my number tease if my surname Mango is spelt like the fruit, I shall have a different answer for him. Proudly I shall lift my chin and tell him, “Like Mango, the first Abaluhyia man to be circumcised.”
Joyce Nawiri Mango