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The Kikuyu circumcision of the dead

The Kikuyu circumcision of the dead

Like in many African communities, male genital mutilation among the Kikuyu community of Kenya was a mandatory and the most significant rite of passage.  Not only did the ordeal act as a transition from childhood to adulthood, but it also came with lots of assumptions and responsibilities.  Circumcision also marked the Kikuyu men as part of the tribe and full participants in societal activities.

Failure to go through the painful ordeal resulted in brutal consequences such as seclusion from the community, not being allowed to marry, and never taking part in occasional tribal attacks, among other things.  To top it all, one had to undergo circumcision even after death.  In the article below, we’ll go through the daunting process of circumcision among the Kikuyu, and some of the humiliating consequences of failing to undergo the process.

The process of initiation

The ceremony was performed on age sets of about five-year periods.  The initiates with the same age group had to select a name for their age set.

Circumcision was a public affair, which only added anxiety and dimmed the self-control of the initiates (Well, in my opinion, I would not want everybody prying into my privacy).  The initiates had to wake up early and troop down to the river in the chilly cold morning weather.  While naked, they had to dip themselves in the ice-cold river water that flowed from either Mt Kenya or the Aberdare ranges.  This numbness acted as anesthesia.  The boys would then come out of the water to face the circumciser’s knife.

Even after weeks and weeks of preparation, circumcision was a painful ordeal.  The boys had to unblinkingly face the hills with their backs behind the river for the circumciser (múruithania) to act on them. Facebook pages like stop the cut foundation are helping to stop and fight circumcision in Kenya.

Only one circumcision knife was used on all the boys, and many infections, such as HIV/AIDS, used to be passed along.  Also, the whole process involved lots of bleeding and sometimes led to the death of the initiates.  The boys-turned-men would then have to wait ten painful days for the glans to heal.

Kikuyu circumcision on the dead

Since the commencement of the twenty-first century, millions of people around the globe have taken up arms against the brutality of male genital mutilation.  Most communities and people have ended up doing away with circumcision.  However, this is not the case with the Kikuyu community of Kenya, who go to the extreme of interfering with the sanctity of the deceased in the name of circumcision.

 Men who chicken out and flee the community must face the circumcisor’s knife one way or another.  A recent drama unfolded at Gatundu mortuary after a man who had escaped circumcision his entire life was forced to undergo the cut while lying lifeless at the morgue.  Holding to the archaic and outdated myths, the elders claimed that burying an uncut corpse would infuriate the ancestors, who would, in turn, rain curses down on them.


Unless it’s in the strictest medical conditions, the act of male genital mutilation stands no chance in the twenty-first-century world.  Many human rights activists are already on the frontline trying to weed out this malady.  Some countries, such as Germany, have also played a significant role in banning the act of male circumcision, and other countries are also following suit.  You can also check out the rights violated through male genital mutilation.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. tonny

    November 29, 2022 at 5:47 am

    Wait, are you advocating for “no circumcision?” Or should people go the modern way of visiting a hospital?

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