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Chapter 6 -- cont.

The day before the physical operation is performed the girl is called early in the morning to have her head shaved by the sponsor. All her clothes are removed, she is given a massage, after which her naked body is decked with beads lent to her by women relatives and friends. About ten o'clock in the morning relatives and friends gather at the girl's homestead. Here a short ceremony of reunion with the ancestors of the clan is performed, and a leader is chosen to lead the procession to the homestead where the irua is to take place.

The girl is provided with a bell (kegamba) which is tied on her right leg just above the calf, or sometimes above the knee, to provide the rhythm to the procession and also for the dance. The girl is put in the middle of the procession, which moves slowly, singing ritual songs until they reach the irua's homestead, where the procession is joined by the other initiates who are accompanied by other processions of relatives and friends dressed in their best.

The matuumo dances and songs begin at forenoon before the sun is overhead and continue the whole day. It takes place inside the homestead, but if the homestead is not large enough it is held on some convenient site which must be in close proximity to the homestead. The site is cleared and carefully examined to make sure that there is nothing on the ground that can hurt the feet of candidates while dancing.

The ceremonial doctor (mondo-mogo wa mambura) goes round the site sprinkling a brownish powder called rothuko on the ground, to counteract any evil design which might be directed against the candidates. This is followed by the elders who sprinkle honey beer (njohi ya ooke) on the ground to appease the ancestral spirits and to bring them into harmony with those of the living. When the elders have completed their work at purifying the ground, the initiates enter the ground accompanied by their sponsors, relatives and friends, adorned with ceremonial dresses and green leaves; then all of them begin to dance. The crowd which has gathered for the great event forms a thick wall round the arena. While The dancing and singing is going on a ceremonial horn is blown at intervals, and before it is sounded, a little medicine (itwanda) is rubbed inside; this medicine is believed to have power of chasing away evil spirits and preventing them from doing harm to the initiates.

Late in the afternoon an arch of banana trees and sugar-canes is built at the entrance of the homestead of the matuumo. The arch is decorated with sacred flowers of many shapes and colours; no unauthorised person may pass through the arch. The arch is considered as a medium through which the ancestral spirits can be harmonised with the irua and appeased, so as not to bring any misfortune on the ceremony in which the ceremonial council offers sacrifices to the god Ngai.

When the decoration of the arch is finished the dance is stopped. The irua candidates are lined up ready for the sacrifice which marks the end of matuumo. This consists of the boys running a race of about two miles to a sacred tree called mogumo or motamayo, which they have to climb and break top branches, while the girls gather round singing and at the same time gathering the leaves and the twigs dropped by the boys.

To start the race a ceremonial horn is blown. At this point the girls, who are not allowed to participate in the race, start out walking to the tree, escorted by a group of senior warriors and women singing ritual and heroic songs. When the girls are near the tree, the ceremonial horn is again sounded, this time indicating that it is time for the boys to start the race. The boys then start running in a great excitement, as though they were going to a battle. The truth is, it is really considered a sort of fight between the spirit of childhood and that of adulthood.

The crowd which has already gathered round the tree await the arrival of the boys in order to judge the winner of the race. They shout and cheer merrily as the excited boys arrive, raising their wooden spears, ready to throw them over the sacred tree. The significance of this ceremonial racing is the fact that it determines the leader of that particular age-group. The one who reaches the tree first and throws his wooden spear over the tree is elected there and then as the leader and the spokesman of the age-group for life. It is believed that such a one is chosen by the will of the ancestral spirits in communication with Ngai, and is therefore highly respected.

The girl who arrives at the sacred tree first is also regarded in the same way. She becomes the favourite, and all try to win her affections with the hope of marrying her.

The mogumo ceremony occupies only a short time. As stated above, the boys climb the tree, break the top branches, while the girls collect leaves and twigs dropped on the ground. These are later tied into bunches and carried back to the homestead to keep the sacred fire burning the whole night and also to be used in other rituals, especially in making the initiates' beds. The songs rendered by the relatives and friends round the foot of the tree generally pertain to sexual knowledge. This is to give the initiates an opportunity of acquainting themselves with all necessary rules and regulations governing social relationship between men and women.

At the completion of kunna mogumo (breaking of the sacred tree), the boys and girls are lined up according to the order of their adoption. Here a ceremony of taking the tribal oath (muuma wa anake) is conducted by the elders of the ceremonial council. The initiates promise by this oath that from this day onward they will in every respect deport themselves like adults and take an responsibilities in the welfare of the community, and that they will not lag behind whenever called upon to perform any service or duty in the protection and advancement of the tribe as a whole. Furthermore, they are made to promise never to reveal the tribal secrets, even to a member of the tribe who has not yet been initiated.

At the conclusion of the oath ceremony a group of senior warriors form at the head of the procession, followed by the initiates. Then the crowd flanks both sides of the procession as a bodyguard. They march slowly towards the homestead of the matuumo, carrying the leaves and twigs gathered from the sacred tree, mogumo. 'The initiates are warned never to look behind as they move along, for to do so would bring misfortune to them at the time of irua, and, furthermore, the childhood misdeeds which they have thrown over the sacred tree, mogumo, would come back to them. The songs they sing on the homeward march are directed towards denouncing all things that are not fit and proper for any adult member of the community to do. Moreover, the phrases embodied in these songs are to encourage the initiates to become worthy and honourable members of the adult community into which they are to be graduated.

When they arrive at the homestead, a ceremony of parting is performed, gotiihera ciana, that is, spraying the candidates with honey dews. The ceremonial council forms a circle in the courtyard; the leader of the ceremonial council holds a calabash containing honey juice raked with milk, and a special Gikuyu medicine called oomo, which is supposed to impart bravery or endurance. He takes a mouthful of this liquid and, as the initiates pass through the arch, he sprays them with it. An elderly woman follows and does the same with another kind of liquid called gethambio. This is done in order to protect the initiates against fear, bad temptations and attacks of evil spirits. While this is going on, the initiates answer in unison: "Togotiherwo rerea rea njoke twerirageria," that is: "We have been sprayed with the stings of the bees which we have been longing for. We shall follow the wisdom and the energy of the bees."

At the end of the ceremony the boys and girls are free to go to their respective homes to rest until next morning. Care is taken to protect them from anything that might inflict wounds upon them, as the shedding of blood is regarded as an omen of ill luck. The initiates are guarded the whole night by senior warriors against outside interference. In every home a ceremonial doctor

(mondo-mogo wa mambura) is assigned by the traditional council (njama ya kirera) to protect the initiates against any possible attacks from witchcraft and also against any temptation or enticement to indulge in sexual intercourse.


Early in the morning of the day of the physical operation the girl is called at cock-crow. She is fed with a special food (kemere kia oomo), eaten only on this occasion, after which she is undressed, leaving only one string of heads across her shoulder, known as mogathe wa mwenji (present for the barber). This is given to her sponsor as a symbol of lasting friendship and as a bond of mutual help in all matters. It also signifies that henceforth the girl is supposed to hide nothing from her sponsor nor deny her guardian anything demanded from her, even if it be the last she possesses.

After all necessary arrangements have been made, the girl is escorted to a place appointed for the meeting of all the candidates. From there they are led to a special river where they bathe. The boys are assigned to a particular place while the girls bathe at a point below them, singing in unison: "Togwe-thamba na munja wa ecanake," which means: "We have bathed with the cream of youth."

This is done before the sun rises when the water is very cold. They go up to their waist in the river, dipping themselves to the breast, holding up the ceremonial leaves in their hands; then they begin shaking their wrists, dropping the leaves into the river as a sign of drowning their childhood behaviour and forgetting about it forever. The initiates spend about half an hour in the river, in order to numb their limbs and to prevent pain or loss of blood at the time of operation. The sponsors superintend to see that the initiates bathe in the correct manner, while the mothers, relatives and friends are present, painted with red and white ochre (therega na moonyo), singing ritual and encouraging songs. The warriors keep guard to prevent the spectators or strangers from coming too near to the bank.

When the bathing is completed, all the initiates are lined up following their order of adoption. The ceremonial horn is blown to warn the passers-by that the initiates are about to march and that the road must be cleared. No one is allowed to pass across the appointed path, as this is regarded as bad luck (motino). A small boy and a girl are chosen, in accordance with what the Gikuyu believe to be a lucky omen (nyoni-ya-monyaka, "lucky bird"). Their duty is to carry branches of creepers, called mokengeria and mwambaigoro, which is believed to have certain antiseptic and healing powers. The boy and the girl, with their branches of creepers, stand at the entrance of the homestead, in order to be the first to meet the initiates on their arrival.

As the candidates approach, a special ceremonial horn is sounded rhythmically. The initiates advance slowly towards the homestead with both hands raised upwards, elbows bent pressed against their ribs, with the fists dosed and thumbs inserted between the first and second fingers, kuuna thano. This signifies that they are ready to stand the operation firmly and fearlessly.

Unlike the previous day the songs take on an entirely different form. There is no more dancing and jumping. The singing is of a mournful character, in slow and gentle voices. This is a moment of great excitement and anxiety, especially for the mother and father whose first-born is to be initiated, for not only is their boy or girl passing from childhood to adulthood, but the father and mother are to be promoted to a higher status in the society. They all join in singing songs of anxiety, "Trwahirwoko tondo twagucithio motongoro?" which means: "Where are we led to in this tedious procession?" In the meanwhile the elders select a place near the homestead where the operation is to be performed. This place is called iteeri.

Here a clean cowhide, tanned and polished, is spread on the ground; the ceremonial leaves called mathakwa are spread on the hide. The girls sit down on the hide, while their female relatives and friends form a sort of circle, several rows thick, around the girls, silently awaiting the great moment. No male is allowed to go near or even to peep through this cordon. Any man caught doing so would be severely punished.

Each of the girls sits down with her legs wide open on the hide. Her sponsor sits behind her with her legs interwoven with those of the girl, so as to keep the girl's legs in a steady open position. The girl reclines gently against her sponsor or motiiri, who holds her slightly on the shoulders to prevent any bodily movement, the girl meanwhile staring skywards. After this an elderly woman, attached to the ceremonial council, comes in with very cold water, which has been preserved through the night with a steel axe in it. This water is called mae maithanwa (axe water). The water is thrown on the girl's sexual organ to make it numb and to arrest profuse bleeding as well as to shock the girl's nerves at the time, for she is not supposed to show any fear or make any audible sign of emotion or even to blink. To do so would be considered cowardice (kerogi) and make her the butt of ridicule among her companions. For this reason she is expected to keep her eyes fixed upwards until the operation is completed.

When this preparation is finished, a woman specialist, known as moruithia, who has studied this form of surgery from childhood, dashes out of the crowd, dressed in a very peculiar way, with her face painted with white and black ochre. This disguise tends to make her look rather terrifying, with her rhythmic movement accompanied by the rattles tied to her legs. She takes out from her pocket (moondo) the operating Gikuyu razor (rwenji), and in quick movements, and with the dexterity of a Harley Street surgeon, proceeds to operate upon the girls. With a stroke she cuts off the tip of the clitoris (rong'otho). As no other part of the girl's sexual organ is interfered with, this completes the girl's operation. Immediately the old woman who originally threw the water on the girls comes along with milk mixed with some herbs called mokengeria and ndogamoki, which she sprinkles on the fresh wound to reduce the pain and to check bleeding, and prevent festering or blood poisoning. In a moment each girl is covered with a new dress (cloak) by her sponsor. At this juncture the silence is broken and the crowd begins to sing joyously in these words: "Ciana citto ire kooma ee-ho, nea marerire-ee-ho," which means: "Our children are brave, ee-ho (hurrah). Did anyone cry? No one cried--- hurrah!"

After this the sponsors hold the girls by the arms and slowly walk to a special hut which has been prepared for the girls. Here the girls are put to sleep on beds prepared on the ground with sweet-smelling leaves called marerecwa, mataathi and maturanguru. The two first mentioned are used for keeping flies away or any other insect, and also to purify the air and counteract any bad smell which may be caused by the wounds, while the last-named is purely a ceremonial herb. The leaves are changed almost daily by the sponsors who are assigned to look after the needs of the initiates (irui). For the first few days no visitors are allowed to see the girls, and the sponsors take great care to see that no unauthorized person approaches the hut. It is feared that if someone with evil eyes (gethemengo) sees the girls it will result in illness.

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