Our traditional circumcisers are called bakhebi – or umukhebi if one. The practice of bukhebi is not learnt from school. No. Rather, it is inherited from generations to generations in particular clans.

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This hereditary responsibility is handed down from grandfather to father to son – and so the succession line goes on perpetually. One cannot just decide to become umukhebi on his own accord – however much you want it, it can’t happen like that.

At the hearing of the sound of thigh bells “bitsetse”, or circumcision songs, the heartbeat of the person with the spirit of bukhebi – kumusambwa kwe bukhebi – increases and his whole body begins to tremble. He will then run and follow the dancers behaving more like a mad person.

This condition can only be treated by senior circumcisers by gently hitting the forehead of the possessed with the circumcision knife – so called inyembe. Alternatively, yeast or sorghum flour – kamamela – is smeared on head and face to cure the condition. Gradually, normalcy is restored.

Kumusambwa kwe bukhebi can attack a man or woman – it doesn’t discriminate. The condition on a woman is treated by circumcisers and it disappears. But still it can manifest in her lineage since she is a career.

If there is interest for the possessed man to take on the profession of bukhebi, he then starts the practice as an apprentice – working under the tutelage of experienced circumcisers. He goes under training for three circumcision years…learning the skill of khukheba.

To begin with, the apprentice is made to carry the dust – lifukhulu – and is shown how to use it. The next step is to learn how to pull the foreskin of the penis during the circumcision process. This is an important step towards becoming the real circumciser. Gradually, the apprentice is made to cut the inner lining of the prepuce and also the subcutaneous issue.

When the training circumcisers are satisfied that their trainee has mastered the skill of bukhebi, a ceremony is prepared for his inauguration.

During the inauguration, the new circumciser brings three or more circumcision knives “tsinyembe” for his job. Each knife has a purpose – the first is used on healthy and normal boys; the second is used on boys suffering from venereal diseases and the third is a spare one. These knives must be preserved in scabbards or bilaaro. All these knives must never be used for any other purpose. The knives are sharpened on special sharpening stones.

The graduate circumciser also presents two small bells – called Namunjiri. These bells are worn on both legs whenever he is running to the circumcision ground to perform the ritual. The bells are to alert the candidate that imbalu hour has come.

Finally the graduate prepares busela “millet brew” and invites circumcisers – who blow busela on his knives to bless him as he begins his job.

It is not obvious that you will become a circumciser to merely having the spirit of it. There are strict terms and conditions. To become a circumciser, one must have undergone and braved the knife. You don’t become a circumciser when you feared the knife – whose son will you cut. You must have a son who is also traditionally circumcised; or a daughter who is successfully married – success means that she must have given birth to children. The circumciser must not cut his own son or nephew – umwiwaana. He must know the herbs “ityanyi” or how to stop the circumcised from bleeding. You should not fall down when running to circumcise a candidate – if you do, then you must refrain from doing so that day. It shows a bad omen.