Imbalu Rituals – How Bagishu Boys turn into men

Normally known as the Bagishu people found in eastern Uganda, this cultural group of people is not the only cultural settings in the country but one of those cultures that have stuck to their ancestral beliefs. Numerous tribes in Uganda today have modernized their traditions in a way that they try to mix the western cultures with their beliefs thinking that they are changing with change, but this is not the same case with the Bagishu.

The Bagishu like to be called the Bamasaba people just because they are glad for their fertile highlands that encompass the region. “Masaba” implies a mountain and this clarifies why these unique Africans are called “BAMASABA”. These people are found in the eastern Uganda around 150km from Kampala city.

One of the cultural activities that is only identical with the Bagishu people in Uganda is the male circumcision locally known as the “IMBALU”. According to their cultural beliefs, unless a man is circumcised, he is not clean, thus this practice is aimed at preparing boys to become real men. The practice is done occasionally and when it comes to “IMBALU” season, all Bagishu young men that are uncircumcised get ready for it and some go back to the village to prepare for the practice. According to Wadada Simon, one of the elders of Bagishu Tribe, Men are not allowed to wed before they go through this sacred practice basically because they have not expressed their ability to handle a family by carrying this custom. All men that belong to this tribe according to the beliefs must go through this ritual as the best way to show that they are mature enough and can now start a family.

Another reason why this ceremony is done is to clean the Bagishu men. As per the Bagishu cultural beliefs, a man is unclean unless he undergoes circumcision. This clarifies why the “KADODI” tune (the tune that is played when the ritual is taking), is known allover Uganda and some members from parliament always use it during their campaigns.

How the practice is conducted?
Before this holy and dramatic ceremony is done, the elders must check the candidates for the ritual to see whether they are real Bagishu and identify their clans. At that point they have to make sure that the candidates are 18 years and above before proceeding with the ritual. If all these are met by the candidates, then they continue to the ceremony.

The candidates for the ceremony are put in the middle a dancing crowd singing the cultural songs. The candidate is given a stick which he should hold tight and look up in the sky. In the event that the candidate lets the stick fall, he is considered a cowered and no respect is given to him.

In Bugishu, there are particular cultural men that should complete the circumcision and these men are well trained. Once the candidate is looking in the sky, the cultural man appears to do the ritual and in less than 30 seconds, the candidate is circumcised. Once the candidate does not scream or make any sound that shows that he is feeling the pain, he is considered to be a true and strong Mugishu man and he is given cows as a start upon his new life.

This cultural practice is still regarded and no Mugishu man can escape it. This clarifies why those that try to flee from the practice are forced to do it.