Finally, Maragoli boys face the knife after a 7-year hiatus


After seven years of waiting, thousands of boys from the Maragoli community are expected to undergo circumcision starting August 1, 2023.

Elders have announced that the circumcision rites that will see targeted boys graduate into adulthood after undergoing the cut will run for one month.

This will be the first event that takes place after every five years, the first that will happen since 2016. In 2021, circumcision was put on hold due to Covid-19 and in 2022, elders decided not to conduct the rites due to General Elections.

Announcing the start of the rite, Maragoli Cultural Society Chairman Hezron Shaba said the event will kick off in the entire country with parents of any Maragoli boy of the age set to be circumcised obligated to take his son for the cut.

Elder Thomas Magehi (in a black coat) is one of the oldest circumcisers among the Maragoli. [Photos: Brian Kisanji]

“It’s time for our boys to be men. We are ready as elders to carry out the important ceremony,” said Shaba.

Known as going to face “Engembe” (blade), the boys will undergo the cut as planned and later have a pass-out ceremony towards the end of December.

“We have mobilised hundreds of traditional circumcisers who will perform the cut and manage the entire exercise as we wait for the boys to heal and be paraded during the pass-out ceremony,” Shaba said.

Maragoli people are among the Luhya sub-tribe that has stuck to the traditional circumcision of its boys as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

Majority of Maragoli people live in Vihiga County with some living in neighbouring Nandi, Kakamega, Trans Nzoia and Migori counties. According to the elders, their clansmen are free to ensure their children undergo the cut from wherever they are. 

Initially, Maragoli’s used to conduct the rite after every 10 years but after consultations, elders decided to review the period to five years. However, Covid and the polls interrupted the circumcision calendar in 2021 and 2022 leading to an increase in the number of those expected to face the knife this year.

According to the elders, eligible boys will wake up early in the morning to undergo the cut before sunrise.

Preparing for the rites

Already, the sub-tribe that forms the majority of the population in Vihiga has intensified preparations for the big event with circumcision songs rending the air at night to announce the approaching rites.  “Songs and dances are going on to sensitise the public to come to bring their boys for the cut,” Shaba said.

One of the notable songs is “Jambombo ee jambombo ee, vatigara m’mbanu gwarura” (to sensitise every boy to take the frontline in a circumcision while warning those who chose to remain behind that the knife is painful).

Fun and Joy as five Mulembe families gathered to celebrate the ceremony of some 2,300 teenagers who were circumcised at Kiptuya Location, Nandi County. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The early morning exercise according to the elders allows the boys to face the cut with minimal pain.

“Doing it as early as 5 am makes the cut less painful and also reduces chances of excessive bleeding,” Shaba said.

The tradition requires that the boys will be accompanied by a male person to the forests where they are set to meet the circumcisers. “The culture prohibits women from going to the circumcision sites that are mainly forest areas, where circumcisers administer the cut on the boys,” Shaba said.

The boys should show courage as the blade cuts through the flesh while songs of victory are sung. “It’s a rite that requires courage as it will make one a man, that is why we don’t condone crying or fear,” Shaba said.


After the cut, the boys will proceed into seclusion in small structures known in the local dialect as “Itumbi.”

They are dressed in a ‘leso’ during the healing period and are not allowed to meet with women, not even their mothers and sisters.

Here, they will go through the healing process as they are taught their roles as responsible adults. After the one-month stay in seclusion, they are paraded in public where they join parents, relatives and friends for the first time to mark the end of “Itumbi” life.

It is here that they will partake of a feast prepared in their honour and given gifts as they return back to normal life at the pass-out ceremony observed during the Maragoli festival on December 26.

It is on this particular day that elders will make public the age-set name of the circumcised boys. The boys carry decorated sticks as a symbol of them being men and shepherds.

Thomas Magehi, 105, is one of the oldest circumcisers in the community.  He has been passing the skills to other younger circumcisers.

The Maragoli, value circumcision and see it as an order from God. “We have our rite that dates back to the biblical times and as elders, we are mandated to keep the practice and pass it on,” said Magehi.



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