The Bagisu Imbalu Public Circumcision Rites – Boys becoming Men

Posted by on August 1, 2016

Bagisu Traditional Imbalu Circumcision – Turning Boys into Men

The Bagisu Imbalu Public Circumcision Rites – Mbale – Sipi Falls – Mount Elgon Area

 The Bagisu Imbalu Public Circumcision Rites – Boys becoming Men Ritual is an integral part of the Traditional Beliefs of the the Bagisu. The Rite of Boys becoming men in the Bagisu Culture is deeply ingrained in the people and defines the day a boy beomes a man, something that Bagisu strongly believe in and is and was part their traditional religious beliefs, their culture and tradition.

The Bagisu Imbalu Public Circumcision Rites – simple is that that day, moment in time when a boy of the Tribe becomes a man and all the privileges and responsibilities of being a man are now part of his life where the whole community gather to visit that important rite of Passage.

 Along the Ugandan side of Mount Elgon, around Sipi Falls and Mbale you can meet the Proud Bagisu People.  Oral legends that the one that the Bagisu can trace their origin to Masaba as he came forth from a cave on Mount Elgon.  Masaba means mountain and they story is told among the Bagisu that Masaba can be found high in the upper slopes of Mount Elgon where he gathers with lesser deities and where stones can be found that are arranged such as tables and chairs.

In Bagisu society there is no central rule, each one of the clans has a non-hereditary chief that is appointed by a council of elders.  The real control was in the hands of the traditional religious leaders, also referred to as sorcerers and witches, it was they that held an iron grip on society, traditions, beliefs and one of them is the Imbalu Circumcision when the boys become men in the tribe and take on all privileges and responsibilities of a male in that tribe including marriage.

The Imbalu circumcision rites are one of those societal norms passed down from the days of old to present.  Oral legends tells us that the first Mugisu man that was circumcised had the reputation of a womanizer, seducing women in is vilage and beyond, including many who were married.  He was brought before the elders who decreed that he should be castrated as a punishment and a deterrent to other men.  Some thing did not work out as decreed, he was only circumcised and after he recovered he continued his ways of old seducing even more women, it was said by some of them that he had become an even better lover.  Other men not wanting to be left out on such pleasures had themselves circumcised in order become like the first Mugisu who was circumcised.

The Public Imbalu circumcision ceremonies are held during even numbered years (August and now even December).

It is a pivotal occasion in Bagisu society, an individual will undergo rite of passage to manhood that involves the whole local community and even visitors are allowed from far and wide. Boys and Young Men 16-25years is considered the acceptable age for the Imbalu. Those that decide to be be circumcised anounce their intention in June or May and spend the following few months preparing for the Imbalu Ceremony.

The Circumcision Ceremony is done early in the morning before 10:00am, and involves all the initiates from a given clan, a number of young men encouraged by a whistling, cheering crowd make their way to the circumcision  ground carrying the initiates on their shoulders.. The initiates have their faces plastered in ash and they are stripped half naked below the waist on the way to the circumcision ground where they can line up in front of the crowd of family and friends both male and female and the ritual is done in public.

.Imbalu circumcision rituals are the basis for Male Bagisu identity by making them stand out as a race of “men” (basani) as opposed to other non-circumcising tribes whom the Bagisu consider as boys (basinde) . One graduates into a “man” and become considered responsible and indeed a “real” Mugisu through circumcision. The women’s “true” identity is also defined by marrying a “real” man, one who is circumcised.

Those who fear the fear circumcision, try to avoid it after becoming may have to endure a rough forced circumcision. Such stories even make the local newspaper where a Mugisu returning from abroad had to prove that he was indeed a man.

The Public Imbalu Circumcision Ceremonies are an insight into the culture and traditions of the Bagisu and should your safari be during a time when they ceremonies take place we will make you aware of it.  .


The Bagisu Imbalu Public Circumcision Rites – If you like more information – include it in your Safari – Please let us know.