It’s almost time for boys in my village to become men. Every school holiday (November and December holiday), teenage boys from different families in the village, leave their homes for the seclusion of camps in forests or forest like areas and after what feels like months they return home as men. The community expects that after this, they will have abandoned childish ways and behaviors and start their journey as adults.
During the time they are away, their families take turns cooking for them and the younger children are tasked with taking the food to them. They will drop off the food near the camp and wait a distance away as the boys (initiates) come and collect the food. You can never tell one boy from the next. Their faces are disguised, painted with white clay and they are dressed in animal skin. They are scarily beautiful. The younger children find them more scary than beautiful though. They will taunt them from afar and when they boys make a show of chasing them, they will run away, scared, screaming for dear life. But they will still fight to be the ones dropping off the food the next day.
I cannot say what exactly they are told or taught during their time in seclusion. Women, girls and even boys who are yet to undergo circumcision are not privy to such details. But I imagine it is a time of training for adulthood. They are told and taught how to be responsible, how to be strong, to be respectful, how to take care of themselves and their families. They are taught how to be men.
When they finally come back home from seclusion, a traditional ceremony is held. The women and girls will be up all morning trying to get all the cooking done. With song and dance, villagers will accompany the boys, now men, from the camp to the homestead.
Some more singing, some more dancing, then advice from grandparents and parents. Elders will drink milk from a gourd and spray the initiates, showering them with blessings.
Their mothers will cry out in disbelief and joy. The first, because they are sometimes surprised they managed to raise men. Like maybe they had hoped it would happen but they weren’t sure it would. The latter, because they have raised men and they are proud. Some will faint from the overwhelming happiness. And fellow women will take them aside, fan them and assure them that yes, indeed their boys are men now.
Fathers, well they won’t show any emotion will they? Because they are men. But they will walk a little taller, there will be a spring in their steps. Their sons are men now. And later, when they have indulged in so much celebratory brew, that they are no longer embarrassed to speak of such matters, they will speak of the pride they have in their boys. Their happiness will radiate in their loud, drunken laughs. They will announce to the world that they,(their boys) did not even flinch when they faced the knife.
Sisters and cousins will ask the boys, “have you grown taller?” They will say to them, “you have changed,” even though their brothers and cousins had been away for only a few weeks. They will ask and say this in acknowledgement that even if it doesn’t show, the boys are now different people.
The boys, with the new self-possession of men will be dressed in their new clothes, gifted to them by family. They will eat in every initiates’ home. They now have brothers in fellow initiates forever. When they need advice or help in the future, they are among the first they will ask. The rite of passage they went through together will bond them. They will be a little smug, but we will forgive them for it for our boys will have become men and it’s not easy.
The Kalenjin have three main events they consider important in their children’s lives. Birth, coming-of-age period or initiation period and marriage. They place particular importance on the second event. It’s usually celebrated with a lot of fan-fare and is very colorful. The initiation rites include circumcision of the male child during their time in seclusion and the celebration when they return home. Once they are circumcised they are no longer considered children. They are men