By Richard Wetaya
During the eighth month of every even year, Mutoto becomes a Mecca of sorts for multitudes of Bamasaba, not only from the Bugisu region, but also from western Kenya.
What brings the Bamasaba and the Bukusu from western Kenya to Mutoto is one thing — imbalu. According to local folklore, Mutoto is the place where the fi rst imbalu (circumcision) ceremony was officially adopted.
All the subsequent imbalu opening ceremonies have taken place here ever since. Respected historians and elders from Bugisu confirm that indeed, Mutoto is the birthplace of the revered tradition.
Mutoto is where imbalu rituals were revived again, in earnest, after a slight lull.
“There was a lull in observing circumcision rituals after the circumcision of Masaba, the patriarch of the Bamasaba people. Imbalu, however, was reinstated courtesy of a man from Mutoto called Fuuya,” says Magombe Wakitonyi, an elder in Mutoto.
Going by Wakitonyi’s account, Fuuya was at the helm of efforts to re-establish the imbalu custom in Bugisu.
“Fuuya’s strong support for the revival of imbalu was fuelled by the recuperation of his four male children from their incessant sickness after they underwent circumcision. It was his Kalenjin wife and her brother who prevailed upon him to circumcise his children who had been sick for a while. Soon after the rite, they recovered,” Wakitonyi explains.
This marked the revival of imbalu in Mutoto and all across Bugisu. The Bamutoto, Fuuya’s clan, were from then on given special status. It was agreed that they would be the first to circumcise their young men before all the other clans in Bugisu circumcise.
Mutoto was also chosen by the elders as the place where imbalu festivities would offi cially be launched every even year.
Where is Mutoto?
Mutoto is located near Mbale town in Bungokho south. Although the place is expected to have a traditional museum filled with imbalu paraphernalia such as kadodi drums, imbalu ceremonial regalia, artefacts, pictures and books about the history of this adored culture, especially for generating income. Mutoto, however, is short of these.
There is only a small unroofed house to mark the spot where the first imbalu candidates were circumcised.
The grounds where the imbalu candidates display their dances before guests on the imbalu opening day are used as football fields. Given the influx of foreign visitors and locals during the imbalu opening ceremony, better facilities would promote cultural tourism in Bugisu.
Tom Wangota, a Manafwa-based historian, says attractions in places of cultural heritage across the globe are increasingly becoming important in tourism.
“We can, for example, use the imbalu dance competitions at Mutoto and the kadodi drumbeat to raise the profile of our culture,” Wangota says.
But John Musila, the information minister at the Intsu ya Masaba cultural institution, says developments on Mutoto land are hindered by claims of ownership by the National Forestry Authority. “President Museveni is, however, helping us to de-gazette 100 acres.
We already have a blueprint of what we want at Mutoto. We intend to build a modern amphitheatre,” Musila explains.
Across the globe, cultural tourism sector has grown. According to the World Tourism Organisation, over 40% of international travel has an element of heritage and culture associated with it.
With such a rich culture, the Bamasaba stand a high chance of attracting more tourists.
(Adapted from Sunday Vision of May 11, 2014)