Culture: The origin, history of the Bamasaba and Imbalu

On August 6, thousands of people, foreign and local descended on Mutoto Cultural Site at the foot of Mount Elgon to witness the Bamasaba celebrate 200 years of imbalu (circumcision). The imbalu rituals, which are the cultural transition from boyhood to manhood, are a series of visits to revered traditional sites such as swamps, hills, caves and mud, artifacts, objects and ornaments, music, dance, busera (local brew) and sacrifices. The Standard’s RONALD AWANY joined the festivities and witnessed the unfolding of history.

Bamasaba warriors heading for the ritual confident and anxious (Photos by Esther Mbabazi)

For four weeks, the Bamasaba, young and old, pitched camp at Mutoto Cultural Site, two kilometres from Mbale town in Eastern Uganda.

The site was a beehive of activities with blistering business ranging from the sale of food to soft and alcoholic beverages. It was a time of merry making, as Vincent Masaba said: “It is a non-stop party. There is always loud music and it gets worse in the night because there is too much alcohol and everyone is always drunk, with the attendant consequences. People deserve to be happy but they are doing it dangerously here.”

On circumcision day, I am amused by the large numbers of people at the site. Over 30,000 people in my estimation!

The youthful groups of initiates from different clans and villages donned in light but colourful outfits, decorated with animal hides, beads, and ash-painted faces.

The ash is derived from the ingredients of the local brew known as “busera” or “malwa”, and it is intended to make them look fierce and bold to show elders that they are ready for initiation.

Escorting them is an entourage of their peers holding sticks in the air and singing initiation songs. Some of them are barechest and most of them appear like they have not taken a bath in days.

The stamping of their feet could be heard from a mile away, so the air was filled with dust; and it also reeked of the stench of sweat and booze, as they drank busera and sprayed it out with their mouths.

But all the noise, dust and chaos did not matter. It was Imbalu Day, the day boys turn into men. For Bamasaba, it was a celebration.

Imbau 2

The Bamasaba and the origins of circumcision 

Magombe Wakitonyi, an elder from Mutoto, says the people of North Bugisu or Budadiri county, originated from a man known as Mugisu, the son of Masaba, who is the eponymous ancestor of the Bamasaba. These are the people called Bagisu.

Those in central and southern Bugisu were respectively founded by Ngokhwe and Wukuya, Mugisu’s brothers. The Central Bagisu are generally called Bangokho while those in the south are loosely called Basukuya, named after their respective founders.

Within these large groups there are numerous divisions and clans bearing the names of their supposed founders. The correct collective name for the people of Bugisu is, therefore, Bamasaba.

It is held that the name ‘Bagisu’ was mistakenly applied to the entire tribe by the Baganda and the British who were ignorant of the local situation.

The origin of circumcision among the Bamasaba is linked to the ‘Barwa’ otherwise known as the Sebei.

It is held that Masaba wanted to marry a woman from Sebei, but this could not happen unless he was circumcised.

So, circumcision was introduced by Nabarwa and originally performed in accordance with the customs and rites of the Barwa.

The Bamasaba refer to their circumcision as ‘Imbalu. ‘Nabarwa’ also means ‘that of, or which belongs to the Barwa’.

Mutoto village in Bungokho in Central Bugisu is regarded as the traditional ground where the first Mugisu male was circumcised.

Ever since, every circumcision year, it is customary for circumcision to start in Bungokho before spreading to other parts of Bugisu.

Currently, it is performed every even year, but in the past, it could be postponed in the event of a national crisis such as prolonged drought, famine, epidemics, and war.

Although circumcision experts/surgeons are found in every clan, their work is not necessarily restricted by clan boundaries.

They often perform their duties beyond the traditional boundaries of their clans.

Wakitonyi’s account is supported by the journal, ‘The Historical Origins of Circumcision among the Bamasaba’, by Gideon Were.

Wakitonyi argues that there are different accounts of how the practice started.

“Some say it was a Barwa woman who started it.

The woman was married to Masaba and when they had children they were circumcised after the tradition of Nabarwa.”

He added further that it was Nabarwa who instructed Masaba in the practice of circumcision for, according to the Barwa, women also performed circumcision.

“Masaba was also circumcised by the Barwa,” Wakitonyi said.

Another reason given for the adoption of the ‘circumcision of Nabarwa’ is that Masaba proposed to Nabarwa who replied that she could never marry an uncircumcised man (umusinde or boy).

In order to marry her, she proposed he gets circumcised according to her people’s customs. Masaba was circumcised and so became a man (umusani) to get his bride.

Dr Stephen Mun’goma, the chairman Governing Board of the Inzu Ya Masaba and director of the Uganda Christian University, Mbale University College, weighed in on the debate as to when circumcision started.

“To the best of my knowledge, it began in 1815 and that is why the circumcision year is named Nabarwa. Others think that it began 2018 years ago, and if it is the correct date, it is still within the period of 200 years,” he said.

The road to imbalu

Imbalu 3

In January, prospective male candidates aged between 15 and 20 years, assemble in each village and are regimented in various ways in order to imbue them with courage in readiness for initiation.

Between March and August, they are taken through the isonja preparatory dance. It features specialist performers/singers called by different names, ‘kyilali’, ‘namwenya’ or ‘uwimbi’. The singers use special equipment, songs and dance strokes.

Towards August, before the actual circumcision event, the candidates are taken through a traditional pass called ‘luwanda’ where they meet other clans and proceed to the sacred swamps.

They are taken to mwidoyi (mud) where they are smeared with clay (itosi).

They are called all sorts of names and traditional beer is spat upon them.

A day to the circumcision, the elders or ‘basakhulu’, clean out the sacred graves and rebuild the shrines as designed and desired by each clan.

During this stage, each candidate is taken to his mother’s clan (ibwiwana) to announce his intensions to his uncles and receive gifts before they go to the courtyard prepared for circumcision.

On the day of circumcision, after elaborate instructions and blessings from elders, the initiates are taken to the appointed grounds by each clan to face the surgeon (umukembi), who uses a double-edged knife to remove the foreskin.

“On this day, the dancing is so intense and the candidates are possessed because of the rituals carried out on them, they feel the urge to face the knife,” Robert Wamale who faced the knife in 1998 said.

After circumcision, drums are beaten and people indulge in dancing and drinking. The drums are called ifumbo ye kyiguga (the drums of the clans).

“The process is quick and professional. This is the best part that everyone has been waiting for.

The surgeon is a specialist who has been doing this for a long time, he has to accomplish the task in 60 seconds or less, failure to do that will result in punishment. Should the surgeon also hurt the candidate in a way that can endanger the life of the candidate, the surgeon will be in trouble. The candidate is also not supposed to shake or fear during the process, lest they face punishment and are deemed weak,” Wamale adds.

The imbalu cycle that began with the ‘isonja’ singing and dancing then terminates with the ‘ineema’ confirmation ceremony. During this ceremony, which will be in 2017, the fully healed young men are coached on how to live and behave responsibly and are confirmed as full members of the clan. They are also seen as men basani (singular, umusani) and not basinde (singular, umusinde) as previously known.

The Masaba male, regardless of age, status or wealth is a full man after circumcision and is allowed to marry and beget children and participate in the decision- making process of the clan.


Doves, Ladies claim victories

Lady Doves’ Sheila Kobusingye spikes the ball against Ndejje University Elites (Photo by Ronald Awany)

The UCU Doves and Lady Doves both registered wins in the National Volleyball League (NVL) on August 31, at Lugogo Indoor Stadium.

The Doves beat newly promoted Vision Volleyball Club 3-0 (26-15, 25-15 and 25- 23) in three straight sets while the Ladies beat Mulago Volleyball Club by the same score (25-15, 25-13, 25-13).

Doves’ captain, Moses Odeke, hailed the win, the fourth for his side, which beat Tigers Volleyball Club 3-1 in the previous fixture to push them to fourth position on the table.

“Generally, it was a great game, we just need to work on a few things, tie up a few loose ends and focus on making the playoffs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Lady Doves who have been in impressive form lost to Ndejje University Elites in a thriller that ended 3-2 in Luwero.

The Lady Doves are second behind Ndejje on the table.

Mihigo leads team UCU to EA Challenge

Badminton star, Daniel Mihigo, will lead team UCU in the East African Badminton Challenge due September 9 to 11 at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. Mihigo

The championship is expected to attract a host of players from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Mihigo will captain the team of over 12, which also includes Brenda Nabusindo, Jovan Kyambadde and coach-player, Freddie Kirabo.

“My target is to win the singles and doubles especially after my league loss,” he said.

The UCU pair of Mihigo and Kirabo emerged second in the league after losing to Ndejje’s Jacob Musisi and Herbert Ebyayo in the men’s doubles finals.

Mihigo and Nabusindo also lost to Ndejje’s Daisy Nakalyango and Ebyayo in the mixed doubles.

Tennis: Oringa braced for Rwanda Open

David Oringa in action

Tennis ace David Oringa is hoping to put his 2016 misery to rest as he goes for glory in the third Rwanda Open Tennis Championship due September 15 to 25 at Amahoro stadium courts.

“I hope to put all my disappointment in the past. I have been putting in extra effort and this will be the ultimate test for me,” Oringa said.

The event, which was initially scheduled for August 22 to 28, will attract tennis stars from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and hosts Rwanda.

Kenya’s Sheil Kotecha and tennis siblings, Ismail and Shufaa Changawa, and Uganda’s top seed Duncan Mugabe and third seed, Simon Ayella are among the big names expected in Kigali. The prize money for the winner is US$1000 (men), and US$700 in the women’s category.

How not to graduate Part 1

AwanyJoining university can be an exciting time. It is often accompanied by many lifestyle changes such as new routines, meeting new people, making new friends, and generally adjusting to campus life.

Amidst all this, students are expected to develop effective study skills in an environment different from the ones they were accustomed to. At the end of three or four years, depending on your course designation, graduation is the next and last thing on queue and obviously, not everyone will graduate. RONALD AWANY has tips for those with no intentions of graduating.

Serious students like to draw a plan. They schedule fixed commitments such as lectures, tutorials, sports training, among others. They also allocate time for recreation, socialising, family, and to themselves. But of course for you who doesn’t care about graduation, you don’t need all that.

Just go to bed and wake up without a plan, and no priorities and then you will be one of the most successful failures of all time.

By now you must have known or read, or heard, if you don’t already know, soon you will, that in UCU, only those who attend at least 75 per cent of lectures are eligible to sit for the end of semester exams and of course you must have also heard that you will need at least 17.5 percent of mid-term assessment marks to qualify for the same exams.

Well, again, that is only for those who want to graduate. For those who do not want, all you need to do is go to bed ‘high’ every day. It doesn’t matter if it is alcohol or some banned substance: wake up whenever you want to, sit on the veranda (if any) or balcony depending on where you stay and sun bathe.

Many students report to university only to walk away at the end without graduating (File photo)

When your classmates return to hostel, ask them if they had a test. If the answer is yes, go back to bed and wait to watch them on the red carpet.

The moment you stepped into UCU, you must have noticed one of the tallest buildings next to the Guild offices. It is called the Ham Mukasa Library. Its sitting capacity is over 3,000 with thousands of books and online content.

The catch is only those who want to graduate visit that place often, the ones who think they ‘know it all’. You don’t have to go there at all but this is the part that you will like though, there is unlimited wireless internet. Grab your laptop, get connected and spend the whole day downloading the latest music and movies.

Ensuring that your study area is a pleasant environment is still for only those who want to walk on the red carpet. You don’t have to organise your books, notes or papers so that they are easily accessed. You also don’t need to take or photocopy notes at all, and you don’t need to care about your grades. None of that is necessary if you actually don’t want to graduate.

Soon you will find out that course work can be stressing. Imagine 20 pages of research work with references and citations, too much work! Isn’t campus supposed to be stress free?

Well, there is a brother called Google. He knows almost everything. Simply type anything you want then copy and paste, and then submit, it is the most stress-free way to do things especially when you claim it’s your original work. They call it plagiarism and trust me; it can get you successfully sent away from the university.

Discussion groups can also be very stressful. Imagine you have to attend class, then again go for discussions yet you have google. You don’t need those discussion groups because they only help those who want to graduate. Simple, just keep procrastinating and read when exams come, you will achieve the inevitable, fail to graduate!

Over the years, many have joined the university and achieved this ‘fete’ and lived the dream, they have followed each of the steps above, partied more and studied less, one thing is for sure, they have successfully failed to graduate along with their friends who refuse to take this advice. Enjoy your time in UCU!

The writer is a staff writer and sports editor at The Standard

Canons set as league takes shape


The UCU Canons have upped preparations ahead of their match against the Destiny Phenoms as the second round of the men’s National Basketball League resumes on August 7 at the YMCA Courts in Wandegeya, Kampala.

Andrew Gang from a previous game (File Photo)

The team has been training in the absence of Coach Nick Natuhereza who has been on national duty with the under-18 side for the Afro basket championship in Kigali, Rwanda.

However, this has not hampered the team spirit in camp under the stewardship of skipper Jonathan Egau.

“We are working very hard and rebuilding for the second round. We need to be in good shape as a team,” Egau said.

He is optimistic about the chances of the team finishing the season strong and booking a comfortable play-offs spot.

“The plan is to win all our games and finish in the top three so that as we go into the play-offs we are not affected by positioning. We had a good first round but we need to start and finish the second round on a high. The spirit is great and the boys are ready for the challenge,” he added.

The Canons finished the first round third on the table. That is 19 points and an 8-3 winless streak, tied with fourth-placed KIU Titans, and a point below second-placed Tiger Head Power. City Oilers, who won all their first round games, lead the table with 22 points.

Meanwhile, the Lady Canons will play A1 Challenge on August 5, also at the YMCA Courts in Wandegeya, Kampala.

Exclusive: Up close with the Canons captain



The Canons have always been known to nurture break-through stars and put up league championship competition week-in, week-out. This season the team has impressed in spite of the pessimistic attitudes of some pundits towards the team. This team is under the stewardship of a young, high flying captain, JONATHAN EGAU. Ronald Awany sat down with him for a one-on-one interview. Here is the exclusive.


Name: Jonathan Egau

Age: 23

Course: BBA 2

Position: Guard

Schools attended: Pioneer Primary School, Teso College Aloet, St Peter’s College Tororo, St Michael High School Sonde, Kibibi Secondary School, and UCU.

When did you start playing basketball? 

That was in 2006 when I had just joined Teso College Aloet. Back then the Malinga brothers (Henry, Erick, and Alex) were a household name in the local league and the fact that they were from Teso inspired me so much, I wanted to grow up and play basketball like them.

What is your strength on court? 

Jumping! I can jump so high, the reason I find picking rebounds and dunking quiet easy.

How do you manage captaining a team and having so much responsibility at such a young age? 

It is a good feeling that comes with a lot of responsibility. It is important to have the support of my teammates, especially during challenging times.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Going pro, and captaining the national side. In fact this year I hope to be called up to the national team.

Do you ever anticipate winning the league during your leadership? 

Yes! This team consists of a fine set of players with great quality and the ability to win the league. We just need to adjust in a few areas and we shall be champions.

How do you spend your free time? 

I go out with friends, a lot. I go swimming too and play a lot of relaxing basketball.

Any role models? 

Dwayne Wade formerly with the Miami Heat and now with the Chicago Bulls, and then locally, Stephen Omony.

What is your favourite meal? 

Smoked goat meat in g-nuts paste and attapa (millet bread)

How do you balance your academics and on court commitments? 

It is always challenging but at the end of the day, I try to draw a balance between the two. On an average day, I have to work out, hit the gym and throw some hoops and at the same time I have to be committed to class obligations.

What is your best and worst game of all time? 

This season’s first leg tie against City Oil was my best. In spite of the fact that we lost 73-72, I had a great game in general and scored 23 points.

My worst is still City Oil, Game Seven of last year’s finals. We could have won the championship yet I felt I could have done more to help the team.