A Socio-Cultural Commentary on the Introduction of Male Circumcision in the Traditionally Non-Circumcising Luo Community of Western Kenya


Of Kenya’s total of 44 ethnic groups, only a handful are traditionally non-circumcising, while all the rest practise circumcision. The traditionally non-circumcising lot consists of three tribes and two sub-tribes. They are: the Luo, the Turkana and the Teso, and two sub-tribes of the Luhya tribe namely Luhya tribe namely the Banyala of Port Victoria and the Samia. Of these, the Luo community is the largest and one of the country’s most culturally distinct communities- its distinct culture being non-circumcision. This dichotomy has a superiority contest and rivalry between these two diametrically opposite cultures. The circumcising communities consider themselves superior to the non-circumcising ones for reason of the pain they endure during circumcision, hence despise the latter as cowards who have feared undergoing the pain of circumcision. This has made circumcision  such a sensitive and emotive issue that arouses variant passions and controversy between these two categories. Yet, for the non-circumcising communities such as the Luo, non-circumcision is their traditional customary practice and cultural norm, rather than an omission. Incidentally however, male circumcision was introduced in the Luo community slightly over a decade ago; which seems to endanger this culture of non-circumcision, as well as the cultural future of this community. Notably, while to some segment of the Luo community circumcision has come as a relief to the ridicule and despisement that the community has for long endured from the country’s traditionally circumcising communities, to another large segment of the community, this new practice is an affront on the community’s cultural identity, cultural integrity, ethnic identity, and even traditional customary law. This commentary discusses the socio-cultural implications the introduction of circumcision in this community, hence is timely and of anthropological significance. It mainly presents the author’s views; but also draws from the documented research and diverse documented views of other commentators on the subject, as well as the responses from informal interviews and focus group discussions the author had with respondents. The respondents were selected from target groups that included: ordinary citizens; community leaders; officials of governmental and non-governmental entities; policy-makers as well as experts and scholars in the areas of public policy, sociology, cultural anthropology, history and law. The data and information obtained from those interviews and discussions was analyzed by qualitative analysis since it was essentially of a qualitative character. From those contacts, the author established that the Luo community and other traditionally non-circumcising communities currently embracing circumcision are doings so not for any tangible benefit(s) or ratio, but largely as a modern practice that is fashion and a sort of craze. This is in contrast to their culture of non-circumcision, which they now consider outmoded and out of fashion. The benefits popularly touted for introducing circumcision, for instance hygiene and other medical benefits; alleged sexual performance boosting and other erotic considerations; and physiological benefits such as improving the visual appearance of the male sexual organ, are in reality only secondary rather than primary considerations. While in the country’s traditionally circumcising ethnic communities circumcision is either a religious cultural rite or rite of passage that marks the passage of an adolescent into adulthood, in the Luo community as in its other traditionally non-circumcising mates, circumcision as a newly introduced practice is a mere artificial medical and/or cosmetic procedure that is a mere branding of the genitalia, with no tangible benefits or significance. Such that the real beneficiaries of Luo circumcision are other actors, as the community loses, in terms of the abandonment of a crucial aspect of their traditional culture, namely non-circumcision.

Keywords: Culture, Tradition, circumcision, commentary, luo, non-circumcising communities, removal of teeth, rite of passage

Article Review Status: Published

Pages: 1-23 (Download PDF)

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