The Culture of Bamasaba /Bagisu Tribe

Tribe of Bamasaba

Uganda cultural heritage is so rich and unveiling it through experience is the only suitable way one can get to learn about a certain culture. On this particular cultural exchange tour, SunTrack Adventures takes you through the Bamasaba people, hailing from areas of Mountain Elgon in Eastern Uganda.

Who Are the Bamasaba?

The Bamasaba/ Bagisu, a Bantu speaking people inhabit part Mt. Elgon, it is their home and consider it to be the embodiment of founding father Masaba and refer to the mountain by this name. Their dialect called Lugisu and can be understood by the Bukusu.

The Bagisu together with their Sabiny neighbors are the only Ugandan tribes that practice open male circumcision. The Bamasaba’s definition of being a “man” is un-debatable. A boy must undergo the traditional circumcision ceremony which is done without anesthesia and the snip is quick.

Details about the ritual

It is held on even numbered years and it is a pivotal occasion for the Bagisu society involving the whole community. Those who elect to be circumcised in the given year announce their intentions earlier and spend a few months preparing for the ceremony.

Preparations involves the initiate, adorned in animal skins or plantain fronds and ash plastered face, accompanied by a band of cheering friends parading and dancing through streets visiting all his close relatives seeking for their approval.

Major highlights of the ceremony however is the dancing and singing that takes place in the run-up (usually 2 weeks plus) to the actual cut is what makes the Imbalu something special.

Initiates with ash plastered faces dance to the famous kadodi dance before facing the knife; a steady drum beat counts down time before these boys become “men,” the candidates are proudly paraded for all to see. The pace at which all is done is fast and energetic while dancing the Kadodi.

As the candidates are stripped below the waist as they head to the special place where initiation takes place; the ancestors are called upon to bless them by pouring malwa (beer) on the ground as their share of the event.

Candidates blow whistles while the crowd (usually made up of friends, family and well wishers) encourage them not to show any fear before they are splattered with mud and taken before the knife.

The initiate holds both his arms rigid in front of him holding a stick and staring forward expressionlessly; the cuts are then made b the circumciser. Upon completion of the operation, a whistle is blown and the initiate raises his hands triumphantly in the air and starts dancing.

Once the crowd is satisfied of his bravely, the candidate is taken to a quiet place by friends and relatives, seated on a stool and wrapped in a cloth while he waits for the bleeding to cease.  He is then taken into his father’s house where is fed for three days and then his hands will be ritually washed so that he can eat with his own hands to complete the rite into manhood.

The Bamasaba men that have undergone the traditional cut see it as perhaps their greatest pride and joy.