Bagisu traditional Imbalu ceremonies to proceed without cultural leader

Bugisu MPs protest minister Mutuuzo 'Imbalu' comments
Young men participating in the Bagisu traditional circumcision ceremony popularly known as Imbalu in Mbale - Uganda. Courtesy Photo.

Mbale, Uganda | URN | The communities under the cultural boundaries of Inzu ya Masaaba; the cultural institution of the Bamasaaba, have resolved to hold this year’s circumcision ceremonies, locally known as “Imbalu” without a cultural leader.

This came after attempts to have a legitimate leader to succeed the late Bob Mushikori all hit a snag. Mushikori, culturally titled Uwelukoosi Umukuuka We Ba’Masaaba, died last year and since then, the cultural institution never elected a successor to perform cultural ceremonies as the head of the institution.

Among the ceremonies which are supposed to be presided over by the Umukuuka is the cultural circumcision ritual, locally known as Imbalu which takes place every even year among communities in Bugisu. The ceremonies are scheduled to kick off in August at Mutoto Cultural grounds in Mbale.

The ceremonies are usually presided over by the sitting Umukuuka who blesses the candidates and performs other spiritual functions as the head of the institution. However, this year the Imbalu rituals will go on without a cultural leader as the institution struggles to deal with two factions that emerged after the death of Bob Mushikori.

The factions include one headed by Jude Mike Mudoma and the other led by Amram Wagabyalire each claiming to be the legitimate group to take over the leadership of Inzu ya Masaaba. But none of the two faction leaders has been gazetted by the central government resulting in a leadership vacuum for the cultural institution.

Earlier, each faction had indicated to the Minister through writing that it would take charge of the ceremonies. But Gender Minister Betty Amongi said that the correspondences called for government intervention to harmonize the matter until the courts pronounce themselves on the issues that were taken before them about the same issues.

Imbalu ceremonies attracts a lot of people

Now, Clan heads, District Chairpersons and other area leaders have resolved to proceed with the cultural functions on the calendar and to constitute a committee that will proceed with the circumcision festivities without a cultural leader. This was one of the resolutions of a meeting convened by the Minister of Gender Labour and Social Development at the Mbale City Hall on Friday 24, June 2022.

A 22-member steering committee headed by the Manafwa District Chairperson Hosea Kigai Kimono has been constituted to take charge of the process. The commitee comprises three members from each of the three clans that make up Inzu Ya Masaaba, a female and youth representative, and three members from the Mutoto clan which will host the ceremonies at the Mutoto Cultural Grounds among others.

These will be tasked with the duty of developing a work plan and budget as well as organizing the Imbalu function this year. Kimono said the selected committee will start planning meetings on Monday 27th, to ensure the success of the Imbalu festival come August.

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Dominic Gidudu, the State Minister for the Elderly and Richard Wanda, the Member of Parliament representing Bungokho Central urged the warring factions to end the impasse for the good of the people of Bugisu putting emphasis on ensuring the success of Imbalu ceremonies.

Mbale City Mayor Kassim Namugali called for unity among the Bamasaaba and to develop a common agenda for Bugisu.

Ahmed Juma Masaba, one of the clan leaders in Inzu Ya Masaaba said the disorganization in the cultural institution is being caused by wrong people who do not know the norms and practices of the Bamasaaba. He welcomed the committee that has been put in place saying that this will help to steer the cultural functions of Imbalu.

The cultural institution of Bamasaaba living at the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya covers the districts of Mbale, Sironko, Manafwa, Bududa, Bulambuli and Namisindwa in Uganda and Bungoma and Trans Nzoia in Kenya.