By James Chege
Head librarian
Maryknoll Institute for African Studies

First Pastoral Reflection: Witch Doctors and Circumcision

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MIASMU students and field assistants during the pastoral reflection.

Students and field assistants from the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies congregated in the main lecture hall on October 12 for the first pastoral reflection (PR) of the semester. For many of the students this was a first- time experience and plenty of excitement filled the air. The PR comprises of a session where students from different courses share what they are taught in class by means of a skit.

These skits give rise to questions that are discussed by the participants. This time around the short plays were presented by the classes on African Traditional Religion’s Spirituality taught by Laurenti Magesa and African Culture: An overview taught by Edward Oyugi.

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Members of the African Spirituality class, James Chege and Sister Marylyn Atimango during their skit.

The first skit began with a church setting where Christians were vigorously worshiping in a Sunday service. Later on, during the night, some of the same Christians who had been worshiping in the church came secretively, one after the other, to seek the help of the local diviner/witch doctor i.e., the doctor of witches.

The witch doctor rebukes them for being undecided in the ways to follow and proceeds to perform some rituals to cleanse them of the evil church spirits. The skit depicts the duality of the spirituality of many Africans today. They may seem fully immersed in the Church but when calamity strikes will often fall back on their traditional beliefs.

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Mother and daughter, played by Sr. Josephine Njoki and Veronica Mbithe, consult about the young man’s radical decision to get circumcised.

The second presentation featured the story of young man who had left his village and moved into the city to peruse a university degree. Here he meets new friends who are from other ethnic backgrounds. Trouble begins when they convince the young man that he is not a “man” until he is circumcised. The young man believes his friends and goes home to request permission from his parents to do so. Unfortunately his ethnic community does not subscribe to circumcision as an acceptable rite of passage. His mother and sister sternly warn him about the action informing the young man that if his father hears about it all hell will break loose. The young man, being of stubborn, nature returns to the city and has the operation. On returning with the news his father is extremely angry and wants to banish him because he has gone against his cultural practices and the wisdom of the ancestors.

The skit brought to light one of the many challenges facing traditional African cultural practices as they come face to face with inevitable changes. From the medical point of view circumcision is encouraged for traditional cultures that continue to forbid it as it helpful in checking the spread of AIDS.

These short plays inspired the students and field assistants to join in the conversation in smaller groups. Thereafter all convened for a plenary session where the various points raised in the discussions were presented.

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