In this episode, Sharon Khaitsa, adult educator and social worker, a Mugisu from Mbale in eastern Uganda, shares her personal story and experience of her traditional ceremony where boys become men after circumcision, in an initiation ceremony known as the "Imbalu Festival." The Imbalu festival is one of the most eagerly awaited traditional ceremonies in Bugisu, which takes place only in the "even years".
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Hi lovely people, My name is Khaitsa Sharon, a professional Adult educator and a social worker. From Mbale, the only place where boys turn to men after circumcision in an initiation ceremony known as “Imbalu Festival” Yes Imbalu festival one of the most long awaited traditional ceremonies in my culture performed by boys and women only in the “Even years”, Now why even years,even years like 2020,2022,2024 ,It is believed that in those years there is a lot of food yes that is harvested,why do they need a lot of food? Is because when people are celebrating like the Imbalu celebration food is collected around the community like people bring maize flour,beans to prepare for the money crowds that are coming so it helps in the feeding of the people who are coming in the Imbalu festival, The ceremony goes on for a three consecutive days and attracts all sorts of people from the Bugishu region and even other regions who are mesmerized by the tradition and all events that take place. I am here to tell you about my first and last experience engaging in the “Imbalu Festival” and the reason why I was there in the first place and why many girls go there.
Amidst the celebrations there’s a dance that is performed commonly known as“Kadodi dance”, “Kadodi” yes I said Kadodi , “Kadodi dance is a Gishu traditional free style dance, oh my goodness! the rhythms, sounds and beats played from the numerous drums are captivating wherever they find you. The ceremony attracts large crowds from different communities and sometimes it feels like a tourist attraction because even foreigners can be present to watch and study but the main initiation ceremony was performed by the men because the men are the ones who are circumcised anyway, so this was to keep the boys strong because boys are the ones who protect the family and also avoid shying away. The girls take part in the festival as dancers and escorts to the boys that are taking part in the ceremony, this dance makes girls wiggle their waists and it feels like a spiritual attack and the sounds and beats from the drums make the girls sway and pull frenzy of strokes that is unique for girls from my region. However,in this dance practice,every man is for every woman and every woman is for every man,every girl is for every boy and every boy is for every girl,that means that people are loose,they are loose and anyone can sleep with another and there are no strings attached that maybe we are relating or dating or something like that, its for satisfaction purposes and this brings about early pregnancies,early marriages and a lot of things that comes with it.
My father being a very protective man had always hated to see his girls participate in the ceremony and deemed what happens there immoral besides the intended purpose of course, who would deny their boy child a chance to be initiated to manhood. This made parents proud however it also tickled the libido of the boys initiated to feel like grown men and ready to have women to their satisfaction. This encouraged them to sleep with a number of girls that participated in the ceremony. We used to listen to so many stories that were told to us by adults over the years especially those who used to attend and it made us curious and anxious of our own experience at one point I remember having a sleepless night thinking of a good plan.
One day,on the days of the ceremony father always sat at the porch in his rocking chair to make sure none of his girls got out of the compound to join the dancers , but that season thorough plans had been made for quiet sometime and nothing was going to stop me from joining the dancers, together with my neighbor friend we had made all the necessary plans and mapped out routes for ourselves months and months before to the ceremony and when drums and chanting filled the air, our plan was put in motion and in no time we ventured on our journey as part of the dancers. We felt swept by the wind and tangled into the celebrations without knowing we were blazed and the dance strokes came naturally like we had always participated at one point we were turned to be lead dancers and the crowds clapped, shouts of joy while ululating traditionally called “Akalulu” that kept us excited and energized to keep continuing forgetting to go back home. As the celebrations took place “Kamalwa” was being served to the men and women in large calabashes each one with several straws as it was communal to share it. It was also given to the boys that were initiated as a sign to show they had grown and can sit at the table of adults. The alcohol even the young were served because they couldn’t segregate at that time of joyful occasion taking place. Many young and old drank to the fullest and even fell on the streets because of too much and it never ceased to be little the supply.
The fun, the joy, the excitement was over the roof, we danced our feet off, at any point in time when I thought of quitting the beats became even more captivating and compelling, I found myself telling my friend who had suggested that we had enough of the fun to give me just more 2 minutes but each time she mentioned going backhome , I told her to give me 2 more minutes ,not until she got mad that I realized we had gone as far than we had agreed even past the borders of my area into another district without feeling anything of exhaustion, it felt like we had been there for only a few minutes but here we were in a foreign land without an idea of how to get back home,The district that we went to that was foreign was Bukedea, Now Bukedea from Mbale is 35km,I know you can only imagine someone dancing for a distance of 35k,that is how fan “Kadodi” is !
So we embarked on the journey back home taking the only road that we thought was going back and asked also around for directions from the native people around the good thing is that we spoke the native language that is “Lugishu”, meanwhile it was getting dark and exhaustion coupled up with hunger was kicking in, and adrenaline rose along with fear so we moved while running at the same time to get home before dark. The roads were getting dry and it was almost I and my friend on the road expect for the men who by passed us occasionally going back home riding their bicycles, we dared not to stop them to ask for directions.
At the crossroads we wondered which way to take was it the next one,was it the other! and we stood their staring at each other Blankly but then an Angel come by, Masinde the Mad man from our village and he kinder recognized us, no one knew exactly where he hailed from but there were many stories told about him and how he got mad, many said he was from a rich family and was given in as a sacrifice for the riches, others claimed that he was very wise and he run mad because of too much knowledge. At this point he was our only hope to get back home, we trolled on behind him, he occasionally turned back to see us but said nothing, it was scarily at first but then we found ourselves trusting him and started telling stories even when he took us through feeder roads we followed on until we reached somewhere familiar.
The thoughts of what was going to happen to me running in my head, but it didn’t bother me that much than finding our way home when we got closer to come ….to come home, the freight came in and that’s when I started cooking up stories in my head of how I would explain to my father, I drew castles of imagination of how I would be embraced at home and how I would find my father standing on the entrance of the door waiting for me to come back home at one point I felt like not reaching home but would be a disgraced to my loving family. At that moment when I had glance of home I felt a relief.
It was about 10 pm when we got back home, with the worry on everybody’s face my father as I had earlier imagined, he was holding a Cain strolling around the compound having hope I would be back home soon he was worried and at the same time very angry and I could tell by the situation at home. My mother was busy crying thinking I fell victim like some of the girls and no sooner had I stepped in the compound she ran towards me with tears of joy to embrace me just like the prodigal son was embraced by the father when he returned home after a long time and behind her my father was waiting with a stick and time for me to explain my where about since morning.We were beaten blue black,I couldn’t turn,I couldn’t even turn my body,I just slept but with pain inside of me ,a lot of pain was going on in my mind because of the pain I was going through.My father didn’t use a hand to beat me,he got a stick and he beat me everywhere he wanted,in the face,on the legs,everywhere because he was angry.
Never the less, I learnt a number of lessons on that fateful day firstly to always listen to elders my father was a very tough man but he really loved us so much and that’s why he couldn’t let any danger happen to any of his children, secondly spare the rod and spoil the child thus if my father had not punished me on that day I would never understand reasons why shouldn’t leave home without permission, thirdly I learnt culture is good ,culture is really good,I mean if you were in Mbale and dancing kadodi it is really good,but however some practices are dangerous that to say the innocent girls that they slept with many of them turn out to be pregnant and they can’t identify who the fathers of their babies more so alcohol is good for celebrations but should be taken in right content too much of it is harmful to your body and impair your thinking capacity since I saw some of the victims falling on the road, last but not least to appreciate all people in and respect them in their capacity for instance this Misinde helped us get home safely and kept us company when we were scared on the way and went an extra mile to protect us from the other men on the way. Ever since that day I regretted and promised myself never ever to go back and also listen to adults when they refute us to go somewhere. Because it’s because my father was protective that I am who I am right now.
“Never will I dance ‘Kadodi again”