The great traditional Gikuyu initiation ceremonies, Mambura, that ushered a new generation of youth into adulthood ready for marriage involved many processes of which the circumcision of the genital organs is the most famous. Many people today have focused on the circumcision ceremony, irua, reducing it to a discussion of the surgical cut. The Mambura ceremonies and related rituals however were a very complex affair with many of the rituals being of an esoteric nature revealed only to initiates. The purpose of this post is not to discuss the emotive subject of the cut, otherwise known as MGM, or Male Genital Mutilation or its female counterpart FGM.
According to Kenyatta, among the things taught during this period before marriage, were “matters relating to rules and regulations governing sexual indulgence.” The youth went through training of the control of sexual energy by a method referred to as Gwiko; a method of intimate contact between a woman and a man that did not involve penetration. After the healing process of the circumcision, young men returned and grouped themselves into several young men’s huts, thingiras, where the initiation ceremonies in the form of teaching were held. It is here where circumcised girls of the older initiation set came and performed Gwiko with the men initiates. This Gwiko could happen at first under the supervision of the matrons in charge of the girls’ training but they were soon left alone after they internalized the rules. It would then continue with different partners until marriage which ended the group sharing but would continue within marriage.
Kenyatta explains that Gwiko, or fondling as he calls it, was looked upon as a sacred act and one which followed a systematic, well organized method. He explains that all matters relating to sex were done in a well regulated code of convention. He states that this form of regulation of sexual energy formed the basis of health and was the foundation stone upon which the Gikuyu built themselves into a physically, morally and mentally sound race free from nervous and psychic maladjustments. Thus the cardinal virtue among the Gikuyu of temperance where powerful creative energy is hidden, controlled and used judiciously was learned.
Kenyatta describes the act thus:
The boy removes all his clothing. The girl removes her upper garment, nguo ya ngoro, and retains her skirt, mothuru, and her soft leather apron, mwengo, which she pulls back between her legs from behind and fastened to the waist, thus keeping mwengo in position and forming an effective protection of her private parts. In this position the lovers lie together facing each other with their legs interwoven to prevent any movement of their hips. They then begin to fondle each other rubbing their breasts together, whilst at the same time they engage in love-making conversation until they gradually fall asleep.
The rules governing Gwiko were such that a couple could never risk the heavy consequences of infringing them. The consequence for undoing a woman’s skirt was social ostracism from a group for the man and the impossibility of getting another girl to agree to his Gwiko. On the event that the two colluded and the woman was found out she becomes a laughing stock of the community. The skirt, muthuru, and the apron, mwengu were carefully inspected in the morning by the matron or other girls. In the unheard of event that a woman was to get pregnant the punishment to the man by the Tribal Council was nine goats and three fat rams for the Council. The man also became a social outcast and was no longer accepted into in his age group activities. The girl would find it hard to get a husband after that, a terrible predicament.
It is interesting that the Indians had a similar thing of making love divinely without intercourse. This “making love” was meant to harmonize and bring into equilibrium the male and female principles where the couple reached a heightened level of consciousness and soul union. According to one lady who rembers the joys of Gwiko, it was to prepare the Nyungu, pot for the future child much like a garden was prepared for seed. It also gave them fuller breasts and more radiant skins. She claims that the current disharmonious relations between male and female were learnt from the Mubia, priest, and should be unlearnt. The Mubia she says, is a child as far as sexual matters are concerned. It is no wonder that the Gikuyu Gwiko was a women driven affair.
Sexual energy according to Alice Stockham when well directed, heals sensitive nerves, vitalizes the blood and restores tissue. Apart from individual healing the couple also transmits this love to the community and societal order and harmony is realized. That is why Kenyatta said, Gwiko was the foundation stone upon which the Gikuyu society was built and why for lack of Gwiko modern society is experiencing all manner of calamities.
The idea today would be to redeem sex from the great depths of violent “Bang! Bang! thank you mom or whatever” it has descended through western influence. We must re-anchor sex on worship and as a divine and sacred act.