Many questions have been asked on whether circumcision among the Kalenjin boys should continue or not when Mimulopsis plant, locally known as Setyoot flowers. Many people in the Rift Valley grew up knowing that when this plant flowers, no circumcision would take place in the Kalenjin nation. The reasons, however, are not clear.
Setyoot possesses a unique yet a tantalizing aroma, second to none of the perfumes known to man. It was believed that boys circumcised when this plant had flowered would end up trembling at the touch of arrows, which was the main tool that was used in search of food and wealth.
This was the tradition of the millennium. Yet the philosophy behind this has never been known or has just been ignored. It has been spreading like a wild fire but no one holds with certainty the reason behind the thick black curtain of the Kalenjin culture.
Towards the end of June 2018, elders reported that the famous “Setyoot” plant as locally known had flowered thus raising a lot of questions without lasting solutions to whether circumcision would take place or not. We set on a mission to shed light to the puzzle during an exclusive interview with Pastor Joel arap Kimetto, an elder and a celebrated Kalenjin gospel musician. The explanation he gave is that, when this plant flowers, bees suck nectar to make honey which sadly contains certain toxic chemicals similar to the one contained in ‘Changaa’.
Secondly, elders believed that honey obtained from this plant was too strong and unsuitable for human consumption because cases of feeble and sometimes trembling at the touch of objects was reported. He added that it was believed that chemicals abound in honey made from this plant would remain in the body forever and may cause problems later in life. Pastor Kimetto said that the plant itself is not a problem but the honey made by bees out of its nectar was believed to be a major problem.
“I personally was initiated in 1969 when ‘Setyoot’ had flowered but look, I am a very strong man” Pastor Joel Kimetto said amidst a funny giggle shaking his entire body. The reason behind his fitness is that he was not fed with honey.
Basically, the problem comes in when the initiates are fed with honey, which is not being done presently. This was abandoned 50 years ago due to the emergence of the modern eating habits that include tea, porridge, rice, ugali, meat and vegetables.
Kalenjin wanted strong men to defend their land hence the choice of honey as the main food. Sharp and steady men were required. Men who would handle arrows and aim at the target without missing. Therefore, honey formed a critical component of their diet.
Pastor Kimetto went ahead and expounded on another plant called “Karabweet”. Just like “Setyoot”, honey from this plant is said to paralyze the user for a day but recovers when given cold water which acts as a neutralizing agent for the potency of the honey made from its flowers.
This was the philosophy as to why initiation never took place when this plant had flowered most recently in 1910, 1918 and later years as recorded by the colonial officers. He added that “Setyoot” was not the only cause of evading circumcision for a certain period of time among the Kalenjin community. There was so many factors for instance, insecurity that resulted from inter- communal discords caused by cattle rustling. Natural calamities like prolonged drought resulting in little or lack of food and honey were also some of the challenges. Also absence of enough initiates due to low birth rate contributed by the fact that young men who were responsible for the population growth spent most of their time outside their home looking for wealth and fighting for their lands.
Pastor Kimetto said that the issue of “Setyoot” should not impede the initiates from passing the most important rite of passage. It worked back then but the emergence of modern feeding styles has rendered it meaningless.