The African man is a complex creature.
He will arm himself and cross into enemy territory to steal livestock at great risk so that he can pay bride price.
He will lurk in the shadows of the village spring, kidnap a maiden, hoist her upon his shoulders, carry her kicking and screaming to his hut, detain her under lock and key with the sole purpose of forcing her to love him and become his wife.
He will pound an army of children out of her, but remain dissatisfied. So he will marry another, and another – because he loves children. But the same African considers the vagina unclean, and women and sex – the very things that bring forth the army of children he loves – a bad omen.
In May, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi took up the mantle of Mt Kenya’s spokesperson after an elaborate crowning ceremony following a 10-day cleansing ritual. Muturi secluded himself at his Gigiri residence in Nairobi where he religiously observed a set of protocols issued by Kikuyu elders.
During this ‘cleansing’ period, the Speaker was on a special diet, not allowed to leave his house and most importantly, not allowed to sleep with, or even see a woman. He was only allowed to meet ‘cleansed’ elders.
The event was conducted by over 1,000 elders drawn from all Mt Kenya counties. To pass the test, Speaker Muturi was required to strictly adhere to the rituals. No woman was in sight during the coronation.
But Kikuyu elder Gitonga Gathua explains that the absence of women during important ceremonies or rituals shouldn’t be taken to mean Kikuyu men don’t value women or that they have ‘criminalised’ the vagina.
“Before any serious event, you are not supposed to get angry or engage in a fight. That is why it’s recommended that you spend time alone, away from people or things that can make you angry,” says Gathua with a chuckle.
Gathua says abstaining from sex is important before rituals like circumcision.
“The main purpose is to keep yourself pure. Impurities will negate all the positive energy you have for the event. It’s called Kigogona. You must avoid getting annoyed, fighting, or spilling blood before any important ritual.
“It’s about purity. Keep yourself completely pure. In circumcision, if you are the father and your son has been cut, if you don’t keep yourself pure, there are chances that the wound might turn septic or refuse to heal,” he explains.
Keiyo elder Zachary Kokoi, 72, says before a raid was launched among the Kalenjin, warriors underwent a special ceremony referred to as choraa in the forest. At the ceremony, an Orkoiyot (supreme traditional leader) foretold the raid. If it was going to be a success, he would okay the raid and bless the warriors, but advise against it if he predicted a disaster.
During choraa, which normally took a month before a raid was launched, the warriors were forbade to come near a women or engage in sex. This was a taboo because it would spell a disaster for the warriors.
“Warriors coming into contact with women was a bad omen and such men would be barred from the planned raid. Sex was also believed to sap energy, distract attention and demotivate raiders, thus it was taboo,” explained mzee Kokoi.
Women also knew of the implications and never dared to be near the warriors before a raid.
It is also a taboo for initiates to come into contact with a woman.
Mzee Kokoi states since initiates were still sore, they would fantasise having sex and when their member erects they would injure themselves.
“There were beliefs that if an initiate sees a woman, the wound wouldn’t get healed as required. It remains fresh for a long period than expected,” he explained.
In story filed by KTN’s Duncan Khaemba, the “vagina curse” even follows men into the gold mining pits of Ikolomani in Kakamega County.
Winnie Miheso, a young married woman in Lirhembe village, was quoted saying marriage and relationship breakups are not a strange occurrence in the area because men believe indulging in sex causes ‘bad luck’.
“Tradition suggests that if you sleep with your man and he wakes up to mine the following morning, he won’t strike any gold. This forced young married women to demand that they introduce mining shifts to allow our husbands to also fulfil their marital obligations, instead of hunting for gold and yet starve their wives back home, due to that belief that prohibits them from intimacy,” said Winnie.
She said miners who stayed away for extended periods fearing that sex would jinx their ability to strike gold ended up creating room for extra marital affairs by their wives since hot-blooded young men roaming around homes would strike as soon as darkness fell.
Author and feminist Kingwa Kamencu argues that the bad omen associated with sex is a smokescreen for what is essentially an incentive and reward system.
“By forbidding men from sex before war, or football, their erotic energy is harnessed and channeled towards the task ahead. They fight like wounded buffaloes so that they can claim reward sex after,” she says.