Musicking and dancing imbalu circumcision rituals (khushina imbalu): performing gender among the Bagisu of Eastern Uganda
Makwa, Dominic D.B.
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In this study, I examine how musicking and dancing imbalu circumcision rituals participate in performing gender among the Bagisu of Eastern Uganda. Imbalu denotes the rituals, musics and dances performed to initiate adolescent boys into manhood among the Bagisu. Informed by the view that music is more than the sound structure (Seeger, 1987), I use the concept of musicking to stress that imbalu is a process of creation, performance and consumption of music and dance. I articulate how music and dance are integrated in imbalu circumcision rituals. I argue that gender categories are a product of cultural and social correlates (Herndon 1990; Magrini (2003); Nannyonga-Tamusuza 2005) and examine how imbalu music and dance form a platform to perform gender roles, identities and relations among the Bagisu. This study was inspired by the role imbalu circumcision rituals play in the construction of the gender identity, defining the gender roles and shaping the gender relations among the Bagisu. In addition, despite the fact that imbalu rituals are highly integrated with music and dance, there is inadequate research on imbalu musicking and dancing. Most scholars have preoccupied themselves with the historical background of imbalu and its symbolism. As such, my main objective was to examine how musicking and dancing imbalu circumcision rituals perform the Bagisu gender ideology. This study necessitated the use of a qualitative research methodology, which involves sharing people’s views and experiences through interviews, participant observation and library research. This research has revealed that musicking and dancing imbalu circumcision rituals are a platform for performing gender roles, identities and relations among the Bagisu. Further, informed by Nannyonga-Tamusuza’s (2005) reciprocal relationship theory, it was revealed that while imbalu music and dance define and create the Bagisu gender ideology, the created gender categories inform the musics and dances performed in imbalu circumcision rituals. Besides this study, imbalu circumcision rituals still present many avenues for future research. I recommend that future scholars should conduct a comparative study on musicking and dancing circumcision rituals of other ethnic groups within and outside Uganda to examine how initiation rituals construct the identity of a people. Lastly, since HIV/AIDS activists argue that cultural circumcision like that of the Bagisu accelerates the spread of HIV/AIDS, there is need to study the whole ritual process of imbalu beyond the surgery of the penis to include the impact of the musicking and dancing in the spreading of HIV/AIDS.