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Jeremiah araap Birir: The man who remained Uncircumcised for life

 Male circumcision is one of the highly esteemed initiations especially among communities who have from time immemorial practiced the rite of passage.

It is estimated that almost merely a third of world populations do practice male circumcision. The practice is more prevalent in the Muslim world and Israel where it is mandatory, United States of America, parts of Southern Asia and Africa. The rite of circumcision is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa and Most of Asia.

The origin of circumcision is obscure but oldest writings claims to have come from Egypt. Several theories have proposed its reason and purpose of its origin. Some claim that the exercise is a religious obligation and marks boy’s entrance into manhood. To some African communities circumcision appears to be purely cultural, done with no particular religious significance but to distinguish members of the group.  

Among the Kalenjins oral narratives date the establishment of the rite to interactions with communities who did practiced the rite during their sojourn from Tto, or Burgei the place they claim to have been their origin. They are among the communities who highly regard the rite and look down upon those who fail to go through it. The Kalenjin perceive those who are not circumcised as immature and ‘children’. It is worse if a member of the Kalenjin community decides not to undergo circumcision. Jeremiah araap Birir is one of the few Christian converts in Nandi who were never circumcised until their demise.

The late Jeremiah Kipkoech araap Birir of Maina age set from Kapkong’a family is believed to have been born around 1900 at Kabusoon in Aldai division of Nandi district. He was a brother Kipchirchir araap Chumo of Nyongi age set, Chepsolia and one sister by the name Tapnyolei. Their father died when Jeremiah was still young and his mother remembered only by one name Tuiya was inherited by Kibiriir who cared little of his late brothers’ kids.

When Jeremiah was a young boy, he developed a problem in one his eyes occasioned by jigger invasion which led him to being one eyed. When his mother died, he suffered a lot. Now an orphan Jeremiah faced abject poverty, lonely and sickness. After some time Jeremiah took refuge in the new established African Inland Mission at Chebisaas, Kobujoi under Rev. Scott.   His elder brother left to be a driver in Mombasa. When the Chebisaas mission was relocated to Kapsabet, Jeremiah was one of those who moved with the hounded missionaries. Jeremiah shortly studied in the mission then became a teacher in the same mission school before being transferred to Kapchemoiywo where he taught until his retirement. Among his students at Kapsabet Mission school retired President Daniel Toroitich araap Moi.

Since Jeremiah remained in the mission station most of his youthful life and he was not accepted at home, he grew up and passed the initiation age. He found himself in an awkward situation since the circumcision was not a priority to the European missionaries and nobody was ready to prepare for his rite of passage. By 1930 some Nandi girls who had escaped circumcision went to the Mission station. Among these girls was a beautiful girl Susana Jemaiyo Chepo kaapchepng’otie who later married Jeremiah in 1931.

Jeremiah and Susana were blesses with five children; four girls and one son. Jeremiah taught during weekdays and preached every Sunday in different parts of Nandi and its environs. He mastered the Luo and Luyha dialects and carried hymnal booklets from the two communities during his evangelistic outreach. Jeremiah was a conscientious Christian who practiced what he preached. Early in his life the Nandi community around Kapsabet mission station discovered that there were overgrown but uncircumcised men staying with the missionaries, they organized for a cursing session known locally as njogeet. Among those who had decided to remain uncircumcised with Jeremiah included Joshua araap Kosuut, Reuben Seroney, Joel araap Kapkoi and Micah araap Bomet.

In 1943, Jeremiah with his family relocated to his land next to the mission station where his descendants live to date. Late seventies, he became old and sickly and was treated in various hospitals. In his death bed early 1980s president Moi visited him and wished him well. In September 1983 the great man Jeremiah araap Biriir passed on at Kapsabet district hospital. His body was taken to Kakamega Hospital for good mortuary preservation with the request from President Moi who wished to attend his funeral.

During Jeremiah’s burial President Moi was in Libya in an attempt to hand over organization of Africa chairmanship to the late Muhamar Kaddafi. His message of condolence was read by Hon. Henry Kosgey. The late Ezekiel Barng’etuny, the then Nandi power broker and Nairobi provincial commissioner were also in attendance. As a result of his role and position, Jeremiah almost received a state burial.

Jeremiah is remembered for giving out part of his land to the church, his relatives and daughters. He made sure that his children received the formal education he himself missed. His only son was a CPA (K) by 1967 and worked in Sirikwa county council then in national cereals and produce board as a clerk. Jeremiah taught the same mission school with his first born daughter Esther Cherono Too.

 

Kipchoge araap Chomu can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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