Jimmy Kimngetich araap Keter, a great Nandi leader who introduced the modern circumcision which involved the usage of anaesthesia and wound dressing treatment. The process, which departed from the traditional process was regarded as dilution of the cultural practices of the Kalenjin people held over thousands of years. It however bridged a gap that was created by the coming of Colonial rule, modern education and foreign religions such as Christianity and Islam.
It would be very important to place the role of Jimmy in context. Circumcision ceremonies traditionally took upwards of two years and with increasing modernization, it was found to be disruptive to among others things modern education as it ran over two even three school calendar years. Besides, this was a group kept in seclusion with little or no economic activity other than the traditional education received. The first students at Government African School Kapsabet were allowed to leave for circumcision in July of 1926 and some would return after two years, others did not. The Local Native Council voted in the 1930s to reduce the circumcision from 2 years to just under two months. They also limited the circumcision window to end of year school holidays each year. The initiates were expected to return to school soon after the ceremonies.
Earlier at the coming of Christian missionaries, the practice of circumcision came under severe attack, with many postulates at the Missions being encouraged to shun the practice. However, these people came under severe ridicule and were shunned from society and even their schools were ignored by the Nandi. It was at this point that Jimmy Kimngetich araap Keter came in. He devised a modern procedure that avoided the pre- and post-circumcision rituals that took too much time. He simply just got down to do it – carrying out the two procedures of circumcision and super-incision using modern medication and anaesthesia and sterilized equipment. He offered dormitory services for his patients to recuperate and in a week they were ready to go home. His process came to be known as Kapjimmy or Kapchimmi and was an instant hit among the Christians who had shunned the traditional process and who wanted to keep within the school calendar. However those who underwent the cut without anaesthesia considered themselves to be ‘real men’ having endured the pain without uttering so much as a sound. But the modern rite provided the faster healing and because it was held in a hygienic environment there were little complications associated with it. Soon the traditional circumcisors came to rely on Jimmy to supply them with iodine solution that kept the new wound disinfected thereby aided in the healing process.
Jimmy was then then invited to conduct the circumcision itself then the same initiates would be taken up into the traditional seclusion method for the remainder of the rites. Soon he got other customers in the Muslims of Nandi who wanted him to conduct the procedure on their 8-day old sons as required by that religion.
Who was Jimmy?
Jimmy Kimngetich araap Keter was born in 1911 of mixed race parentage. He was born in Nairobi and his mother brought him home, to Chepterit where her parents lived. His maternal grandparents brought him up. You will understand that many Nandi girls had been attracted to the urban areas in Kenya due to British policies such as Hut and Poll taxes that pushed many women to work in the towns and settled areas. Others sought work in European homes only for their employers to take advantage of them leading to many mixed-race children. It was not easy for the mixed-race child as they were regarded as a stranger among the Nandi and yet were not accepted in European society. Jimmy had a hard time fitting in but he did and like any Nandi child, he herded the livestock belonging to his parents wearing the traditional kaligeet (calico) dress hooped around the shoulder. He was often the object of teasing because of his light skin and wavy hair. He underwent the traditional circumcision ceremonies and shortly afterward returned to Nairobi to commence his education. In 1932 at the age of 21 he joined the Kenya Medical Training College in Nairobi based at the King George V Hospital (now Kenyatta National Hospital). He was baptized an Anglican in 1933 while in training. After completing his training in 1936 he was posted to Kakamega Native Civil Hospital where he worked for three years until 1939. He was then posted to Kapsabet Hospital where he worked for two years leaving in 1941 to Nairobi where he worked for another two years. He was then posted to Kabarnet where he worked for only a few months before returning to Kapsabet where he worked for another 25 years. It was while working at Kapsabet that he began the modern circumcision that would bear his name to this date. One of the famous people he circumcised include Daniel araap Moi, Jean Marie Seroney and most of the Nandi leaders of his day. Some of the early Christian leaders who had shunned the practice, secretly turned to him for circumcision as adults. He retired in 1968 and continued practicing medicine at his Chepterit home where he had built a small health facility.
Another medical assistant who started the same modern rite was Daniel Sabulei of Kobujoi who was also widely used in Southern Nandi. Jimmy’s practice was not without controversies and in 1973 he was fined Sh. 400 for practicing medicine without a license. He had two wives and lived on a hundred acres in kapsoen next to Kapkibimbir village just below Chepterit Trading Centre.
Courtesy: Godfrey Sang