Just a day earlier as the sun disappeared off the horizon, the three elders had cleared a huge thicket off the mire ground. The frogs that had been croaking away at the ground; could not be heard, later on in the evening.
As the elders put the finishing touches on the mire, the sounds of rhythmic traditional songs could be heard reverberating in the distance.
Preparations in Bunanyuma had reached a crescendo. As the occasional socially distanced dances went on, the three elders could be seen dancing and shaking their shoulders in rhythmic and electric-like gyrations with arms stretched forward.
Why the mire bubbles
The bubbling of the mire according to Peter Waneloba, a teacher and elder in Bushika is a manifestation of the presence of the proverbial ancestral power of Imbalu.
"The swamp is the home of the proverbial ancestral power of Imbalu. That ancestral power is locally known as "Kumusambwa kwe Imbalu". The mire bubbles until it curiously looks like the finger millet fermented local brew-usually referred to as Busela or Malwa."
On the 10th, the elders at the swamp were set to sermonize the mud smearing Imbalu ritual. A number of Imbalu candidates from Bunanyuma were slated to be smeared with the mire before being taken for the cut.
Putting Imbalu or traditional circumcision candidates in fellowship with an ancestral power
"The mire smearing ritual is a symbolic rite that imbues or puts Imbalu candidates in fellowship with the ancestral power of Imbalu. The ancestral power is beyond sensory observation; but it does show signs to the elders of the swamp in the build-up to the circumcision of Imbalu candidates, every even year," Waneloba explains.
"One of those signs is the bubbling. This mud smearing rite is, unfortunately, less known, because some clan elders have not gone out of their way to explain it in full to the younger generation. It may seem like an ancient rite, just like they say Imbalu is, but this is what defines our identity as Bamasaaba and as Africans. Our ancestors passed this onto us, and it is incumbent upon us to keep it going. Imbalu is one of Uganda's biggest cultural tourism products. It is important for people to know about its rituals," Waneloba explains.
Early in the morning of the 10th, several Imbalu candidates and their dancing entourages cognizant of COVID-19 social distancing rules danced fervently through the Bunanyuma communal dancing grounds.
Nine candidates were to be brought to the swamp to be smeared with the mire, later on in the evening, before they would be taken for the Imbalu cut.
Blessing the mire groundAt the sacred mire ground meanwhile, the elders of the swamp were busy with elaborate animal sacrifice sanctifications.
When it bubbles, local folklore has it that, it has fermented, just like Malwa ferments. The mud is thought of as in Lumasaaba folklore as the beer of the ancestral power of Imbalu," Paul Nakhokho, a clan elder in Manafwa, says.
Significance of the smearing rite
The belief among the Bamasaaba is that smearing Imbalu candidates with the swamp mire gives them extra courage and fortitude as they head for the Imbalu cut. The smearing in many ways also signifies giving the candidates final blessings as they head for the cut. It also serves to identify the candidate as the center of focus," Waneloba explains.
"The other belief handed down from years ago is that the mud constricts the body and reduces the flow of blood so that at the time of the Imbalu cutting, the candidates become insensate and do not lose too much blood."
When any Imbalu candidate is taken to a mire swamp for the quick mire smearing rite, it becomes an epiphany moment of sorts. Often, there is a quick realization that the time of Imbalu reckoning has come.
The last stage of three-day Imbalu ritualsThe mire smearing rite is the last stage of the three-day Imbalu dancing and cutting rituals.
Wabuteya and Makwa like the rest of the candidates individually jumped in the depth of the swamp as their evidently charged kinsmen stood and watched.The Umulongi or the custodian of the sacred mire swamp then embarked on smearing them individually with the mire. He started the smearing from each of the candidate's abdomen area and finished with the head. Goose pimples were evident on each of the candidate's bodies.