Amusement and Absolution: Transforming Narratives during Confession of Social Debts


  • Corinne A. Kratz

    1. University of Nairobi and Smithsonian Institution
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      Corinne A. Kratz is Research Fellow, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, and Research Associate, Department of Sociology, University of Nairobi, Box 30197, Nairobi, Kenya.


During Okiek initiation in Kenya, the final ritual event before the climax of circumcision involves public “confession” by initiates of their “social debts.” Confession is through an intermediary who questions initiates, then announces their wrongs to an assembled crowd. The questioner/announcer introduces formal transformations that recast the narrative and its interpretation. That recasting absolves initiates of their wrongs, amuses the listeners, and completes a ceremonial process that helps initiates succeed in the trial of circumcision and gradually distances them from their childhood lives.