Most research and studies on female genital mutilation (FGM) have placed it as a deeply ingrained culture. It is inherited from generation to generation and is associated with some held-fast beliefs that would either translate to prosperity or disaster. FGM further defines the role and value of the woman in the community, through the initiation rite of passage.
FGM has both long-term and short-term consequences that include death from hemorrhaging and pain; infections and trauma; decreased sexual pleasure and pain during intercourse; neonatal effects (depending on the type of FGM undergone); as well as other health and psychological disorders.
Despite these consequences, some parents have confirmed that they subjected their daughters to FGM, precisely because they had their children’s wellbeing in mind. They worry that their daughters would be a shame in the community, they would not be marriageable, they would invoke a curse that would affect the entire family, or even, that they would fall sick and die.
In the discussion between Hawa (Singida), the ex-cutter, and Doris – the young activist – she confirmed just as much:
“I have three daughters, the first one is cut.
When I gave birth to my second daughter, I had considered cutting her. However, I delivered her at my aunt’s place. My aunt was a devout Christian and who refused completely for the baby to be cut. You know, we cut our daughters a few days – three to five days – after they are born. I named my daughter after her grandmother who was a born-again Christian and we were at my aunt’s place who was also a born again Christian. And because of that she was extremely against FGM.
I felt as if I was being unfair to my child. I kept asking myself ‘why shouldn’t I cut my daughter?’ And so, as I kept questioning myself, time passed. No matter how much I tried to convince her, my aunt was adamant about not performing FGM on my daughter. But my heart was not settled. I was scared that if my daughter grew up without being cut, she would end up being promiscuous. I thought she wanted to destroy the future of my daughter. I told her this and she responded that I was the one who wanted to destroy my own daughter’s future. She gave me an example of her daughters who had not been cut but they were well behaved and doing well.
It took me a while to come to terms with her argument. Even when my daughter started primary school, I was still doubtful. It was until I learnt more about FGM and its effects, that I realized that it was the best decision. My last two daughters are very lucky. And now my heart is at peace.
‘Emorata’ or ‘Emuratta’ means circumcision in Maasai (Maa). It is used to define as the rite of passage for both male and female Maasai. The ceremony, known in Maa as Emuratare[i], is an elaborate affair that also prepares and announces the girl as ready for marriage.
“Emorata has existed long before this Maasai land was settled on.”
That was how the Laigwanan of Arusha introduced female genital mutilation and circumcision in a meeting he granted Diana, the young activist who visited Arusha and Manyara regions. The Laigwanan is father to more than 90 children and grandfather to more than 200.
It was a high privilege to be granted a meeting with a high elder of the Maasai tribe. With the help of a translator, it was clear that he was reluctant to discuss in detail female genital mutilation, as it was a taboo in the Maasai culture. Never-the-less, he was willing to shed light to the high importance that has been placed on the ritual, especially at family level:
“Not all Maasai clans perform “emorata” on girls. However, most of them do. It is Ormasi.
Ormasi is a covenant that fathers have to keep until their daughters have been initiated. They cannot break it, or their entire family and even clan will be cursed. When a daughter comes of age and she has not undergone emorata, the father will not cut his hair. He will have to ensure that his daughter goes through the ritual. When the ritual is complete, the father and his daughter will both shave their heads completely. He will be able to walk proudly in the community because he has fulfilled the ormasi.
It is believed that if a man does not fulfil the ormasi, the family will face great calamity. They will fall ill or die, or even worse, their cattle will be attacked. No respectable man would marry from that family or be associated with it. That family would be shunned.
If a daughter disagrees to undergo the emorata, she is will no longer be my daughter and will never live in my compound”
The sense of belonging, the fear of being ostracized by breaking taboo, the belief in curses and calamities that could befall the family for shunning FGM, the recognition that comes with the initiation, the value – both social and economic – attached to FGM, all perpetuate the acceptance of the consequences of FGM. However, with the campaigns and efforts ongoing to bring awareness on the dangerous and unnecessary effects of female genital mutilation, more and more families have been opting out of the practice.
Since this is considered largely as a traditional and cultural practice, it also means, it is not just up to families to make the decision on the fate of FGM; the traditional/clan elders have a strong say too.
[i] "Maasai Ritual of Female Circumcision: Genital Cutting Practiced throughout Africa and Middle East". Orato.com. retrieved on 2019-11-30