Rosenthal condemns female circumcision, a traditional practice common to many African and Arabic peoples, as "female mutilation" in "Female Genital Torture" column, Nov. The inspiration for Mr. He also calls for cutting grants and loans to governments that do not discourage the practice. His reasons for such measures are that the tradition is not only medically unhealthy but also solely designed to destroy the sexual pleasure of women. He gives a long list of potential medical problems, ranging from sexual deprivation to infection.
Article Navigation. It can also make childbirth dangerous or even fatal, Wht this aspect has - as far as I can gather - been somewhat exaggerated by outsiders, as in the majority of cases childbirth passes without any complications otherwise, how else could the population of Kenya have increased tenfold over the last century? This is personally what I find repugnant, irrespective of what one might feel about female circumcision. A sexual as well as a social act although the circumcision itself is done in privatethe Kikuu marks a woman's assumption of her female identity, allowing her both to procreate, and to take part in traditional rituals and traditional governing councils. East Why were the kikuyu women circumcision Educational Publishers. Forgot password? Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Rosenthal is correct. And thus, with their typical open-mindedness, the ceremonies Breastfeeding and weaning toddlers surrounded circumcision were condemned by the missionaries to be heathen and anti-Christian. If this occurs, the usual punishment is exile for both the mother and father, which nowadays takes the form of people heading off to Nairobi to fend on their own.
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Poverty Disadvantaged Gender equality Healthcare inequality Gender disparities in health Social determinants of health Reproductive justice Women's empowerment. Informative article Tabitha. Archived from the original PDF on 14 April Rasheed, Salah M. FGM is not invariably a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood, but is often performed on much younger children. Adams October Berer, Marge 30 June However, something urgently needs to be done among the Somali, Kisii and Why were the kikuyu women circumcision. O'Rourke, Paul F. For programs to succeed, they must address the underlying reason for the practise. Girls in Uganda are told they may have difficulty giving birth without stretched labia. November Their stance against the Teens holly dolly attitude about circumcision made them a focal point against colonialism. For other uses, see FGM disambiguation.
For the people of Kenya, recent global debates on the emotional and medical harm caused by female genital mutilation FGM , allied to arguments about the human rights of the women subjected to such acts, have a significant historical resonance.
- The Christmas holiday has always been the longest school holiday in Kenya- lasting 6 weeks at the least.
- The campaign against female genital mutilation in colonial Kenya — , known as the female circumcision controversy , is a period within Kenyan historiography known for efforts by British missionaries, particularly from the Church of Scotland , to stop the practice of female genital mutilation FGM in Kenya.
- Female genital mutilation FGM , also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision , [a] is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.
For the people of Kenya, recent global debates on the emotional and medical harm caused by female genital mutilation FGM , allied to arguments about the human rights of the women subjected to such acts, have a significant historical resonance.
This provoked a backlash, with thousands of Kikuyu Christians deserting the missions to found their own independent churches and schools in the early s. Taking as its starting-point the murder in of a female missionary with the African Inland Mission, the article explores the actions and attitudes of white women missionaries, revealing a subtle and complex picture of missionary views of African society and the process of Christian conversion, arguing that, as the circumcision crisis developed during , these women stood at the centre of the gathering storm, their experience emblematic of the emotional, cultural and political challenges in the circumcision debate.
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Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract For the people of Kenya, recent global debates on the emotional and medical harm caused by female genital mutilation FGM , allied to arguments about the human rights of the women subjected to such acts, have a significant historical resonance. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article.
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Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans ; removal of the inner labia ; and removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva.
In this last procedure, known as infibulation , a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid ; the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further for childbirth.
The practice is rooted in gender inequality , attempts to control women's sexuality , and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour and fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.
There have been international efforts since the s to persuade practitioners to abandon FGM, and it has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, although the laws are poorly enforced. Since the United Nations has called upon healthcare providers to stop performing all forms of the procedure, including reinfibulation after childbirth and symbolic "nicking" of the clitoral hood. Until the s FGM was widely known in English as female circumcision, implying an equivalence in severity with male circumcision.
In countries where FGM is common, the practice's many variants are reflected in dozens of terms, often alluding to purification. The surgical infibulation of women came to be known as pharaonic circumcision in Sudan, and as Sudanese circumcision in Egypt. The procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser cutter or exciseuse in the girls' homes, with or without anaesthesia. The cutter is usually an older woman, but in communities where the male barber has assumed the role of health worker he will also perform FGM.
A study in Ghana found that in four percent said they had not undergone FGM, but in said they had, while 11 percent switched in the other direction.
Type Ia [e] involves removal of the clitoral hood only. This is rarely performed alone. Type II excision is the complete or partial removal of the inner labia , with or without removal of the clitoral glans and outer labia. Type IIa is removal of the inner labia; Type IIb, removal of the clitoral glans and inner labia; and Type IIc, removal of the clitoral glans, inner and outer labia.
Excision in French can refer to any form of FGM. Type III infibulation or pharaonic circumcision , the "sewn closed" category, is the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The element of speed and surprise is vital and the circumciser immediately grabs the clitoris by pinching it between her nails aiming to amputate it with a slash. The organ is then shown to the senior female relatives of the child who will decide whether the amount that has been removed is satisfactory or whether more is to be cut off.
After the clitoris has been satisfactorily amputated Since the entire skin on the inner walls of the labia majora has to be removed all the way down to the perineum, this becomes a messy business. By now, the child is screaming, struggling, and bleeding profusely, which makes it difficult for the circumciser to hold with bare fingers and nails the slippery skin and parts that are to be cut or sutured together. Having ensured that sufficient tissue has been removed to allow the desired fusion of the skin, the circumciser pulls together the opposite sides of the labia majora, ensuring that the raw edges where the skin has been removed are well approximated.
The wound is now ready to be stitched or for thorns to be applied. If a needle and thread are being used, close tight sutures will be placed to ensure that a flap of skin covers the vulva and extends from the mons veneris to the perineum, and which, after the wound heals, will form a bridge of scar tissue that will totally occlude the vaginal introitus. The amputated parts might be placed in a pouch for the girl to wear.
To help the tissue bond, the girl's legs are tied together, often from hip to ankle; the bindings are usually loosened after a week and removed after two to six weeks. The vagina is opened for sexual intercourse, for the first time either by a midwife with a knife or by the woman's husband with his penis.
Reinfibulation can involve cutting the vagina again to restore the pinhole size of the first infibulation. This might be performed before marriage, and after childbirth, divorce and widowhood.
The penetration of the bride's infibulation takes anywhere from 3 or 4 days to several months. Some who are unable to penetrate their wives manage to get them pregnant in spite of the infibulation, and the woman's vaginal passage is then cut open to allow birth to take place.
Those men who do manage to penetrate their wives do so often, or perhaps always, with the help of the "little knife". This creates a tear which they gradually rip more and more until the opening is sufficient to admit the penis.
Type IV is "[a]ll other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes", including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. From the age of eight, girls are encouraged to stretch their inner labia using sticks and massage. Girls in Uganda are told they may have difficulty giving birth without stretched labia.
These were removed from the WHO's definition because of insufficient information about prevalence and consequences. Gishiri cutting involves cutting the vagina's front or back wall with a blade or penknife, performed in response to infertility, obstructed labour and other conditions. In a study by Nigerian physician Mairo Usman Mandara, over 30 percent of women with gishiri cuts were found to have vesicovaginal fistulae holes that allow urine to seep into the vagina.
FGM harms women's physical and emotional health throughout their lives. In the case of Type III, other factors include how small a hole was left for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, whether surgical thread was used instead of agave or acacia thorns, and whether the procedure was performed more than once for example, to close an opening regarded as too wide or re-open one too small. A systematic review of 56 studies suggested that over one in ten girls and women undergoing any form of FGM, including symbolic nicking of the clitoris Type IV , experience immediate complications, although the risks increased with Type III.
The review also suggested that there was under-reporting. The practitioners' use of shared instruments is thought to aid the transmission of hepatitis B , hepatitis C and HIV , although no epidemiological studies have shown this.
Late complications vary depending on the type of FGM. Urine may collect underneath the scar, leaving the area under the skin constantly wet, which can lead to infection and the formation of small stones. The opening is larger in women who are sexually active or have given birth by vaginal delivery, but the urethra opening may still be obstructed by scar tissue. Vesicovaginal or rectovaginal fistulae can develop holes that allow urine or faeces to seep into the vagina.
Complete obstruction of the vagina can result in hematocolpos and hematometra where the vagina and uterus fill with menstrual blood. FGM may place women at higher risk of problems during pregnancy and childbirth, which are more common with the more extensive FGM procedures.
Third-degree laceration tears , anal-sphincter damage and emergency caesarean section are more common in infibulated women. Neonatal mortality is increased. The estimate was based on a study conducted on 28, women attending delivery wards at 28 obstetric centres in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
The reasons for this were unclear, but may be connected to genital and urinary tract infections and the presence of scar tissue. According to the study, FGM was associated with an increased risk to the mother of damage to the perineum and excessive blood loss , as well as a need to resuscitate the baby, and stillbirth , perhaps because of a long second stage of labour.
According to a systematic review there is little high-quality information available on the psychological effects of FGM. Several small studies have concluded that women with FGM suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. One third reported reduced sexual feelings. Aid agencies define the prevalence of FGM as the percentage of the 15—49 age group that has experienced it.
Was any flesh or something removed from the genital area? Was your genital area sewn? Type I is the most common form in Egypt,  and in the southern parts of Nigeria. In Eritrea, for example, a survey in found that all Hedareb girls had been infibulated, compared with two percent of the Tigrinya , most of whom fell into the "cut, no flesh removed" category. FGM is mostly found in what Gerry Mackie called an "intriguingly contiguous" zone in Africa—east to west from Somalia to Senegal, and north to south from Egypt to Tanzania.
Over million women and girls are thought to be living with FGM in those 30 countries. The highest concentrations among the 15—49 age group are in Somalia 98 percent , Guinea 97 percent , Djibouti 93 percent , Egypt 91 percent and Sierra Leone 90 percent. The prevalence rate for the 0—11 group in Indonesia is 49 percent Prevalence figures for the 15—19 age group and younger show a downward trend. FGM is not invariably a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood, but is often performed on much younger children.
In half the countries for which national figures were available in —, most girls had been cut by age five. In Kenya, for example, the Kisi cut around age 10 and the Kamba at A country's national prevalence often reflects a high sub-national prevalence among certain ethnicities, rather than a widespread practice. For example, in the northeastern regions of Ethiopia and Kenya, which share a border with Somalia, the Somali people practise FGM at around the same rate as they do in Somalia.
Dahabo Musa, a Somali woman, described infibulation in a poem as the "three feminine sorrows": the procedure itself, the wedding night when the woman is cut open, then childbirth when she is cut again. Like FGM, footbinding was carried out on young girls, nearly universal where practised, tied to ideas about honour, chastity and appropriate marriage, and "supported and transmitted" by women.
FGM practitioners see the procedures as marking not only ethnic boundaries but also gender difference. According to this view, male circumcision defeminizes men while FGM demasculinizes women. African female symbolism revolves instead around the concept of the womb. In communities where infibulation is common, there is a preference for women's genitals to be smooth, dry and without odour, and both women and men may find the natural vulva repulsive.
Common reasons for FGM cited by women in surveys are social acceptance, religion, hygiene, preservation of virginity, marriageability and enhancement of male sexual pleasure. In Sudan in , 42 percent of women who had heard of FGM said the practice should continue. Against the argument that women willingly choose FGM for their daughters, UNICEF calls the practice a "self-enforcing social convention" to which families feel they must conform to avoid uncut daughters facing social exclusion.
The Zabarma girls would respond Ya, mutmura! A mutmara was a storage pit for grain that was continually opened and closed, like an infibulated woman. But despite throwing the insult back, the Zabarma girls would ask their mothers, "What's the matter?
Don't we have razor blades like the Arabs? Because of poor access to information, and because circumcisers downplay the causal connection, women may not associate the health consequences with the procedure. When informed of the causal relationship between FGM and ill health, Mackie wrote, the women broke down and wept. He argued that surveys taken before and after this sharing of information would show very different levels of support for FGM. There is no mention of FGM in the Bible.
In UNICEF identified 19 African countries in which at least 10 percent of Christian women and girls aged 15 to 49 had undergone FGM; [y] in Niger, 55 percent of Christian women and girls had experienced it, compared with two percent of their Muslim counterparts.
Judaism requires male circumcision but does not allow FGM. The practice's origins are unknown. Gerry Mackie has suggested that, because FGM's east-west, north-south distribution in Africa meets in Sudan, infibulation may have begun there with the Meroite civilization c. The spell was found on the sarcophagus of Sit-hedjhotep, now in the Egyptian Museum , and dates to Egypt's Middle Kingdom.
O'Rourke argues that ' m't probably refers instead to a menstruating woman. The examination of mummies has shown no evidence of FGM. Citing the Australian pathologist Grafton Elliot Smith , who examined hundreds of mummies in the early 20th century, Knight writes that the genital area may resemble Type III because during mummification the skin of the outer labia was pulled toward the anus to cover the pudendal cleft , possibly to prevent sexual violation.
It was similarly not possible to determine whether Types I or II had been performed, because soft tissues had deteriorated or been removed by the embalmers.
The Greek geographer Strabo c. The surgery is performed in this way: Have the girl sit on a chair while a muscled young man standing behind her places his arms below the girl's thighs. Have him separate and steady her legs and whole body. Standing in front and taking hold of the clitoris with a broad-mouthed forceps in his left hand, the surgeon stretches it outward, while with the right hand, he cuts it off at the point next to the pincers of the forceps.
It is proper to let a length remain from that cut off, about the size of the membrane that's between the nostrils, so as to take away the excess material only; as I have said, the part to be removed is at that point just above the pincers of the forceps.
Because the clitoris is a skinlike structure and stretches out excessively, do not cut off too much, as a urinary fistula may result from cutting such large growths too deeply. The genital area was then cleaned with a sponge, frankincense powder and wine or cold water, and wrapped in linen bandages dipped in vinegar, until the seventh day when calamine , rose petals, date pits, or a "genital powder made from baked clay" might be applied. Whatever the practice's origins, infibulation became linked to slavery.
Thus, Mackie argues, a "practice associated with shameful female slavery came to stand for honor". Gynaecologists in 19th-century Europe and the United States removed the clitoris to treat insanity and masturbation. Mary's Hospital , believed that masturbation, or "unnatural irritation" of the clitoris, caused hysteria , spinal irritation, fits, idiocy, mania and death.
Marion Sims followed Brown's work and in slit the neck of a woman's uterus and amputated her clitoris, "for the relief of the nervous or hysterical condition as recommended by Baker Brown". Later in the 19th century, A. Bloch, a surgeon in New Orleans, removed the clitoris of a two-year-old girl who was reportedly masturbating. Burt , a gynaecologist in Dayton, Ohio, performed non-standard repairs of episiotomies after childbirth, adding more stitches to make the vaginal opening smaller.
From until , he performed "love surgery" by cutting women's pubococcygeus muscle , repositioning the vagina and urethra, and removing the clitoral hood, thereby making their genital area more appropriate, in his view, for intercourse in the missionary position. Little knives in their sheaths That they may fight with the church, The time has come. Elders of the church When Kenyatta comes You will be given women's clothes And you will have to cook him his food.
An important ethnic marker, the practice was known by the Kikuyu , the country's main ethnic group, as irua for both girls and boys. It involved excision Type II for girls and removal of the foreskin for boys.
Unexcised Kikuyu women irugu were outcasts. Jomo Kenyatta , general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association and later Kenya's first prime minister, wrote in that, for the Kikuyu, the institution of FGM was the " conditio sine qua non of the whole teaching of tribal law, religion and morality".
No proper Kikuyu man or woman would marry or have sexual relations with someone who was not circumcised, he wrote. A woman's responsibilities toward the tribe began with her initiation. Her age and place within tribal history was traced to that day, and the group of girls with whom she was cut was named according to current events, an oral tradition that allowed the Kikuyu to track people and events going back hundreds of years.
Beginning with the CSM in , several missionary churches declared that FGM was prohibited for African Christians; the CSM announced that Africans practising it would be excommunicated, which resulted in hundreds leaving or being expelled. There was some opposition from Kenyan women themselves. Because of that the issue of circumcision should not be forced.
People are caught like sheep; one should be allowed to cut her own way of either agreeing to be circumcised or not without being dictated on one's own body. Elsewhere, support for the practice from women was strong. In in Meru, eastern Kenya, when the council of male elders the Njuri Nchecke announced a ban on FGM in , thousands of girls cut each other's genitals with razor blades over the next three years as a symbol of defiance.
The movement came to be known as Ngaitana "I will circumcise myself" , because to avoid naming their friends the girls said they had cut themselves. Historian Lynn Thomas described the episode as significant in the history of FGM because it made clear that its victims were also its perpetrators.
Infibulation was banned there in , but the law was unpopular and barely enforced. I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago.
In , Rose Oldfield Hayes, an American social scientist, became the first female academic to publish a detailed account of FGM, aided by her ability to discuss it directly with women in Sudan. Her article in American Ethnologist called it "female genital mutilation", rather than female circumcision, and brought it to wider academic attention. She estimated that ,, women in 20 African countries had experienced FGM.
The conference listed FGM as a form of violence against women , marking it as a human-rights violation, rather than a medical issue. Immigration spread the practice to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, all of which outlawed it entirely or restricted it to consenting adults. In the United States an estimated , women and girls had experienced FGM or were at risk as of Canada recognized FGM as a form of persecution in July , when it granted refugee status to Khadra Hassan Farah, who had fled Somalia to avoid her daughter being cut.
Canadian officials have expressed concern that a few thousand Canadian girls are at risk of "vacation cutting", whereby girls are taken overseas to undergo the procedure, but as of there were no firm figures. According to Colette Gallard, a family-planning counsellor, when FGM was first encountered in France, the reaction was that Westerners ought not to intervene.
It took the deaths of two girls in , one of them three months old, for that attitude to change. Around , women and girls living in England and Wales were born in countries where FGM is practised, as of Both men were acquitted in Anthropologists have accused FGM eradicationists of cultural colonialism , and have been criticized in turn for their moral relativism and failure to defend the idea of universal human rights.
Africans who object to the tone of FGM opposition risk appearing to defend the practice. The feminist theorist Obioma Nnaemeka , herself strongly opposed to FGM, argued in that renaming the practice female genital mutilation had introduced "a subtext of barbaric African and Muslim cultures and the West's relevance even indispensability in purging [it]". African feminists "take strong exception to the imperialist, racist and dehumanising infantilization of African women", she wrote in Examples include images of women's vulvas after FGM or girls undergoing the procedure.
The debate has highlighted a tension between anthropology and feminism, with the former's focus on tolerance and the latter's on equal rights for women. According to the anthropologist Christine Walley, a common position in anti-FGM literature has been to present African women as victims of false consciousness participating in their own oppression, a position promoted by feminists in the s and s, including Fran Hosken, Mary Daly and Hanny Lightfoot-Klein.
Nnaemeka argues that the crucial question, broader than FGM, is why the female body is subjected to so much "abuse and indignity", including in the West. Cosmetic procedures such as labiaplasty and clitoral hood reduction do fall within the WHO's definition of FGM, which aims to avoid loopholes, but the WHO notes that these elective practices are generally not regarded as FGM. Sweden, for example, has banned operations "on the outer female sexual organs with a view to mutilating them or bringing about some other permanent change in them, regardless of whether or not consent has been given for the operation".
The philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that a key concern with FGM is that it is mostly conducted on children using physical force. The distinction between social pressure and physical force is morally and legally salient, comparable to the distinction between seduction and rape.
She argues further that the literacy of women in practising countries is generally poorer than in developed nations, which reduces their ability to make informed choices. Several commentators maintain that children's rights are violated not only by FGM but also by the genital alteration of intersex children, who are born with anomalies that physicians choose to correct. Globally about 30 percent of males over 15 are circumcised; of these, about two-thirds are Muslim.
WHO : "[There is a] common tendency to describe Type I as removal of the prepuce, whereas this has not been documented as a traditional form of female genital mutilation. However, in some countries, medicalized female genital mutilation can include removal of the prepuce only Type Ia Thabet and Thabet, , but this form appears to be relatively rare Satti et al.
Almost all known forms of female genital mutilation that remove tissue from the clitoris also cut all or part of the clitoral glans itself.
Some are doing so for the first time, defying the sect's historic secrecy about cutting and taking a risk that they or relatives will be ostracized. Bettina Shell-Duncan : "[W]hen you talk to people on the ground, you also hear people talking about the idea that it's women's business. As in, it's for women to decide this. If we look at the data across Africa, the support for the practice is stronger among women than among men.
Book XVI, chapter 4 , Donaldson James, Susan 13 December ABC News. Gregorio, I. Freedman, Andrew L. May From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see FGM disambiguation. Road sign near Kapchorwa , Uganda , External images. Further information: Prevalence of female genital mutilation by country. Downward trend. Percentage of 15—49 group who have undergone FGM in 29 countries for which figures were available in .
Percentage of 0—14 group who have undergone FGM in 21 countries for which figures were available in . Kenyan FGM ceremony. Further information: Religious views on female genital mutilation. Spell Further information: Campaign against female genital mutilation in colonial Kenya. Denniston, et al eds. Further information: Female genital mutilation in the United States. Further information: Female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom.
Further information: Intersex medical interventions and Circumcision. The term 'female circumcision' has been rejected by international medical practitioners because it suggests the fallacious analogy to male circumcision In most countries, medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and certified midwives, are not widely involved in the practice.
Cut, no flesh removed describes a practice known as nicking or pricking, which currently is categorized as Type IV. And sewn closed corresponds to Type III, infibulation. National Public Radio. Dimension to Debate on Genital Mutilation". The New York Times. The Guardian. Also see Yasin et al. The Pulitzer Prizes. Archived from the original on 7 October Also see figure 6. Archived from the original on 26 August Cohen , 59—61 argues that Strabo conflated the Jews with the Egyptians.
Also see Barker-Benfield , Abusharaf, Rogaia Mustafa In Abusharaf, Rogaia Mustafa ed. Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Abdalla, Raqiya D. Ahmadu, Fuambai Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. Allen, Peter Lewis Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bagnol, Brigitte; Mariano, Esmeralda African Sexualities: A Reader. This section also applies in large part to other Kenyan societies, with the notable exception of the Luo and Turkana, who are alone among Kenya's main forty-odd tribes not to practice circumcision.
Of all the Kikuyu life stages, circumcision irua was and remains by far the most important, signifying not only a child's passage into adulthood, but a whole wealth of other socially significant meanings and assumptions of responsibility. For both boys and girls, initiation into adulthood - through circumcision or clitoridectomy - marks their admission into full membership of Kikuyu society, and was thus a momentous occasion, both socially and individually.
Through circumcision and the period of initiation and instruction that accompanied it, an individual became a full participant in society as a whole, beyond the scope of the village itura and their families. Their responsibilities, therefore, extended not just to their family group, but to the Kikuyu as a nation.
On the most basic level, the social consequence of a boy's circumcision meant that he would now become a warrior, and would spend several years in the service of the entire people to defend and protect, and occasionally attack neighbouring tribes. Uncircumcised, the boy - for he would remain a boy even if he lived to ninety years - would also be barred from getting married and raising children. For a girl, circumcision meant that she was able to bear children, and marriage was usually swift to follow.
It is thought that the system of circumcision was borrowed from Cushitic and Nilotic peoples by the early Thagicu, one of the ancestral groups of the Kikuyu and possibly the tenth of the 'full nine' clans mentioned in oral tradition.
The point to note here is that circumcision was adopted some five centuries ago. Before then, one presumes that it did not feature in proto-Kikuyu life. In all but a handful of Kenyan societies notably the Luo and the Turkana , male circumcision is widely practised, and has no stigma attached to it at all. There are no groups advocating for men's rights, and indeed circumcision is for most a much yearned-for, if slightly dreaded, event. The shame that surrounds a boy who flinches or cries during the cutting will remain with him throughout his life: to flinch is a sign that he is not as manly as his age mates, and cannot be trusted with the defence or government of his people.
Few, in consequence, fail the ordeal. This is in stark contrast to female circumcision also called 'female genital mutilation', or FGM , which over the last century and a half has attracted furious criticism and opposition not only from missionaries, the church and latterly Kenyan women's groups, but from people all over the world.
Contrary to a boy's circumcision, there are few taboos surrounding the behaviour of a girl during her clitoridectomy. She may scream and cry, she might even utter curses against her circumciser. And although she too will become an adult through the ordeal, she will not gain freedom in the same way that the boy gains the right to procreate and become a warrior. Instead, she becomes eligible for marriage, which is often swift to follow though unlike the common preconception, she will not be forced to have sex: a sometimes long period of convalescence follows circumcision, accompanied by her seclusion along with her age mates when she is instructed in the mores, rules and customs of society, and is taught her duties and responsibilities as a mature woman.
Outwardly a relatively simple physical act, circumcision is in fact of crucial social importance, with complex meanings that affect the entirety of society. On its most basic level, circumcision marks the passage of a child into adulthood. The cutting of a foreskin or clitoris marks the cutting away of childhood.
Psychologists and others variously ascribe all manner of additional interpretations to the act: it could be a breaking of innocence, or of purity; it is a cleansing; it marks the difference between rational man and animal-like childhood, and so on. Whatever the truth of these additional meanings, what is certain is that the responsibilities that accompany this rite of passage are extremely complex, and cannot simply be dismissed as being 'primitive' or 'barbaric' without a deeper understanding of their significance.
Circumcision symbolises a person's assumption of adult responsibilities - both social and cultural - and the individual's acceptance as a full member of the tribe. Among peoples who practice it, an uncircumcised person, no matter how old he or she might be, will generally be regarded as a child, or else will be seen as inferior or lacking. If a person who is not circumcised has children, the act is believed to anger both God and the spirits of the ancestors, and the whole community will suffer in consequence.
There would be a drought, for example, because someone who was not circumcised had made a child. Circumcision, therefore, was necessary for maintaining relations with ancestors and God.
In consequence, many societies - the Kikuyu included - have a taboo against an uncircumcised man or woman bearing children. If this occurs, the usual punishment is exile for both the mother and father, which nowadays takes the form of people heading off to Nairobi to fend on their own.
If a man, this is not so much of a problem, but if a woman, the city is certainly not a friendly place: I met many Kikuyu prostitutes propositioning supposedly well-heeled Westerners in Nairobi's bars. But the taboo against uncircumcised people applies not just individually, but across entire peoples: many Kikuyu, Maasai and other circumcising people cannot countenance the possibility that there may one day be a Luo president of Kenya, for example: along with the Turkana, the Luo do not circumcise, and so the prospect of a Luo president would be akin to Kenya being ruled by a child.
Much has been made of this recently, ever since the 'ethnic violence' set-in after the first multi-party elections were held in Traditionally, there was a circumcision ceremony for boys organised by age-sets of about five-year periods.
Although boys could be circumcised throughout that period, they would become part of the same age-set, and all the men in that circumcision group would take an age-set name.
Times in the history of Kikuyu society could be gauged by age-set names. Circumcision was traditionally a public affair, which only added to the anxiety - and determination - of the boys to pass the ordeal without showing the slightest trace of fear. The practice of circumcision is still followed, although is nowadays more likely to be performed in hospitals.
Traditionally, boys who underwent circumcision became warriors anake , although this institution is now defunct. As in so many societies all over the world, sex was seen as a weakness, both spiritual and physical. For this reason, junior warriors were barred from sexual relations, though in compensation they were also given a lot of food to make them strong.
Only senior warriors, who were preparing to leave warriorhood, were allowed to marry and raise children. Nonetheless, clitoridectomy is far from eradicated, and as long as the antagonistic attitude from outsiders against it prevails, it seems likely - somewhat perversely - that it will survive - for to attack clitoridectomy is, for many, an attack on their own society as a whole.
Among the Kikuyu, as among all the tribes which practice it, clitoridectomy marks a girl's transition from childhood to womanhood. With it comes the lifting of the taboo on pregnancy, and usually marriage is swift to follow. A sexual as well as a social act although the circumcision itself is done in private , the circumcision marks a woman's assumption of her female identity, allowing her both to procreate, and to take part in traditional rituals and traditional governing councils.
It is also the time when initiates are instructed in the rules and regulations of their society, and their responsibilities within it.
Rosenthal condemns female circumcision, a traditional practice common to many African and Arabic peoples, as "female mutilation" in "Female Genital Torture" column, Nov. The inspiration for Mr. He also calls for cutting grants and loans to governments that do not discourage the practice. His reasons for such measures are that the tradition is not only medically unhealthy but also solely designed to destroy the sexual pleasure of women.
He gives a long list of potential medical problems, ranging from sexual deprivation to infection. From the Western liberal tradition, and certainly from a feminist perspective, Mr. Rosenthal is correct. However, from the African viewpoint the practice can serve as an affirmation of the value of woman in traditional society.
This tradition has long been a source of conflict between Western and African values. This was convincingly demonstrated during the circumcision controversy that rocked Kenya from to An effort to eliminate the practice by the Rev. John Arthur of the Church of Scotland Mission led to the beginnings of cultural nationalism among the Kikuyu.
Arthur demanded that native Christians abandon the practice. As a doctor he saw the practice as unhealthy, and as a Christian he saw it as the work of the evil one. Female circumcision was, he stated, "entirely unnecessary. While some Kikuyu accepted these arguments, many, especially among the women of the tribe, rebelled. A number of skillfully written defenses resulted, the most famous of which is "Facing Mount Kenya" by Jomo Kenyatta.
While Kenyatta never saw the operation, his description of the festivities before and after the ritual is justly praised. The ceremony began with the "Matusimo" great dance on the day before the ritual. Then the girls walked to a sacred tree. Boys, who were circumcised on the same day, participated in many of the activities. Relatives and friends then sang songs. The dancing began and continued until after the sunlight failed. In the morning, the candidates bathed in a nearby stream, to be symbolically purified.
The females were then privately circumcised by an elder woman, known as a "moruithia. There is much controversy about how much actual cutting is performed. Kenyatta and others have argued that only the tip of the clitoris was removed. Arthur, who saw cases that required medical intervention for infection, argued that more of the genitals were removed. His testimony was corroborated by other British colonial medical officials. Apparently, in a few cases not only was a clitoridectomy performed, but also a labiadectomy.
There were even reports of elder women using their teeth to perform the ritual. Yet, whatever the degree of tissue removed, there is little doubt that for the girls it was a joyous occasion. The operation completed, a fee was provided by the young women, usually in the form of a cooked meal, to their moruithia. At this point, they became full members of the Kikuyu and were no longer considered girls.
The importance of the ceremony among traditional Kikuyu cannot be understated, for each girl showed by her act of courage that she was ready to be married. Of equal importance, she now became a member of an age-set. An age-set is a group of people of similar age who tend to act together in their society for the rest of their lives. To the Kikuyu, female circumcision is much more than a mere physical act. In Kenya, the circumcision controversy had important results.
Many Kikuyu abandoned the new Christian faith, rather than submit to Dr. Other members of the tribe formed their own religious bodies, which separated the essence of Christianity from other Western values the missionaries were attempting to inculcate. As a whole, the controversy is generally credited with beginning the emancipation of the Kikuyu, and thus Kenya, from the Europeans. The sentiments expressed long ago in Kenya are almost certainly shared by the peoples who practice the custom today.
To demand, as Mr. Rosenthal does, that economic aid be used to force a change in a tradition central to many Africans and Arabs is the height of ethnocentrism. A better approach would be for Western peoples to try to understand the importance of these traditions to those who practice them.
The West could encourage Africans to have the surgical part of the ceremony performed by competent medical practitioners. That would eliminate potential infection and restrict the extent of excision. This is being done in many African states. Such a policy would allow the West to uphold its values while avoiding the appearance of arrogance. Log In. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.
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