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Female Circumscision : The Rite of Passage....

The drums rolled as the young dancers jumped up and down twisting their young bodies. The birds joined in the chorus as if aware of what was going to take place in the next few minutes. It was a wet and cool morning as it had rained heavily the previous night and the sun was taking its time in awaking. Mothers both young and old had wrapped themselves in brightly colored wrappers with their young ones tightly strapped to their backs as they danced separately from the young girls in circles.

Amidst the cold, I sat sweating, in the large airy hut with twenty other girls of about my age
Beautifully adorned. Today was a joyous day for our mothers and village, as it was the day we would become women, the day we would be initiated into the sacred institution of womanhood, which marked the beginning of the lessons in the art of pleasing our future husbands and finally , the day we would be circumcised. According to the older women, on this day, the rose that stoked the embers of promiscuity and indecent desires would be taken out and we would become modest women.

I still remember vividly that my sister was circumcised the year before, like it was yesterday.
We the younger girls had danced and cheered as old “Iya” with her shaky hands and unsterilized razor blade had walked towards the hut, where the girls sat waiting. We were not supposed to see but I had peeped and not missed the sight of my sister being held down firmly by two older women and her legs spread. Old Iya had busied herself between her legs. I would never forget the scream from my sisters young lungs as the old woman had lifted her bloody hands and dipping them into the bowl beside her, rubbed the dark contents of the bowl on the wound she had created. After which she tied my sisters legs tightly together with a strong twine, before placing her on a raffia mat and left to bleed and then heal. As mothers amidst the screams of their daughters let out cries of joy and we novices danced to the success of the rite of passage.

The smell of stale blood still lingers in my nostrils as I helped my mother nurse my sister back to health. The bleeding of most of the girls had stopped after a few days except one. Perhaps old Iya had made a mistake and cut her too deep, but the women had said she was a weakling and that she would never please any husband. She had died because she had never stopped bleeding. Only the “strong” ones had healed and danced. My sister had survived but she had never fully recovered. After her first baby , she could not control her urine any more .Her husband had sent her away because he said she stank.

Today I sit trembling with other girls my age, wondering what my fate would be for I know no better. I want to be a woman too but do I have to endure such pain before I become one? I can not say or tell as I look around the hut. I can see silent questions in their eyes and the expressions on their faces as we wait. Who are we to question the tradition of our forefathers?

The thatched door opens as the women step in letting the sun in as Old Iya finally steps in with her hands shaking as she lifts her unsterilized blade. They have come for us……


jadefrank's picture

Rite of passage

Hi Ooluus,

This is such a vivid and emotional account of the traditional rite of passage for women in your area. I cannot imagine the confusion, pain and terror that accompanies this ritual for so many young women. Thank you for sharing this and for painting such a vivid picture. What is the fate for young women like Iya? Is there a movement to end this tradition?

Warm regards,

OOLUSS's picture


Hi Jade,

Thanks for ur nice comments. The truth about Female genital cutting in Africa is that the intention was originally not negative. It was actually supposed to act as a check on morallity to curb promiscuity in young women. But over the years this turned out not to be so as the women doing the cutting are not trained medical practitioners and do not used sterilized blades and all.It is now a criminal act and has been banned. Women like Iya are also traditional midwives, at present they are being educated on how to take safer deliveries and stop female genital cutting.

Take care,


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