In Kiminta, a Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation, co-authored by Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin, you will meet an expert partisan of genital integrity, bold in speaking out for excised girls. A Maasai subjected to female genital mutilation, Kiminta tells her personal story to encourage abandonment of the harmful tradition. Now resident in Germany, she espouses a human rights position, arguing for government accountability and application of international conventions to stop the disability and pain in her homeland, Kenya. Her memoir is amplified by source material, making the book suitable for classroom use.
An EXCERPT from the book
From the start, Kiminta makes her opposition clear but also addresses readers whose limited familiarity with her culture challenges their understanding of the issue’s complexity. Yes, Kiminta is the first to agree, amputation of girls’ genitalia is “horrible …
no one seemed to care about our feelings.” But then, why the seemingly widespread complicity? Why, in other words, is the harmful tradition so tenacious? These questions and others are addressed in the following passage.
I am a Maasai, and I was subjected to female genital mutilation.
Although commonly called “circumcision” by people not (yet) ready to abandon the practice, the rite involves slicing off parts of the visible female genitalia or otherwise injuring sexual organs for reasons other than malignancy, malformation or illness. Not medically prescribed, the ‘surgery’ answers cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic mandates. Recent reports observe a shift – minor among the Maasai — towards medicalization of the process, now increasingly offered by trained personnel ostensibly to limit side effects and pain. But in case you are tempted to smile, this is not a positive development and is, in fact, strongly opposed by, among others, the Inter-African Committee.1
A long-standing cultural practice, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not limited to my community but prevails equally in other pastoral ethnic groups. Although girls between four and ten are its most frequent victims, it takes place at any age from infancy through adolescence. Although thirteen to sixteen years had been preferred where I grew up, now, to avoid detection by authorities, clitoridectomy is often performed on babies.
As children, we were meant to believe that FGM is a ‘good tradition’. This would be elaborated to us by the old women and grandparents during evening story-telling where values and morals were imparted. Then we also learned that the smooth flow of a girl’s whole life depended entirely upon her undergoing FGM so that refusing became as unthinkable as the dire future predicted for the child left unshorn. Indeed, no one ever talked about what could go wrong – and certainly not the extreme pain that segues into torture. Instead everything was meant to encourage us to accept the knife, abandoning resistance or fear. And so we, too, celebrated these amputations, viewing them as bestowing on initiates increased respect and enhanced status. Showered with numerous gifts, the graduate, no longer a child, would have become a woman and an asset to the group.
Festivities for kids
During the ceremonies, we young children would be allowed to eat, feast and dance to the traditional jig whose text lauded and praised the courageous who have just been cut. Ironically, beforehand, we were never permitted anywhere near the ‘circumcision’ rooms where screams would surely have frightened us away. Nor were we allowed to visit the victims. Only after they had healed would we see them again. Otherwise, we would have known how inhumanely they had been treated. In fact, the older girls would be isolated on a different homestead far from uncircumcised children, to remain there until their bodies had mended and resumed normal function. To limit our interactions, the elders warned us that because these girls had now been turned into ‘adults’, they had become off limits to us kids. We were forbidden to mingle or play with them.
For you see, the ‘circumcised’ now belonged to a different, advanced ‘age set’. Only after we too had confronted the razor would we be permitted to fool around, hang out, or take care of chores together. Our elders told us that girls who have been ‘circumcised’ now had a special ‘status’ and deserved to be treated differently — better than the way we were treated. During recovery, they were prepared special meals, treats also promised to us once we had become candidates ourselves. Of course, this made us jealous. The favor showered on that season’s ‘chosen’ made every child long for the blade.
All these efforts that shielded us from the harsh realities of the procedure pushed us to admire and even desire it. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the elevated social status that came with it?
To understand the psychology here, you must be aware that, as kids, we were systematically humiliated in ways I now know to have gone against children’s rights. We were deceived by all means possible, tricked into loving a so-called ‘good practice’ because of its artificial ‘positive’ change. No one ever mentioned long-term negative effects. Only afterward did reality dawn on me, and I realized that, for the girl child, adverse consequences far outweigh anything good.
Whilst an adult is free to submit herself to the ritual, a child without formed judgment never ‘consents’. She simply undergoes the mutilation (which in this case is irrevocable) while she is totally vulnerable.
TABLE OF CONTENTS ° Preface by Maria Kiminta ° Kiminta, a Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. ° “Defining Womanhood as Pain: On FGM” (guest poem) by Airyn Lentija-Sloan ° The Sourcebook ° “Myths of the Maasai: FGM Engagement, Postcolonial Lens” by Noel Ciqi Duan ° “FGM amongst the Maasai in Kenya” by Equality Now Nairobi via IRIN News ° “The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 of Kenya: Challenges Facing its Implementation in Kajiado Central Sub-County, Kenya”* by Geofrey Towett, Peter Gutwa Oino, and Audrey Matere ° “Reflections on Kiminta’s Tale” by Valentine Nkoyo ° “Critique of Anthr/apologists observing a Maasai rite” by Tobe Levin ° “Afterword” by Maria Kiminta ° Notes on Contributors
*With gratitude to the International Journal of Innovation and Scientific Research. This chapter is an excerpted adaptation, condensed and edited for style, used here under provisions applying to an “open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.” Proper citation accompanies the chapter.