In What Will My Mother Say? a memoir and ethnography, Dympna Ugwu-Oju, having left for the U.S. after the war in Biafra, describes how “a tribal African girl comes of age in America” by confronting a raft of contradictions challenging motherhood, girl- and womanhood. Arcing among conflicted definitions of gender, all justified as potentially enhancing a woman’s life – such as chastity, marriage, and motherhood – the narrator judges some prescribed behaviors as incompatible with equal rights, mental health, and national development. Emblematic of the driving themes, the opening chapter features an eleven-year-old romping with her brothers on the living room floor; her emigré father isn’t pleased and berates her, not for wrestling but for neglecting chores. When asked why she has more to do at home than her brothers, he offers the essentialist response. “Because they’re boys and you’re a girl, and it’s time you learned that.” Surprised by her own sororal partiality, mother Dympna – acutely aware of traditional norms –, defends her daughter Delia. “This is California, not Nigeria,” she reminds her husband. “She’s an American child … [and] girl or not, she’s as able as anyone else to accomplish whatever she wants” (3).
Over-optimistic? Perhaps, but too many girls in the world face a barrage of obstacles to empowerment. The Day of the Girl, October 10th, initiated by Plan International a decade ago and passed as a Resolution by the UN in 2011, encourages individuals and institutions concerned with girls’ welfare to bring to public awareness the disadvantages they face. For instance, we read in Wikipedia, in 2014, “more than 62 million girls around the world had no access to education.” Moreover, 5 to 14-year-old girls spend ca. 160 million hours more on household chores than their male agemates do. One in four girls is married before age 18, and an unconscionable number is subjected to female genital mutilation.
For the Day of the Girl in 2020, UnCUT/VOICES Press gives the floor to Kiminta, who, together with Tobe Levin created a memoir and sourcebook whose purpose echoes that of the Girls’ Day founders, describing an egregious wrong in the hope of increasing public and political will to correct it.
Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin with Photos by Britta Radike. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. Memoir and Sourcebook. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES, 2015.
PREFACE by Maria Kiminta
Joy sat down with me when I first conceived of writing this book. Motivated by my own need for answers, I knew that others, too, wanted broader knowledge. Like me, they would welcome the chance to move beyond the static information of the past. And even if immediate success eluded me (would I find a publisher? would my writing hit the mark?), communicating what I had learned, I was bold enough to think, could alter African culture, both in the Diaspora, –including where I live, in Germany–, and in Africa. For traditions responsible for FGM and the risk it poses to girls’ health are cultural, and therefore stubborn, but culture and destiny can change. Written and spoken words, sincerity and conscientious action can realize African people’s aspirations for their children.
If coming generations are to become innovative, resourceful leaders, they need role models. I dared to use my education to become such a leader, at least insofar as memoir reaches out, explaining in this text which fixed beliefs permit the use of razors against girls and why my desire to see those girls escape the shadow of those blades can be realized after all.
When I was growing up in Kenya, I had a single option, to become someone’s wife. It was drilled into me that we are Maasai (or, speaking for my friends, Kikuyu) and, even if we didn’t brew traditional beer like other Maasai, we were still a people apart. The past remained present and the present – its encroachments – were resisted. At times, these constant comparisons to the ways of life now slowly invading our domain made us feel that we were better than, although often enough less than, those practicing another culture.
But the other culture’s benefits –computers, cures for diseases, kidney transplants –have made me thankful, as an African woman, for the new technology, and gratitude trusts in change.
It is the source of my yearning to liberate children, above all, from the emotional and cultural bondage that molded us and affected our whole lives. I would say to my people, please focus on today and let go of the past. Choose to alter – culture and yourselves.
Rooted as it is in the past, FGM must end.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface by Maria Kiminta
Kiminta, Maasai. Speaking Out against FGM.
“Defining Womanhood as Pain: On FGM” (guest poem) by Airyn Lentija-Sloan
“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.