September 7, 2016
In early days during white man’s rule in Kenya, Christianity had taken root in the country where there were changes in families’ lives as opposed to the former way of life passed on from their ancestors. One of the changes was the circumcision of girls which had been the normal way of life for most tribes.
In some families though, who have embraced Christianity, leaving out the circumcision was not easy due to the stigma associated. The families that didn’t have their girls circumcised were stigmatised, isolated, looked down upon and even had abuses hurled at them, on the way. So some of those Christians preferred to have it done secretly even sending their girls away to relatives who could do it secretly for them. Born to a family that was not Christian, though Christianity had some effect on the family, me and my sisters were expected to undergo the ritual as it was a way of fitting in the society and fulfilling the ancestral command or directive.
I did not go with my parents’ way of thinking and from the time I understood what was expected I made it clear that none of that would happen to me. I would be scared by the older women that the expected tribal leader to be president would command all the uncircumcised girls to be circumcised with blunt dirty weeding tools but this did not scare me.
Girls used to be circumcised just before going to intermediate school which used to be away from home. At this time a girl was now thought of or seen as an adult, and the male population felt that now the girls were adults and ready for sex, and as a result many girls became pregnant soon after circumcision or were married off instead of continuing with education.
I stuck to my decision, in spite of a lot of persuasion done by my mother and relatives. Preparations for the day were about a week or two of evening singing and dancing at the homes of the candidates by the villagers, the shavings of hairs in the evening before. All these I refused, and would tell the singers to go away from our homestead as I was not going to be a candidate.
The night before my mother became very desperate and she planned to tell me a lie, that made me change my mind , that my father had said if I refused, then all the girls in my family including me would not be educated. I loved school and was very bright and couldn’t imagine not continuing with education.
I gave in at the last minute and was hurriedly prepared, shaved, and the ‘after clothes’ sought for me, and the person to be my mentor.
I cried afterwards for about a week and would not talk to anyone and I had to be “counselled” by the close elder women to stop crying.
After some time later, I came to know that my mother had made up the story to make me consent, and not my father. She told me if I had not accepted, our family would have been isolated and looked down upon by the villagers, and life would have been unbearable for us.
I felt very hurt and betrayed by my own mother, and felt like I couldn’t forgive her. I therefore told her that all the girls – my sisters that followed me – were not going to undergo the ritual, and I was ready to stand for them even against my father. I talked to the girls who at this time respected me as the older sister who used to bring them clothes and shoes and told them whoever accepted the ritual I would not be friendly to them, and they would never be my bridesmaids when I got married (I was still young but all girls looked to a time they would get married, and by now I was a Christian and knew that I would have a church wedding when the time came).
All my sisters but one (my immediate follower) took my advice, and my parents never argued with me about it. They later all got married with no problems, but by then we had relocated to a different area.
This ritual had a negative effect on the lives of girls involved in that:
1. Soon after, its like the men felt now these girls are ready, grown up and available for sex and many became pregnant, discontinued school, and got married or continued to have more children with no marriage (single mothers).
2. Women who are circumcised have problems at delivery and have to have a cut for the baby to be delivered and when delivering at home, they had risks of bleeding due to tears during delivery.
3. This encouraged polygamy as men felt that women who had several deliveries were no longer sexually attractive due to being ‘wide’ as a result of unsutured tears. Many men those days had two or three wives or had concubines.
There was hatred between tribes who had girls circumcised and those who didn’t – some men also, and this has continued to present time and has infiltrated in political areas. These tribes would hardly inter-marry, and if a circumcised girl got married to the uncircumcised man, she would be ostracised and would be treated as an outcast.