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KIMINTA

Kiminta

A Maasai’s Fight
against Female Genital Mutilation

 

Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin

 

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 know- ledge. 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 evade the 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 – was resisted. At times, these constant comparisons to the ways of life now slowly invading our domain made us feel that we were bet- ter 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.

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From CHAPTER 1

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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.

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 storytelling 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.

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Kiminta Cover Page

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Actor Dorothea Hagena, Kiminta Maria, & Tobe Levin in Hamburg, June 2019

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Actor Dorothea Hagena, Kiminta Maria, & Tobe Levin in Hamburg, June 2019