Alternative Right of Passage – Olkiramatian Magadi Ceremony

August 2016

Female Genital Mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

magadi-ceremony01On the 24-26th of August this year, our Pokot girls, sponsored by the Helen Valverde Scholarship Program, joined a group of over 300 teenagers in the town of Magadi, in a village known as Olkiramatian, to participate in an Alternative Right of Passage Ceremony. The girls participated in a two-day workshop where experts on the topic of female reproductive health taught them about the extreme dangers of FGM.

magadi-ceremony02Magadi is home to a large number of the Masai community. The Masai are a Nilotic ethnic group from Southern Kenya. They are a nomadic warrior tribe known for their rich culture and love for their animals which are basically comprised of goats and cows. The Masai depend on their cattle for meat, milk and blood- the main components of their diet.  They do not have need for food grown by other communities; instead, the Masai are very focused on maintaining their own culture. They are one of the rare tribes that has defied modern culture and retained their traditional way of life.

On the flip side, the Masai are amongst the communities that practice FGM.  The cohesive strength of the Masai culture makes it resistant to change, especially to deeply ingrained traditions, like the practice of FGM. The Masai believe that a girl who is not cut is not fit for marriage.  The force that drives this thinking is that after being cut the girls will refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse.  The Masai believe that once a girl is cut, she will preserve the honor of the Masai society by staying pure. The aim of ‘the cut’ in the Masai community is to stop the female from being promiscuous.

The Masai practice Type 1 of FGM which involves the removal of the clitoral hood and all or part of the clitoris. This procedure is known as clitoridectomy.

The Alternative Right of passage has been designed to spare the girls the horrific, damaging aspects of ‘the cut’ by providing an educational and ‘symbolic’ passage into adulthood.

magadi-ceremony03The girls participate in a training session where they are educated about the dangers of FGM which include severe bleeding, infection due to poor sanitary conditions, risk of contracting HIV/AIDS (due to sharing of the blades and knives used to perform the cut), as well as complications during childbirth which include fistula and stillbirths.  Too often, even death occurs.

The girls had a lot to learn from the different facilitators present at the workshop. The Valvisions Foundation girls also enjoyed the dances and seeing the beautiful beadwork that the Masai girls are famous for making.

The Graduation Ceremony was the highlight of the workshop.  The girls, all adorned in their traditional attire, met early in the morning as the sun rose. They danced and sang while heading to the traditional kraal where the elders from the community were waiting to bless them. In the kraal were goats. The goats are a very important aspect of the Masai ceremony. The Masai believe that when one makes an oath in the presence of their goats, that oath is binding and cannot be broken. When the girls are blessed in the presence of the goats, it is, therefore, a promise that they will not be cut.  An oath to the goats is iron clad; no one will violate that oath.

magadi-ceremony04The girls make a circle around the goats and kneel on the ground as the elders come forward, to pour milk (from a gourd) on their heads to bless them. Once this ritual is complete, the girls stand and dance around the goats until the elders allow them to leave the kraal. They have been circumcised in the mind, but not on the body. The girls dance all the way back to their homes where they are received by their mothers and older women as new initiates. The girls are given gifts of bead necklaces, arm and ankle bracelets, and beautiful shawls mostly in red and black colors, the traditional colors of the Masai.

From this time forward, the girls become anti-FGM champions responsible for speaking up vehemently to their peers and to their communities, in general, about the need to turn away from the ancient and barbaric practice of FGM and to report to the authorities if they feel threatened or aware that the practice is being continued.

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