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Friday, August 5, 2011

Why the Sabiny are gritty to female circumcision

July 30, 2011
Daily Monitor
David Mafabi

Changing the life style of the people living in Kween, Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts at the slopes of Mt Elgon in order to end the traditional Female Genital Mutilation FGM is proving a headache to local leadership in the region.

Although like United Nations health experts, the district leadership is calling for stronger commitments from the local people to end the FGM in bid to restore the dignity of the girl-child, many traditionalist are not ready to drop the practice.

As I approach Chesmat village in Kapyoyon sub-county in Kween district, a young girl Ms Sarah Chelimo, 15, leads a group of girls in a traditional circumcision song in Kupsabiny.

“Tombo chemuto owo! tombo chemuto owo! Mariwey, tombo chemuto! tumbo chemuto owo. Chebo namukweza owo! nte Kachoo, chepo namukweza, tombo chemuto owo! Abarojii kiketya, abaroji kiketya na aboraji kiketya, sande simburi, tomo chemuto owo.” (I am not circumcised, here I’m from Mariwey, daughter of Namukweza, I have agreed to take circumcision, pave way for me, and my surgeon is Sande Simbura) This song is sung by young girls intending to undergo FGM soon.

Although I was surprised when I heard this from these girls given the fact that FGM is now prohibited, I stood still, listened to the song, looked at the young girls, I wanted to speak back but an inner voice restrained me when I saw an old woman amongst them guiding them in dancing.

The looks on their faces left no doubt in my mind that these girls are determined to undergo FGM come next year because they are prepared.

This experience illustrates how many Sabiny are determined to take FGM next year despite President Museveni approving the law prohibiting the practice and describing FGM as crude, outdated and an infringement on the rights of the girl-child in April 2010.

In the villages of Kapsarur, Kireteyi, Riwo, Kaptererwo, Chesmat, Kameti, Tulem, Nyalit, Binyinyiny and Chesower amongst the people who are still stuck in the tradition, amongst the illiterate’s preparations are in full gear sending fears that the local people might never drop FGM.

Why the persistence

Traditionalists argue that FGM is apart of their culture that makes them distinct from other tribes. It initiates girls into womanhood, shapes the morality of women during marriage and above all that it is their livelihood as they are paid for mutilating the girls. Kokop Cherop, a traditional surgeon, says that circumcising girls is the only means of living she has got which enables her to educate her children. “I have been circumcising since the age of 20 and from this I have educated my children; it’s a means of survival. So when someone talks about ending it, I just laugh it off,” 67 year Cherop said.

According to the district leadership in Kween, the changing attitude of the people who are deeply rooted in the tradition and look at it as a source of income for sustaining their families.

Nelson Chelimo an elder from Kween and Former LCV for Kapchorwa said, “Sensitisation of the masses against FGM has not yielded enough results and even the law has not changed anything in our villages.” Chelimo’s fears are not unfounded. The traditional Sabiny have in the past resisted dropping FGM, which they urge is a practice that gives diginity to the traditional Sabiny woman.

Ignorance of the law

Bukwo district population officer and FGM researcher, Simon Alere says the biggest population living in the rural remote areas of Kabei, Bukwo parts of Suam, Chesower (Bukwo) and Kwanyiny, Benet, where the culture originated and where the people value the practice FGM so much have no information about the law.