Sierra leonean american anthropologist fuambai ahmadu

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Sierra Leonean-American anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu, who underwent excision as part of her initiation into Bundu, the secret women’s society of the Kono people, has criticized the tendency of Western observers to view FGC as a reflection of women’s oppression by patriarchal societies. Ahmadu argues that most Kono women willingly perpetuate the ritual because they see it as a way to preserve female sources of power and authority, as well as promote characteristics such as strength, tenacity, endurance and fearlessness in young women. For many African ethnic groups, such as the Kono of Sierra Leone and the Dogon and Bamana of Mali, genital cutting reflects traditional beliefs about gender and duality. The clitoris is believed to be a male remnant that must be cut away to make a girl a complete woman. Similarly, the male foreskin is seen as a female remnant that must be removed to make a true man. The purpose of these operations is to create an unambiguous gender identity. The Mandinka see initiation as intimately connected to the physical act of circumcision, which, in turn, is closely related to Islam. Islam came early to West Africa and, in most places, mixed with traditional African animistic beliefs to create a syncretic form of the religion that is quite different from its more orthodox forms. The Koran specifies that men must be circumcised; for women, the connection to official Islamic doctrine is less clear, but according to Johnson’s research, most Mandinka women see the practice of female genital cutting in a similar way. “Women I have worked with have told me, ‘To be full Muslim persons, to be full Mandinka persons, full ethnic persons, we also have to be circumcised,’” Johnson says. “They’ve told me that for an uncircumcised woman, God doesn’t hear her prayers.” Hernlund adds, “There are a lot of people who will say that male and efmale circumcision is Islamic, but other aspects of the rituals are not Islamic. However, across Africa there are Islamic peoples who don’t practice female circumcision and there are non-Islamic people who do.”
For many African women, the practice is an essential part of womanhood. Ahmadu notes, “It is incumbent on mothers to initate their daughters properly, according to ancestral customs, in order for the latter to become legally recognized as persons with rights and responsibilities in society.” These complex cultural underpinnings have created a situation in which even women who say they are against the practice often perpetuate it. “Westerners have stomped in and demanded that Africans be for or against it,” says Hernlund, adding that most Gambians she has worked with are “profoundly ambivalent. They have mixed feelings. It’s a difficult issue.” Many women are caught between wanting to end the practice and not wanting their daughters to be the odd ones out.

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