The women happily clapped and danced as they sang the traditional emuratta songs. They had been at it for about an hour, while encircling the three girls standing on the doorway of one of the huts .The girls’ heads had been fully shaved the day before. The Oloibon and the elders had washed the girls’ heads with fresh cow’s milk and spat on their forehead as a sign of blessings. The elder women had woken the girls up in the wee hours of the morning to adorn them with the traditional Maasai jewels and mark their heads with okra.
Among the three girls was Taipei, the only daughter of the Oloibon. She stood seemingly indifferent to the frenzy going on around her. She held a piercing wise-beyond-her-years gaze in her eyes. She was shivering not from the chilly morning wind, but from the fear, anger and desperation she felt brewing deep inside her. She needed to escape and save herself, but she had not been able to find a chance to run. Her every move was watched and scrutinised by her father and stepmother. Her stepmother was the worst. If there was a contest for evil malicious stepmoms she had no doubt that her stepmom would win it.
The hut’s door slowly opened and the girls were led in. It was a small, poorly lit hut. On the left corner, three dry cow skins were laid on the floor. On the right corner stood a small round three–legged stool, beautifully decorated with blue and red Maasai beads. An old woman shoved the girls towards the direction of the cow hides and ordered them to sit, each on her own hide.
Two young girls, Soila and Naserian, who had been circumcised about a year ago, got into the hut and sat alongside Taipei. They tried to avoid any eye contact with the girls who were just about to go under the knife. Taipei tried to talk to them, but they acted like they did not hear her pleas for freedom. In desperation, Taipei got up and tried to make a run for the door but they held her down. Soila began condemning her,’’ Stupid girl, don’t you know that you are about to be embraced into womanhood, why are you being such a coward? Who is going to marry an uncircumcised girl?’ Taipei knew better than to answer that. It suddenly dawned on her that her fate was sealed for now. It felt like the walls were closing in on her, she couldn’t breathe. Her nightmare was unfolding right before her eyes. She was backed against a wall and the fiend was coming to circumcise her, but she would rather be damned than let her parents marry her off to that old geezer who had paid five cows as her dowry. She had too much ambition to be the fourth wife of a fifty-year-old man. She couldn’t believe that her total worth amounted to just five cows. She didn’t know whether to pity herself or her father for he didn’t know the true worth of his daughter.
Her thoughts were brought back by the entrance of an old woman; in her hand she held a crude knife. Behind her was a young girl of about nine years who brandished a medium sized flashlight. Taipei closed her eyes and swallowed hard, it was dooms time now. Tears slowly began streaming down her cheeks. She was a slave to her culture. Her mother had tried to change the old retrogressive practices of her community but to no avail. The community saw her as a threat and her father saw her as a source of shame. She was shunned from the community and her father had married another wife in her place. Her father, as the main spiritual leader, was expected to uphold the culture and ensure that every aspect of it was followed to the letter. He had been hugely disgraced by his wife’s action, but he had been able to redeem himself in the eyes of the elders and the community at large by shunning his stubborn wife.
Her mother had still managed to find a way to see her. She would meet her by the rocks near the old river and she would teach Taipei how to read and write. Taipei was fascinated by the world she read about in the books. It all seemed far-fetched, such a fairytale. She felt relieved that there was a world bigger than her emanyatta. She had always felt that she didn’t belong, as if something was amiss. When she finally learnt to read and write, she began to understand that she had bigger ambitions for herself than she had ever imagined. It was like her eyes were finally opened, she was no longer stumbling blindly through life.
It’s not that she hated her culture and community; she just wanted more for the women and girls. She did enjoy going to the river with the other girls, she enjoyed the ceremonies held by her father to thank the ancestors, and the men would jump so high as if to touch the sky and the women would shake their bejewelled necks. It was always such a sight to behold. She enjoyed the rare opportunities she got to graze the cattle since that was considered more of a boy’s job. She just wanted some of the oppressive cultures to be abandoned. She wanted to be seen and heard, to be more than just a cook, cleaner, someone to warm a man’s bed and bear him children. Her community needed to see girls as more than just a source of wealth. They did not understand there was more to a woman.
Her mother had tried, but sadly she died before her time. She had died trying to save Taipei from her father. They had planned to escape to the nearest town to find shelter in a missionary school, but her father had found out. To say all hell broke loose that day is an understatement. They were half way on their escape journey, when they ran into the morans who had been sent after them. The Maasai soldiers beat her mom to just half an inch of death before abandoning her there as a meal for the lions. It was common for Maasai women to die or get serious injuries from domestic violence. Once, her aunt had been clubbed so hard by her husband; her body looked like a hill and valley landscape.
Taipei could still vividly remember her mother’s screams as they dragged her away. She remembered her mother’s plea to let her daughter go. The morans had taken her back home, where her angry father gave her the beating of her life. Blows after blows, kicks after kicks. For a moment, she had thought he would kill her and she had welcomed the idea. She saw no point in living anymore, especially in a world so cruel that it had taken her mother from her at a tender age of twelve. She no longer had someone to lean on. Ironically, she felt alone, yet she was always surrounded by family. Weeks after her recovery, her father, under the influence of her stepmother had made sure that she was watched like a hawk.
She was not to leave the manyatta; a prisoner in her own home. She was kept busy with a load of house chores that never seemed to end. Every night, her stepmother would give her a lecture on how she was an embarrassment just like her mother. She would mock and torment her, always seeming to derive great pleasure from putting her down. Most of the nights, she would cry herself to sleep. Thoughts of suicide would constantly cross her mind, but she would remember her promise to her mother to make something of herself.
Even in her last moments, her mother saw a glimmer of hope for the women of her community. “Promise me you will find a way to help my cause; you have to fight for the young girls who want more,’’ she repeatedly said. Taipei did her best to reassure her mother. It wasn’t what her mother said, it was how her eyes bore in her as if desperately pleading, imploring her soul to fight all her doubt and rise to the call. It was the last memory she had of her mother.
On this day, as Naserian and Soila forcefully held her legs widely apart and the young child directed the flashlight beam on her genitalia, she couldn’t help, but feel like a failure. She felt exposed and vulnerable, so weak from her tormenting thoughts, yet she still tried to fight to be freed. She pushed and twisted, but they held her firmly down and in place. The old woman sat on the three-legged stool, sharpening her crude knife with a stone laughing in jest at her efforts to release herself. After some few minutes, the knife was ready and the woman rose from the stool and kneeled before Taipei’s spread legs.
It was so cold, but they still poured cold water on her so as to numb her. She had tried to harden herself, but that did little to prepare her for the pain. She screamed and writhed in pain. She begged for her to stop, she told her she was dying, she called on the spirits of her mother and all the women who had died from circumcision to come to her defense, but the woman still cut, unperturbed . She prayed like never before, she swore, she cursed, she even pleaded mercy, but none was shown to her. She had never thought that such a level of pain could be experienced by a human being. It fully encompassed her, almost making her crazy. It got too much too bear, she passed out.
She awoke to the highly disturbing screams of the third girl. She felt helpless and she loudly wept for herself and for the other girls. Blood trickled down the hide. She had never seen such a large pool of blood before. She could barely move, so she just lay there crying in pain. Naserian began cleaning her wound with cow’s urine and smothering it with cow’s fat. She had lost so much blood; she passed out again. Outside, the celebration continued, ululations rang in the air, gifts were handed to the girls’ fathers; their little girls were now women.
In the following days, the girls were fed on animal blood, cow’s milk and meat so as to help them regain their health. On the fifth day, one of the girls had developed an infection, it escalated very quickly and not even the traditional herbs could help. She passed away two days later.
No one took a moment to muse over the unnecessary careless death of a young girl yet to experience the simple joys of life as a woman. Taipei thought of all the promise the young girl had. She tried to understand why they had to go through all the pain and anguish.
Was she more woman now that she had been cut? She felt less of a woman; they had taken away part of what made her a woman. They had just scrapped it off, left her exposed and in pain. Why the rush to embrace girls her age to womanhood? Was it just to marry them to any man who was willing to pay dowry? Was that all womanhood meant? It was sad that the Maasai men would go to war for their cows, but would endanger their girls’ lives without a second thought. Were they not more worthy than the cows?
This article was written by CHRISTINE SIAMANTA.