ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVES
About my experience during research and shooting of my KU film class graduation film:
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) circumcision is done in different ways. Some tribes cut the clitoris only, (this is known as minor circumcision). Some cut the clitoris and the ‘twin towers’ leaving a plain hole (major circumcision). As if this is not enough punishment, after removing each and everything, some tribes stitch the wound with thorns! leaving a small space to pass urine. This is to make sure that a girl remains a virgin until she is married, while some tribes apply stinging neetle (itching herbs) to the clitoris.
FGM- is practiced out in some parts of Kenya like the Masaai, Meru, Pokot and Kuria. Some practice major circumcision while others minor. I had always wanted to tell this story and the opportunity finally came when I joined film class. This is because I wanted people to understand what female circumcision really is and to sensitize young girls who think circumcision is the only way to be accepted in the society.
I carried out my research in Kuria Constituency, Western Nyanza, in Kenya, where I come from. Circumcision takes place every even year and has been there for many centuries.
I interviewed more than 30 people and got both positive and negative responses. It was
not easy for me to convince them that this was for my graduation film. They did not know
what film making is. I had to give them examples of Nigerian films films so that they have
rough ideas of what films are. Those who didn’t understand, in layman’s language, I told
them that I was going to take photos. The first question these people asked me was
whether I was anti-FGM. Some people did not want to help me, even after spending more
than 30 minutes explaining that this was going to be a graduation film. Some would tell
me that it was not easy for them to help me in any way; while some told me to meet them
after a few days only to tell me that they had changed their minds. However much I was
disappointed, I had to look for more people.
One of my sisters even told me to write down the questions and then answer them on my
During research, I found out that some years back, a girl who could become pregnant
before she was circumcised was thrown into a different clan. Her family would shave their
hair as a sign that she was dead. Major circumcision was practiced at that time.
Agnes 75 years, one of the protagonist said, “the circumciser used to cut deeper. It was
difficult to walk. We would sleep with legs wide spread so that the wound would not stick
together. We used to wash our wounds in a waterfall-like place where we would spread
our legs wide so that the water would flow on the wound to enable it heal faster. We would
stay six months without bathing, but we used to apply a certain type of soil on our body
and we would leave it to dry. Later we would remove it using a knife. Nowadays, they cut
something very small”.
Once the clitoris is removed, it leads to the formation of a scar which leads to a bad tear
during delivery. This is known as Vesicle Virginal Fistula (VVFS) tearing upward and Recto
Vaginal Fistula (RVFS) tearing downwards the rectum. There is over bleeding and growth
of keloids in the vagina. It has led to early marriage because the girls are regarded as mature. Nowadays young girls even at the age of 10 are circumcised.
Within a twinkle of time, it was time to shoot. It was rough. I had enough material during research; I thought the same would apply during shooting. People wanted money. They thought that I was doing this project for white people, since I was walking with African- Americans. Hell no, these African-Americans were my fellow students from Uganda. A few trusted me.
While setting up the equipment to conduct an interview, some interviewees were scared of the camera. I had to take some time and give an explanation. Some would ask me whether they were going to see themselves on TV.
It was not easy for me to control a crowd of hundreds on the way or in the field on their way to the ceremony. These people came from different places. We were harassed by both men and women. Some of our equipment got spoilt while in the field. Surprisingly enough, a majority of all those who were insulting us were people that I knew. During this period, people spoke vulgar language regardless of their age, sex, or to whom they are referring to. No wonder the pastor said that these people were possessed with evil spirits.
Parents threatened to take their kids to a different field if I was going to disturb them with my camera. Many people said I was working with government so that later I would be able to tip the police so that they would be arrested. Even after showing them a letter from the school. I had a thousand questions to answer. Many wondered what kind of profession that was. Some said I was mad while some said I was wasting my time in school. They wanted me to be a soldier or maybe a teacher or even get married, but not ‘taking photos.’
Not only did I have problems in the field but also with my protagonists. At the dawn of the day, I received a call from my protagonist’s father that her daughter was going to a different field. It was stressful!
Most of the time, some elders did not allow me to shoot in the field, but to watch what was happening. It was absurd.
In the field, about 100 girls were circumcised within 4 four hours. I saw ladies sitting on top of a girl while she was being ‘cut’ since she was scared. This means that, she was not courageous. Some girls were crying after they were cut, while some fainted and some were in shock; a state where the newly circumcised feels sleepy hence finds difficulty in walking.
While in the girls’ field, a certain crew from a local TV station came to cover the event. There was not even a single person who questioned them! I was harassed in my own village.
Although the church and some NGO’s like Action aid,World Vision and the Ministry of gender and children services have campaigned against FGM, it has not been successful. This is because after rescuing the girls,some run away only to be circumcised. The community still wants to continue practicing their traditions. There is a high rate of poverty and illiteracy in this community leading to a high rate of school drop-outs. A majority of these girls grow up knowing that they will be confined in the community forever. The fear of not getting married coupled with a lot of pressure from the society and peer groups, forces some girls to go for the ‘cut’.
Having undergone FGM at a young age and not knowing its consequences, I can now stand up strong against it. Many women say that they cut something very small, not knowing that however small it might be, it has an important role that it plays. To make matters worse, when a newly circumcised person dies before the end of seclusion, he or she is not buried but thrown away in the forest. The person is regarded as an evil spirit. I would like to call upon the government to enforce strict laws that will curb FGM.