Traditional female circumcision usually consists of the removal of the prepuce, and sometimes the entire clitoris. It was the complementary operation to male circumcision. Non indigenous or foreign influences of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have done much to pervert this practice. The misogyny of these faiths has synergized with traditional practices, and has perverted them resulting in infibulation or Pharaonic Circumcision, which is the least practiced, the most harmful, and the most dangerous. (There is not evidence that infibulation was practiced in Kemet, female circumcision was however. This makes the name a misnomer.) The Abrahamic religions' stress on premarital virginity has caused some societies to develop the added practice of “sewing up.” This custom, used to prevent sex before marriage, was primarily practiced among the Galla and Somali (in the East Sudan) and in parts of Ethiopia that fell under Islamic and Christian influences.
For an early, more comprehensive perspective on the custom of female initiation of which circumcision (excision) is an element, the reader can examine Jomo Kenyatta’s, Facing Mount Kenya, Chapter 6.
The Egyptian medical doctor Nawal El Saadawi in The Hidden Face of Eve gives a curdling description of the practice in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and other Islam- influenced countries of Western Asia (today’s Middle East).
I have provided an excerpt from an excellent article on Female Genital Cutting/Surgery below. Please read the entire article, which I have provided the link for.
My main quarrel with most studies on female initiation and the significance of genital cutting relates to the continued insistence that the latter is necessarily "harmful" or that there is an urgent need to stop female genital mutilation in communities where it is done. Both of these assertions are based on the alleged physical, psychological, and sexual effects of female genital cutting. I offer, however, that the aversion of some writers to the practice of female "circumcision" has more to do with deeply imbedded Western cultural assumptions regarding women's bodies and their sexuality than with disputable health effects of genital operations on African women. For example, one universalized assumption is that human bodies are "complete" and that sex is "given" at birth.' A second assumption is that the clitoris represents an integral aspect of femininity and has a central erotic function in women's sexuality. And, finally, through theoretical extension, patriarchy is assumed to be the culprit that is, women are seen as blindly and wholeheartedly accepting "mutilation" because they are victims of male political, economic, and social domination. According to this line of analysis, excision is necessary to patriarchy because of its presumed negative impact on women's sexuality. Removal of the clitoris is alleged to make women sexually passive, thus enabling them to remain chaste prior to marriage and faithful to their husbands in polygynous households. This supposedly ensures a husband sole sexual access to a woman as well as certainty of his paternity over any children she produces. As victims, then, women actively engage in "dangerous" practices such as "female genital mutilation" (FGM) to increase their marriageability (see, for example, Chapter 13 of this volume), which would ultimately enable them to fulfill their honored, if socially inferior, destiny of motherhood.
When attempting to reconcile Kono practice with dominant anti FGM discourses, a number of problems arise, starting with the alleged physical harm resulting from the practice. Part of the problem, as Bettina Shell Duncan, Walter Obungu Obiero, and Leunita Auko Muruli lucidly argue in Chapter 6 of this volume, is the unjustified conflation of varied practices of female genital cutting and the resulting overemphasis on infibulation, a relatively rare practice that is associated with a specific region and interpretation of Muslim purdah ideology.' Kono women practice excision, the removal of the clitoris and labia minorae.3 As several contributions to this volume suggest (see Chapters 1, 5, and 6), the purported long term physical side effects of this procedure may have been exaggerated. It can be argued, as well, that although there are short term risks, these can be virtually eliminated through improved medical technology (see Chapter 6).
Furthermore, among the Kono there is no cultural obsession with feminine chastity, virginity, or women's sexual fidelity, perhaps because the role of the biological father is considered marginal and peripheral to the central "matricentric unit."4 Finally, Kono culture promulgates a dual sex ideology, which is manifested in political and social organization, sexual division of labor, and, notably, the presence of powerful female and male secret societies. s The existence and power of Bundu, the women's secret sodality, suggest positive links between excision, women's religious ideology, their power in domestic relations, and their high profile in the "public" arena.
The Kono example makes evident underlying biases of such culturally loaded notions as the "natural" vagina or "natural female body." The word "natural" is uncritically tossed around in the FGM literature to describe an uncircumcised woman, when actually it needs definition and clarification. Kono concepts of "nature" and "culture" differ significantly from Western ones, and it is these local understandings that compel female (and male) genital cutting. In essence, what this chapter amounts to is a critique of a profound tendency in Western writing on female "circumcision" in Africa to deliver male centered explanations and assumptions. Scholars must be wary of imposing Western religious, philosophical, and intellectual assumptions that tend to place enormous emphasis on masculinity and its symbols in the creation of culture itself. In traditional African societies, as is the case with the Kono, womb symbolism and imagery of feminine reproductive contributions form the basis of meanings of the universe, human bodies, and society and its institutions social organization, the economy, and even political organization can be viewed as extensions of the "matricentric core," or base of society. Female excision, I propose, is a negation of the masculine in feminine creative potential, and in the remainder of this chapter I will show how the Kono case study demonstrates this hypothesis.
This chapter is a culmination of several years of informal inquiry as well as formal research into the meaning of female "circumcision" and initiation, particularly among my parental ethnic group, the Kono, in northeastern Sierra Leone. This study constitutes an analysis of five stages: (1) my subjective experience of initiation from December 1991 to January 1992, which lasted just over one month; (2) indigenous interpretations from other participants, mainly ritual leaders and their assistants, recorded at the time; (3) later academic study, when I returned to Kono for an additional two months in December 1994 and December 1996; (4) a total of nine months conducting formal and informal interviews among Kono immigrants in and around the Washington, D.C., area; and finally, (5) approximately three months spent between January and July of 1998 traveling back and forth between Conakry and Freetown talking to Kono refugees and women activists, mainly about their more immediate survival concerns but also about "circumcision," initiation, and the future of women's secret societies. These discussions included informal interviews as well as formal semistructured interviews with three ritual officials: two traditional circumcisers, or Soko priestesses, and one digba, or ranking assistant to the Soko.
The cumulative data are drawn from interviews with a broad range of Kono men and women: young, old, university educated professionals in Freetown and in the United States, as well as illiterate villagers and traditional rulers in Kono. If I have sacrificed quantification, it has been for the benefit of collecting detailed qualitative data that would enable my search for meaning and significance, both of which I felt could be best obtained through carefully selected, knowledgeable informants. What this study attempts to explain are the views, beliefs, and rationales of supporters of initiation and "circumcision." The extent to which these attitudes reflect those of all or the majority of Kono women is left open for future research.
My specific aims in this chapter are, first, to elucidate the significance of female initiation and "circumcision" in terms of indigenous Kono cosmology, culture, and society and to demonstrate how and why it is that bodily operations both male and female are viewed as necessary and important processes in the dynamics of sex and gender constructions and kinship relations. My second objective is to interrogate specific areas relating to international discourses on eradication of female "circumcision," using my own personal experience as well as Kono ethnographic data and the accounts of the experiences of individual Kono women. Finally, my goal is to discuss avenues for compromise on the "debate" about female "circumcision" and to suggest alternative strategies to current hard line approaches.
To read the entire article click http://www.africanholocaust.net/fgm.html