The transformation of Swahili Unyago and female genital mutilation into an alternative rite of passage: a post structuralist approach
M'Raiji, John K.
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Since the colonial period, there have been attempts to eradicate female genital mutilation not only in Kenya but also in other parts of Africa where it is practiced. The efforts have not been fully successful due to the entrenchment of the practice among the communities that value it. This is despite the fact that previous studies have cited social, religious, economic and political factors as the main reasons why it is difficult to eradicate female genital mutilation. Scholars have also not taken the trouble to investigate how female circumcision became so well established as to render it difficult to stop. In addition, neither have the preceding studies investigated the philosophical perspectives that may have led to the establishment and entrenchment of the ritual. This study fills that gap by investigating unyago and female genital mutilation with the aim of understanding the dynamics that were used to perpetuate them, as well as how the Swahili unyago as practiced by the Swahili of Mumias, was adapted in the form of an alternative rite of passage by other communities. The field research involved identifying, sampling, recording and interviewing the stakeholders who included community members involved in unyago and female circumcision. These included the novices, the circumcisers, community and religious leaders, performers as well as alternative rite of passage animators and participants. Some information was also collected from the internet and the media. The analysis used poststructuralist approaches, including deconstruction á lá Derrida, as well as existential philosophy based on Heidegger‟s Dasein (being there). Theories of feminist poststructuralism and gender were also employed to elicit the male/female dichotomy and unity in the community‟s perceptions. The research determined that there is an underlying philosophical frame enshrined in beliefs, superstitions, taboos and identity formation. It further established that punishment, such as through intimidation, excommunication, ridicule, and a compliance and reward system were employed to entrench and enforce the practices. The findings indicate that female circumcision was, and is still, entrenched through cultural reproduction mechanisms during seasonally repeated folklore performance to ensure that it is passed on from one generation to another. The study also reports that the unyago practiced by the Swahili of Mumias, which has no circumcision component, has been adapted and adopted by the government and other organisations in an effort to eradicate female circumcision in Kenya. The research identifies the major impediment to eradicating female circumcision as being cultural reproduction through ritualization. For that reason, the thesis proposes that in order to successfully eradicate female circumcision, a philosophical approach positing an alternative but popularly acceptable ritual similar to the Swahili unyago wa mfereji is needed.
- PhD Theses