There has been a lot of debate about the Bondo/ Sande Society in recent times. Everyone seems to have an opinion; the circumcised, uncircumcised, and our men are in the equation too. Some say it’s a tradition and should not be abandon. Others say it’s barbaric we should get rid of it. Some say we are only claiming it is barbaric because the west says so. Others have religious views as to why the Bondo initiation rite is not good. Amongst women there seems to be a divide also; between those, you have gone through the process and are defending it because they have no side effects or complications. Those who are circumcised and hate it, because, they had suffered so many complications even through childbirth. Those who are circumcised with no side effect but hate it anyway. Those who have not gone through it but hated it, because the secret has long left the “Bondo Secret Society” now It is just Bondo, they are aware of everything about the Bondo society and they don’t want to be part of it.
From my personal experience, I went through the Bondo society at age eleven. We did not go into any bush. We were taken to someplace at Mends Street, a Compound own by one Haja. Of course, they said it was a Sunah Bondo whatever that means I don’t even know. Before my initiation, I used to scratch my clitoris a lot. Then, it has an awful way of itching most times, not every time though. I was an innocent little girl. That’s the only memory I have of my dear Clitoris. One faithful day, they took me to Mend street in the centre of town. I was guarded into a room filled with young confused, nervous, and scared girls. You can tell by just looking at them. It was a waiting room; where we were prepared before the ceremony of slaughtering our clitoris. I guess most of us knew the deal anyway but it’s was too late to run, hide or throw tantrums. When it was my turn I was blindfolded and helped into another room where I was stripped. The odour in the room was something else, some fishy, bloody smell. They laid me on the floor, a giant woman then quickly came on top of me and gagged me, I could feel her weight on my eleven years old bear chest. While two other women just stretched my feet wide apart. You can hear the clinging of the unsterilized metal and then boom just like that my clits were snatched from me. The pain was so excruciating thought someone just opened my chest and was trying to rip my heart out. I gave out the loudest scream even when gagged. No anaesthetic, nothing for the pain, just like that, a surgery was done on me and I was wide awake. They took their leafy stuff and sealed the new wound. It seems as if some sort of spice was added to those leaves because it burns like hell, the pain and discomfort were out of this world. The agony and torture I will never forget.
Some years down the line, I went to the hospital to give birth. According to the doctors, my cervix was not big enough and the baby descended quickly causing vagina tears. That means I needed to be stitched to close the extra opening to prevent infection and further complications. Imagine the pain, after going through nine to ten hours of labour for a natural birth. It was excruciating, period.
Some might ask, why am I explaining this? Because, many years after my circumcision, I am still questioning, did my initiation played a role in my vagina tear during childbirth? If my clitoris was intact, would that have been my fate? Would It be still itching? How would it feel like having one? Am I genuinely experience the pleasures of sex? I guess I’ll never know the answers to these questions.
Before trying to know these answers after ‘wey water don pass garri’. Can we just try to prevent this torture from our girls at least until they are eighteen? I know we all have different ways our bodies react or heal, as pregnancy is to every woman. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the Bondo process is very hurtful, inhumane, and painful. Besides, it adds nothing to the lives of these young girls. Why do we want to continue to put our girls through such ordeal in the name of upholding a tradition? Apart from the pain, I learned nothing in that place except for a few songs, that I forgot shortly after the initiation.
So let’s stop pretending, some people are claiming that the Bondo bush is a place where girls can learn how to take care of the home, family, and perform other household chores. Maybe they used to, during our mother’s time, but nothing like that happens nowadays. The questions that need answers now are; can’t these Soweis (those performing the circumcision process) be taught other life skills to empower them find work in other areas within their communities? Can they be trained in other ways to empower these girls? In any case, Bondo is mostly done during the long school holiday period, and in December, or any other time convenient for the Soweis. One cannot take care of oneself on small revenue that comes in twice or at most three times in a year.
I know for sure, with my experiences and all the things I have been through. I will protect my daughter or any girl child in my care until she is old enough to understand the implications of FGM. I will tell her everything there is to know about the Bondo. If she still wants to go, after she turns eighteen it will be on her head and resources. Let give our girls the chance to live, and explore. Let give them choices and options. It does not mean because our mothers and grandmothers went through it, so we do not have the right to question it.
To what extent is Bondo helping us? Even if the big and long clitoris is a problem for some girls, is there no other way it could be fixed without cutting? The itching; is there no other way it can be stopped? As for using the promiscuity argument, I totally don’t get it. So this might be a topic for another day. Meanwhile, let us answer this question honestly. Who has female circumcision helped? (Udat bondo help?) The soweis, the girls, the men, or the communities? If it has not helped anyone, then why are we holding on to it? Anyway, till the next write up, peace out✌✌✌#whocuthelp?#
©By Rahima Vandy-Kargbo known as Dasalonetiti Rahima