MUSUYA KUNTO A New Documentary on an Old Culture
Fatou Jaw Manneh
Circumcision is a very sensitive subject in many African communities, including The Gambia. So where do I start on Prince Abubacar Aminata Sankanu’s documentary “Cutting the Womanhood (Musuya Kunto).” This film director is known for his love for African culture but that has never stopped him from being critical of practices he considers backward. And this topic is no different. He has taken his discourse of cutting (female genital mutilation, FGM) all the way to the bedroom, and I hope we view the documentary with open minds to help us eradicate this abhorrent practice in our communities.
In the documentary, we meet our eloquent and beautiful/handsome young medical students at the Gambian University weighing in on the health scares of the practice. They are cautious in expressing their concerns, knowing that they have to thread the subject with prudence, lest they offend our well-respected older folks who still value the practice with cultural pride and devotion. Some of the medical students fear powerful backlash from traditional elders and so they shy away from openly criticizing the practice. Others argued that it can be discussed respectfully until our elders come to better understand the health hazards involved in it and not just dismiss any opposition to it as an assault on a time-honored tradition.
Having gone through the practice myself when I was about maybe ten years old and having listened to the arguments from various health experts, I abhor it as one tradition we can do away with. The advocates have some points, though. The cultural education and learning that come with the ritual as rites of passage into womanhood should be valued. I liked the weeks-long camping in the outskirts of the village. The traditional lectures, dance and songs, the food, the air of festivities, and the nice dresses we wore for the graduation ceremony all make it a wonderful experience in some respects to always cherish.
But all the dancing and teachings and delicious food are available during other traditional or cultural events as well. So we can discontinue the cutting itself to avoid its harmful effects and still keep the rest of the culture and tradition. I heard that all African countries that practice cutting have different categories. Some do it more severely than others. Irrespective of the degree, cutting is painful and the health risks are unpredictable. And the notion that it reduces a woman’s libido is not true for some circumcised women. I guess it all depends on the sensuality of each woman.
Whatever the benefits may be, they are far outweighed by the risks that go with cutting. And given the high proportion of African woman who undergo cutting, we should all do our best to fight for the complete eradication this practice by chatting with our elders and convincing them that it is very unnecessary. It should be noted that most religious leaders have condemned it. Some are conflicted about it for the reason that when the issue was presented to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he neither endorsed to the practice nor condemned it. He only advised that it should be done moderately if it is to be done at all. But, contrary to what some women are made to believe, nowhere is the practice mentioned in the Quran. Many African women learn Islam from their husbands or Imams. Because majority of the older generation of women in remote African villages are not educated, they have no way of learning the Hadiths or the Quran. So sometimes, tradition and religion are intertwined and twisted for the benefit of the men.
Hence, some feminists see cutting as just another tool of subjugation for men to control women by curtailing their sexual desires. While men are entitled to hanker after women in our societies, women are frowned upon by even fellow women for showing hint of sexual desire. Mothers want their girls to abstain from pre-marital sex as the most honorable thing for them. In addition to the reduced desire, circumcision is intended to curb teen pregnancies as most cuttings come with sealing a part of the female genitalia that might save the girls from early sexual intercourse or protect them from male sexual predators.
The Documentary is very timely and I hope we see it as a positive contribution for the general health and development of our women rather than as a disrespectful condemnation or assault on our tradition. Our grandparents have reason to cling to our cultures and beliefs too as they witness African women destroying their natural beauties by bleaching their skin and hating their hair. Parading “lighter” skin and fake hair and shunning their natural beautiful skin so they be considered “aware,” “modern” or just to be “abreast with the times,” is a real pity and equally dangerous to the African girl child.
Women should be left alone though to decide what to do to with their bodies. Cutting girls at early age can be depressing, leaving them fearful and vulnerable, not to mention the health hazards that come with it. CUTTING should be completely eradicated. It should not to be tolerated under any circumstances.
Bravo to Bubacarr and his team for undertaking this courageous and educative move to protect the African Woman. Again he makes us Proud. God bless.
Original Title: MUSUYA KUNTO
English Title: Cutting the womanhood
Country: The Gambia
Language: Mandinka and Wollof with English subtitles
Length: 26:24 minutes
Producer: Han Van Roy
Cinematographer: Wendy Leyten
Director: Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu
Loglines: Taboo-breaking sexuality testimonies on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in The Gambia