San Francisco Book Review of Stones by Jeanie Kortum
Kenya, 1984. I first knew the cutting was close when the sun rose and the young girl who had been dancing all night, bleating through a whistle, was dragged across the clearing by an old woman and lowered to the ground. All around her, women fell to the ground, emitting strange cries. The old woman held a piece of glass in her hand. The men sitting around the fire drinking from large calabasas, turned away.
The whistle in the young girl’s mouth was replaced with a stick so that she would not cry out and curse the ceremony.
When the cutting happened it was quick, grubby and gynecologically matter of fact. The old woman turned and dropped the clitoris onto a leaf. The stick had worked. Though the little girl’s legs were shaking and her eyes leaked tears, she hadn’t cried out.
When I went to visit her a little later someone had piled a small hill of maize on her wound. Transfixed, I watched as small tributaries of blood leaked into the white flour.
That morning, as if I too had a stick in my mouth, I withdrew into the comfortable objectivity of North American scrutiny: I too did not cry out. For thirty years I have carried the shame of that moment, whatever I could have done to stop the proceedings, sealed forever in the resin of my silence.
It had begun as a brave dream. I was going to do a series of books about endangered cultures. To research the first, I dogsledded to a village at the top of the world in Greenland and lived with the Inuit. That book easily sped out of me. To research the second I lived with a hunter-gatherer tribe, then went back for a second year with them and witnessed the clitoridectomy. [Read the whole article here]