Community Stunned as a Famous Ngariba Walks Away From FGM

Church Pastor conducting the service, Wansatu seated in front of the alter

Church Pastor conducting the service, Wansatu seated in front of the alter

Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) has been working on enlightening communities to abandon harmful cultural practices, particularly gender based violence since 2010. In particular a lot of work has been done to curb the infamous female genital mutilation (FGM) as well as poverty through VICOBA self help groups. In that course quite a few women circumcisers (Ngariba) have left the practice that has hurt lives of many girls and women in Serengeti district. So far 6 Ngaribas have quitted the practice.
The history of Wansatu Ryoba
Wansatu Ryoba (55), a mother to 3 sons and 6 daughters, lives in Rungabure village in Serengeti district and has been in FGM business for over a decade now. She is said to have taken over the task of cutting the girls from her grandmother who magically appeared to her in dreams in December 2014. Next, the elders formally commissioned her to do the task through proper rituals that included slaughtering a goat. In essence being a Ngariba (women circumciser) is sort of priestly task, and not everyone can do it, despite lucrative returns.

Despite being a Ngariba Wansatu has been attending several training seminars conducted by CCT since 2010. Overtime she understood the long-tem effects of FGM. Being a traditional birth attendant (TBA) it was not difficult to notice the difference between cut women and the uncut ones during child birth. It was believed that if a woman gets torn while giving birth it is a sign of laziness. However from her experience as a TBA uncut women were giving birth with much less tear and pain. After witnessing the effect of FGM first hand, Wansatu was shaken to the core and decided to change. She had also been threatened to be thrown out of VICOBA if she were to continue with the ill practice. She gave her equipment to be burnt as a symbol of her decision to never go back to the tradition.

Wansatu's tools being ceremoniously burnt before the witnesses

Wansatu’s tools being ceremoniously burnt before the witnesses

Wansatu built a strong business profile when she started cutting the girls by successfully attending to her own daughter Rhobi. The community appreciated her ‘gifted hands’ and the clientele eventually grew. She was in demand all over the area, at times she had to extend services to 12 wards. In her career Wansatu estimates her clients to have reached 5,000 per period/year. At her peak she would attend up to 400 girls per day. She says that in December 2014 she earned 6 million TZS in three weeks. This income is shared among the traditional leaders in specific areas.

Wansatu’s success came with a price. Since the mutilation activity is carried in months of specific years it means that there is a small window to attend hundreds of girls. For her case her clan, the Nyabasi were conducting the ritual only in even years (years whose numbers can be divided by two), in December. Consequently she was kept extremely busy in that period of time. The elders were willing to pay up to 50,000 TZS per day for her transport, just to make her services available.

Another price she had to pay was mutilating her own daughter who was already married in 2004. Now 41 and a mother of six, Rhobi painfully recalls when she was called to be part of inauguration of her mother’s malicious career. The elders asked her to participate since by tradition when one becomes a Ngariba you must start with your own daughter, or if there is none then you will start with a niece. By the time Rhobi was asked to be cut she was pregnant and although the cutting was not deep, it caused her serious physical and mental problems. Moreover she got into conflict with her husband to the extent that she had to seek help from the church to rescue the marriage. Of course she managed to save her marriage and to date she is still with her husband in Nyamongo, Tarime. Since then Rhobi has been pleading to her mother to stop the malicious practice she was perpetrating.

Wansatu giving her testimony before the congregation

Wansatu giving her testimony before the congregation

In her testimony Wansatu says she decided to quit FGM mainly because of knowledge she has acquired since 2010. Also she says that the income from VICOBA seemed to have more impact in her life than FGM business, which despite coming in generously she could not use it for anything meaningful. Although she was later on expelled from her VICOBA group because of her involvement with FGM, she thinks it is high time she got back to a VICOBA group. She also strongly testifies that as a traditional birth attendant she has observed the uncut women have a safer delivery than the cut ones. She further quantifies that up to three quarters of uncut girls give birth without tear or severe bleeding.

Razor blades were part of the items surrendered in the church. In FGM quality of razor blades used cannot be guaranteed

Razor blades were part of the items surrendered in the church. In FGM quality of razor blades used cannot be guaranteed

Now that 2016 is an even number year, December of this year will see another batch of girls going through the ritual. However in the fallout of Wansatu’s turn of events already 23 parents who had enlisted their daughters to be cut in December have resolved not to go on with it. They do not see success of events without Wansatu’s hands. As it seems the rise and fall of Wansatu’s career is not short of widespread consequences, for better and for worse. Now that it is for better, CCT intends to build on such agents as Wansatu to build sustainable change in Kurya community. Given its strong traditional ways, Kurya community is not easily reached from outside. But with agents from within the impact could run multiple folds.

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