Thomas, Lynn M. Politics of the womb : women, reproduction, and the state in Kenya. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.
Chapter three of Lynn Thomas’s book Politics of the womb: women, reproduction, and the state in Kenya talks about the ban on female excision (female genital cutting, a cultural and religious tradition in many African people groups) in Kenya from 1956-1959. The ban resulted in a significant backlash, not from indigenous men in positions of leadership, but rather from young indigenous women. Girls organized excisions on their own, as it was firmly believed that the coming-of-age ritual was necessary to live morally and even birth healthy children. However, the girls didn’t follow all of the rituals, celebrations and formats of the traditional excision ceremony, which resulted in the older generation of women criticizing, and even not recognizing the excisions as legitimate. Interestingly, this marked a significant shift in women’s mentality in Kenya. The new generation of women represented a hybrid between rebellion against authority (both colonial and traditional), and preservation of tradition.
This article relates to the film Xala, and specifically to my thesis, in the way that demonstrates how one people group navigated the friction between traditionalism and modernism. While the girls from this time period rejected the imposition of colonial modernism, they nonetheless diverged from complete traditionalism as well. This generation even stood in rebellion to their maternal elders, who insisted upon the most “traditional” and thorough rituals associated with female excision. The character and actions of Rama in Sembène’s film run parallel to the Kenyan girls’ attitude.