Fuambai’s strength

Carlos David Londoño Sulkin


Despite Fuambai Ahmadu’s upbringing in the United States, she accepted at the age of twenty-two her mother’s invitation to return to her Kono people in Sierra Leone to undergo their secretive initiation ritual to transform her into an unambiguously female, marriageable adult and a member of the women’s secret Bondo society. The most dramatic part of the ritual involved having the external part of her clitoris and her labia minora excised by a sowei, a woman in charge of such ceremonies. This ritual, known as Bondo, was the feminine counterpart of the Poro initiation for boys, in which these were circumcised and given instructions on how to be men. Proud of her initiated status, she has struggled over the past two decades to correct and contest Western anti–Female Genital Mutilation (henceforth, anti-FGM) critics’ overwhelming, indignant imaginary of African initiation rituals as torture and mutilation, and of initiated African women as sexual cripples and weak victims of cruel patriarchal traditions. This essay draws a moral portrait of her; in the process, it engages with the anthropological study of moralities and advocates for a liberal pluralism with relativistic entailments.


morality, ethics, liberalism, female genital surgeries, FGM, Africa, ethnography, biography

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.011