Creolization refers to the changes of meanings and usages of the cultural objects or practices when they are being spread and practiced around the global. In this essay, I will introduce how the practices of female circumcision originate and vary widely throughout the world.
Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), could be traced back to the 2nd century BC, when a geographer, Agatha chides of Cnidus, first documented it as it occurred among tribes living on the western coast of the Red Sea, which is the modern-day Egypt right now. The practices have originated in Egypt and spread to the south and west. Coptic Christianity is the indigenous form of Christianity that established in Egypt in the middle of the first century AD. The Coptic Christian believed that the practice is based on the cultural belief, that has formed into part of the religious tradition, that women should keep their virtue until marriage.
Some people believe that female circumcision was also rooted in the Pharaonic belief in the bisexuality of the gods. According to this belief, the mortals reflected the trait of the gods; every individual possessed both a male and a female soul. For healthy gender development, the female soul had to be excised from the man and the male soul from the woman. Thus, circumcision was important for boys to become men and girls to become women.
The operations are embedded in a wide range of cultural and historical contexts and can be quite different in definition, meanings, and effects. To understand the purposes and values of female circumcision in particular contexts, we need to relate it to specific cultural understandings of identity, gender morality, adulthood, bodily aesthetics, and other important aspects. For instance, in the Sudan, it is seen as increasing a woman’s beauty, purity, and cleanliness. For the Kikuyu people of Kenya, circumcision was the foundation of moral self-mastery for women, marked the initiation of adulthood. The age of circumcised varies according to cultural understandings. For example, girls in Mali and the Sudan are circumcised at the age of six to eight, while many communities in Kenya and Sierra Leone give the operation in the early teens. Yoruba people in Nigeria perform surgery to their children when they are just few days old, much like male circumcision in the United States and Europe.
Circumcision and excision are also related to moral concepts associated with shame and fertility. In Africa, circumcision is not performed after puberty, the operation is usually considered as a person’s social and moral development. The history of female circumcision in Europe and the United States are very different with most of the world with regard to circumcision age. For a century beginning in the 1850s, female genital cutting was prescribed as medical treatment for adult women in Europe and the United States for insomnia or sterility.
Female circumcision, a widespread cultural practice, has many different forms and meaning throughout the world. People’s perception of it is still ever-changing as evidenced in the heated debate around the issue with new concerns of the preservation of femininity in the light of human rights.