Seeking Permission

Atanassi Nyoho, an Elder of the Wachari Clan, Tarime, during discussions about FGC and permission to access the sacred site on Susuni Mountain, in Tarime, Tanzania, 2018.

Mr. Nyoho was one of four clan elders with whom we spent the better part of a day gently explaining our work and negotiating for permission to access their community and sacred sites.

The Wanchari clan of the Kurya tribe have two sacred mountains, Milimamwema and Susuni. The latter is used for rituals specifically carried out before ‘saro’, male and female circumcision. The former site is used for rituals after circumcision. The Susuni site turned out to be heavy with vulvic indentions and cupules on a large monadnic sprawl. Deep grooves cut across in East-West and North-South directions – the site is just 1° S of the Equator. ‘Scar, The Thinning Veil‘ shows a vulvic cupule (an indention in rock, possibly a natural feature originally, but that has been enhanced by humans over centuries) about 3 meters in length, in a N-S orientation.

During the negotiations, the Elders were gracious with their time, but went into circuitous, and understandably guarded, discussions about their traditions. Ultimately, they not only granted permission for us to visit the sites, but also to let us photograph there, while the most senior elder, Mr. Mtatilo Mchagwa, insisted that we first visit his home, and then proceed to the sites with him. I am grateful for his trust in us, and also for the way he walked us from site to site, explaining when necessary, and staying out of the way of the camera–he was very curious about the workings of the strange-looking 8×10 beast on a tripod– when asked.

Mtatilo Mchagwa, the most senior Elder of the Wachari Clan, at his home, during a visit to the sacred site on Susuni Mountain, in Tarime, Tanzania, 2018.
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