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By A.M. Peabody
Today marks the 169th year since the Liberian Declaration of Independence was signed and that country celebrated its independence from the American Colonization Society.
Liberians here in the U.S. began the celebrations in observance of their independence day this past Saturday on the grounds of the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The 97 degree temperature, coupled with the humidity did not seem to interfere with the celebration as they emerged on the 16th Street and Colorado Avenue embassy in Northwest Washington, garbed in colorful traditional attire.
It was not difficult to miss the performance of the cultural dancers, most especially the masked and grass skirted performers. I recall my childhood years in Liberia when the cultural and masked dancers came to perform in our front yard. They were the most frightful sight I had seen at my young age. I was terrified of the masked and grass skirted dancer, who started off as a short object on the ground; and suddenly he began to grow right before our eyes until he was an eight-foot giant. He danced as he kicked up dirt, spinning vigorously. We referred to that scary object as the “devil”. When my mother wanted to persuade me to eat my meal or do what she wanted me to do, she threatened to call the “devil” and I obeyed without hesitation. I think every Liberian child was fearful of the so-called “devil”.
As I embraced womanhood and discovered that female circumcision, the “devil” and the Poro and Sande Bush Societies were all interconnected. The very “devil” I so dreaded as a child belonged to GreGre (Grebo) Bush, where little girls were taken to be circumcised (female genital mutilation/cutting).
Although my mother used the “devil” to get me to be obedient, she would have never turned me over to him. Little did I know at the time that there were indeed some Liberian mothers who actually took their daughters to the Sande Bush. Little did I know that several decades later, it would be my fate to become an ardent activist against the very act the owners of the “devil” did in secrecy to little girls.
So as Liberia proudly celebrates 169 years of being a Republic, I wonder if the hundreds of circumcisers (excisors) will take a break from the Sande Bush today. The children are out of school during this time of the year; and that means it is high season for the Sande Bush. Will they close down the Sande Bush for a day to celebrate their independence day? After all, today is a national holiday in Liberia. But I doubt that the women will miss a day of making their living. A circumciser can earn up to Five Hundred U.S. Dollars a day, depending on the number of girls she cuts.
Liberia is one of three countries in Africa that have remained stubborn to ban the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting. Something that is little known about the practice of FGM/C in Liberia is that the people practicing it in that country tend to hide behind tradition and culture. The initial purpose very well might have been based on tradition and culture. However tradition and culture have been overtaken by personal sustainability and livelihood.
The excisors make their living by brutally cutting innocent little girls. In addition to the economical purpose of the practice of FGM/C, there is also the dark, demonic ritualistic practice which the Sande and Poro Society Bushes carry out. There is a far deeper meaning to the shedding of blood by the girls and the rituals of what is done with the excised parts of the girls. This is why they do not want the girls to divulge their experiences to anyone when they leave the Sande Bush. There is a great deal of deeply rooted secrecy in the Sande Bush, which the Western World does not know.
I have celebrated Liberia’s Independence Day, July 26th since I remember myself as a child. I recall delivering the Liberian Declaration of Independence on July 26th when I was only ten years old. It was my very first public speaking gig. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to celebrate today with other Liberians both in the diaspora and in Liberia. We should not be celebrating while little girls live in fear of being cut in the Sande Bush; we should not be celebrating while little girls are forced to flee from their would-be excisor in search of safety; and we certainly should not be celebrating today while little girls lose trust in adults and their leaders because they live in a country without laws against FGM/C.
In light of that, I will not be saying the familiar phrase today, “Happy 26th”. Instead, I will say, “Sad 26th” to every other Liberian native today. I take the opportunity today to appeal to the Leadership of Liberia and ask that they seriously consider placing a ban on the practice of FGM in that country. Sad 26th everyone!