In the village where Resian was born and raised, female genital mutilation is a normal rite of passage into adulthood. When a girl is considered old enough, a circumciser (usually an old and experienced lady of the community) is called home to perform the cut.
Ever since Resian was a child, together with her mother Evalyne, they used to take an active part in the ceremonies. Evalyne was one of the three women who held the girl tight while the circumciser was cutting her, and Resian used to pour a jar of freezing water over her head to ease her pain.
Despite the poor girl screaming and wriggling and the blood flowing down the folds of the cowhide on which she laid, Resian, as everyone else in the village, used to celebrate this event as a feast. On that occasion there was singing, dancing and meat was cooked.
Resian’s father, James, is a cattle farmer, belonging to a proud family of landowners. Unlike many Maasai, in his family they have always placed great importance on education. For this reason James, dissatisfied with the level of education of the local school, decides to send Resian to a female boarding school in Narok, the nearest town.
At first Resian has difficulty fitting in, but then she befriends two classmates who are often targeted by others and defends them. One day a group of missionaries comes to the school with a film projector. It is the first time that Resian sees a film and, very excited, she sits in the front row.
The film is about female genital mutilation and shows a girl being cut. The topic is familiar to Resian and she follows the film with interest. During the ceremony something goes wrong and the circumciser fails to stop the haemorrhage. The girl bleeds to death. In the final scene the body, amidst weeping and cries of grief, is carried by the villagers in a funeral ceremony. After the film a missionary takes to the stage and shows technical drawings explaining in details the negative consequences of female genital mutilations. Resian is deeply shocked by this event as are her schoolmates.
A few days later, the winter holidays begin and the students return to their families. While going to the river to wash clothes, her mother announces her that she will be circumcised in the next days. Still affected by what was shown her in school, Resian refuses to undergo the cut. The news spreads within the family generating havoc. Her father James is furious and calls home Resian’s maternal grandmother to explain that circumcision is a rite of passage for every Maasai woman. An uncircumcised woman, however old, would still be considered a child and regarded with little respect by her community and could not marry. Resian remains opposed so James decides to organise the ceremony without her consent.
At this point Evalyne, who had so far remained impartial, decides to stand up for her child. To avoid Resian’s mutilation, mother and daughter organise an escape. They first seek refuge at the home of a maternal uncle in Narok. From there Resian is taken to a paternal uncle in Nairobi, Uncle David, who Evalyne knows to be against genital mutilations.
The moment is short-lived because James shows up to the house of his older brother David to take Resian back home. David allows James to do so, but making him promise that he will not allow the circumcision of his daughter. James agrees, however, once back home he cannot hold back his frustration being aware that the entire family is in danger of falling into disgrace and being outcasted. The older members of the community want to see tradition prevail and put pressure on him, who in turn accuses his wife of bringing misfortune into the family. At this point Evalyne has to face the anger and physical violence of her husband.
In the meantime, school starts back and Resian, deeply affected by the conflict at home, withdraws more and more into herself. Furthermore, during another short school break, back in the village, mother and daughter experience rejection and insults by the other villagers. The saleswomen at the market refuses to serve them.
The situation seems hopeless until one day at school, Mrs Kina, one of Resian’s teachers, having noticed her great distress, takes her aside to talk privately with her. Initially Resian is reluctant, but then encouraged by the affable manner of Mrs. Kina she finally opens up, telling her the whole story. After a report from the teacher, James is summoned to the school for a confrontation with the principal and Mrs Kina. These two persuade him to listen to his daughter’s reasons, reiterating how mutilation is a very harmful practice for women.
Some time later Resian finally receives good news from her mother. James appears to have calmed down.
Before the end-of-year exams, when parents are called to the school to wish their children a good outcome, Resian asks her mother to stay home, as she wishes to meet her father alone. After the school ceremony father and daughter go for a walk in the garden. They sit in silence together on a bench. Resian then finds the courage to tell James how much his behaviour has negatively affected her life. James, touched by her strong words, admits that he acted out of fear for the family and her own future. He takes his daughter’s hand and asks for forgiveness. Resian cannot hold back her tears.
Finally, at a family gathering, James announces that Resian will not be circumcised. The reactions among the group are mixed. Some praise his words, while others strongly disapprove. In any case, this event triggers a profound reconsideration of the practice within the entire community.
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