Genital cutting has been a key ritual event of initiation in Kuria society since anyone can remember. While changes surely occurred to the ritual as it was passed between generations, social and health concerns have quickly and radically reshaped it. In this article, I examine recent changes to the tradition, trace the concomitant social compromises and shifts in community ideology and practice, and identify how guiding social norms have been reshaped. Health concerns on the part of insiders and human-rights concerns on the part of outsiders have stimulated some Kuria to modify their opinions and change long-established customs. First, sterile procedures were introduced to circumcisers in the mid-1990s in response to the danger of HIV transmission. Then in the late 1990s, a clergyman, wanting to reduce the risks to the initiates but to preserve the ritual, brought a trained nurse to a mission in the community to operate on girls. During the 1998 ritual (it occurs every two to three years), about sixty girls were cut there. In 2001, a Kuria circumciser performed female genital cutting (FGC) at the mission, thereby obviating concerns about interethnic and interclan witchcraft. In the 2004–2005 season, after years of campaigning, international NGOs introduced an alternative rite of passage. They brought together more than 200 girls from throughout the district to attend workshops instead of genital cutting; on their way home, however, most of those girls were pressured or forced to undergo genital cutting anyway, fulfilling the cultural norm that requires initiation candidates to return home only after they have been operated on. Locally, the circumcision controversy has generated a language that frames the issues in terms of modernization theory's starkest contrasts—using terms, characterizations, and language unheard of in the community even a few years ago.
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