In her paper, Amilasan describes the procedure in detail:
“The Kah Dayang will now begin to scrape the labia majora of the young girl, doing it very gently, making sure not to cause any bleeding. When the labia majora is already erythematous, she will stop doing the scraping and will put cotton on the scraped site. The Kah Dayang will now utter a tawal (prayer) to the child and ends the female circumcision ceremony.”
Before long, more girls show up in Nanay Embong’s house, many with looks of consternation.
“Kinakabahan nga kaya mula kanina nung ano sabi niya mama uwi na daw kasi ano nga, takot siya kasi ang balita nag puputulin daw kaya naano siya," Maymuna Juto, who brought her 4-year old daughter, says with a laugh. "Sabi niya, 'Ma uwi na tayo mama kanina pa yan kaya sabi ko antay lang kasi nagpapahinga pa kaya nung pagkaano OK na, wag kang kabahan kasi para sa 'yo rin naman yan.”
(“Oh she’s nervous. Since we got here all she’s been saying is that she wants to go home. She’s afraid because she thinks her private parts will be cut out. But I told her not to worry, because this is for your own good anyway.”)
But if the anticipation is a killer, the aftermath seems underwhelming for many of the girls brought here today. After the ritual, Juto’s daughter takes her place on the green sofa, borrowing her mother’s cellphone. She holds the giant screen up to her face and proceeds to play some games.
Amilasan acknowledges that there is some discomfort involved in the practice, with some girls feeling a “dull, tolerable pain”, after the circumcision that would last for around an hour. Using unsterilized equipment may also lead to more serious consequences such as inflammation and infection. However, Amilasan, who had her own daughter undergo pag-islam a few years ago, says they do not have a single case on record of complications that arise from the ritual.
She argues that it might even have a positive impact on the community.
“As a doctor, yung tradition naman okay naman kasi sa mental health ng community there is maganda ang kaniyang result sa mental health nila kasi kapag na-islam sila yung female parang they feel na they will grow up fast, parang dalaga na sila, parang kailangan mag-aral na sila ng Kor-an” says Amilasan.
(“As a doctor, I think the tradition is OK because it’s good for the mental health of the community. When the girls undergo the ritual, they feel that they will grow up faster, that they have transitioned to adulthood*, that they can begin studying the Qur-an.”)
The belief that this rite of passage has basis in religion has justified its continued practice among the Yakan and other indigenous peoples in the region. In her study, Amilasan notes that some religious leaders view female circumcision as part of the legal body of Islam, and is mentioned in the Qur-an or hadith (a collection of the sayings and acts of prophet Mohammad), making it obligatory.