Photo Journal: From Girl to Woman Without the Knife

Photography by: Anja Ligtenberg

Pongezi means congratulations in Swahili. Congratulations to the girls who are now women without being circumcised and to a community that had the courage to break with a centuries-old tradition. This series shows alternative rites of passage, replacing traditional circumcision with education for Maasai girls in Kenya. In the new ritual, the girls are not circumcised but they do celebrate all the beautiful traditional rituals, such as the shaving of the head, the dancing, the drinking, the singing, and the face painting. Instead of the cutting the Maasai themselves choose to give the girls an extra three days of workshops about health, sex education, woman’s rights, self empowerment. Moreover, their parents promise not to marry them off until they have completed their studies. Because the men and the elders are approached first in the process and shown respect, every one in the community accepts the girls as woman, societal change happens harmoniously. This way the whole community gives a positive spin on a century old tradition. These photos pay homage to what dialogue, education, resilience and respect can accomplish when tradition and progress are held in high regard.