Parsimei Ole Kaelo throws a homecoming celebration and invites representatives from each of the five sub-clans of the Maa people of Nasila: Imolelian, Ilmakesen, Ilukumae, Ilaiser, and Iltarrosero. The family throws a lavish party and slaughters an ox, six rams, and four goats.
As Ole Kaelo prepares for the celebration he chokes up and, on the verge of tears, vows never again to leave his clan. He also scrutinizes Resian and makes her nervous, causing her to drop two glasses. Ole Kaelo struggles to control his temper and “...wonder(s) where in the world they fetched that awkward, overblown, stupid child.”
After a communal meal, a group of young men and women perform a song and dance to commemorate Ole Kaelo’s return. The performance reminds Taiyo of her musical aspirations and how Ole Kaelo refused to let her attend the musical extravaganza in Mombasa. Ole Kaelo remarks that performing for money is for “harlots.” Taiyo meets a young man named Joseph Parmuat with whom she is infatuated. Later, she learns that he is part of the same clan and, therefore, considered her brother. At the party Taiyo and Resian spot the strange man who grabbed Taiyo in town, but he disappears into the crowd.
Taiyo sees an old toothless man struggling to eat a leg of mutton and serves him a plate of rice, beans, and peas. The old man turns out to be a revered elder named Ole Musanka who performs a ceremonial blessing on the Ole Kaelo family. He also predicts that Taiyo will be the mother of the next leader of Nasila.
As she falls asleep, Resian recalls a visit from the enkamuratani, an old woman who performs the ritual rite of female circumcision. She tries to wake Taiyo and ask her to raise the idea of the girls leaving Nasila to attend University in Egerton, but Taiyo pretends to be asleep. The next morning, Ole Kaelo and Mama Milanoi discuss the cultural pressure to circumcise their daughters and prepare them for marriage. Mama Milanoi opposes circumcision but says nothing because she feels an obligation to support her husband.
Ole Kaelo instructs Joseph Parmuat that, as a brother to Taiyo and Resian, he is obligated to help them acclimate to life and culture in Nasila. A man named Olarinkoi begins visiting the Kaelo family home. Olarinkoi brings food, does odd jobs for the Kaelo family, and tends to the property by cutting grass and watering the flowers.
Taiyo and Resian cook dinner with their mother and several of their uncle’s wives. Resian remarks that while she appreciates learning to cook, she does not understand why she should be expected to cook for men. Resian’s mother and Yeiyo-botorr (the eldest of her uncle’s wives) admonish Resian for her comments. Her aunt suggests that she has Olkuenyi, a bad spirit in her blood. Yeiyo-botorr tells Mama Milanoi that she should have Resian circumcised to cleanse her spirit.
The girls ask Joseph Parmuat what he knows about Olarinkoi, who is spending an increasing amount of time with the Kaelo family. Joseph tells them that the man is a mystery. Some people say Olarinkoi is a drifter, others call him an opportunist. Joseph also tells them a parable about a man who shares his name.
According to the story, the Maa clan (to which their sub-clan belongs) became separated during a journey. Years later, the splintered faction unknowingly attacked the other half of their tribe and defeated them. The conquerors were led by the warrior Olarinkoi, who stood eight feet tall. Olarinkoi became a tyrant and forced the women of the Maa clan to father the children of his soldiers. According to the parable, the custom of female circumcision came from the Maa women’s desire not to be corrupted by Olarinkoi and his men.
One of the main issues raised by the text is the ethical problems of female circumcision. Today the practice of female circumcision—which Western medical and aid organizations refer to as female genital mutilation, or FGM—is considered a violation of human rights in most parts of the world. In an attempt to understand cultural differences, let us momentarily set aside moral judgment and consider the cultural practice on its own terms.
One way to understand sacred rituals is as an analog to law. Legal systems create rules in the form of laws that govern and structure societies. When laws are violated, they can be enforced with punishments, retribution, or justice. In other words, if I fail to stop at a red light I may receive a fine. In this way, laws create structure and order within a given society and may help to prevent accidents, crime, etc.
Similarly, religious and cultural rituals help to preserve the fabric of a culture or religious group over time. Consider for example the ritual practice of communion and its role in Christian theology. The doctrine of transubstantiation (when Christians believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ) is, to non-Christians, a strange one. However, it remains part of a religious practice that has persisted for two thousand years. Unlike FGM, transubstantiation does not explicitly harm the recipient, but the two share a common role as ritual practices.
With this in mind, let’s return to the issue of FGM. We can acknowledge how FGM violates our modern conception of human rights and notice its role as a social and cultural ritual. Though a Western observer would clearly identify FGM as wrong, a desire on the part of its practitioners to hold on to such cultural practices may also be understood as an act of social preservation.
Note that the role of the enkamuratani, who performs the rite of circumcision, is performed by a woman. When Joseph Parmuat tells Resian and Taiyo the parable of Olarinkoi, he tells them that FGM was initiated by the women of Nasila. FGM is partially enforced by the men of the Maa tribe, but it is a tradition that cannot be continued except with the active participation of women. The fact that the women of Nasila are active participants in FGM makes it much more difficult for Resian and Taiyo to oppose it.