Author(s): Bosire Obara Tom
This thesis explores the place of the Bondo secret society, whose precondition for membership is female genital cutting (FGC), in Sierra Leone’s post-war politics. The Bondo society is considered a repository of gendered knowledge that bestows members with significant forms of power in the local social context. Members, especially Bondo society leaders, are dedicated to the continued practice of FGC even amidst calls for its eradication. The Bondo is much sought after and overwhelmingly supported by the political elite due to the role it plays in ordering community life and its position as the depository of cultural repertoires (Swidler, 2001:24). Most women gravitate towards the Bondo who also use it to shape and reshape their identity. For example, as part of post war recovery, I argue, the Bondo was employed by political actors to legitimate and extend the hegemony of political movements. This analysis, therefore, examines the complicated interplay of power between politicians and the Bondo society members in the context of an international outcry against the practice of FGC. The thesis argues that the Bondo society leaders are keen to maintain the status quo because of the forms of power accessible to them in the local socio-economic and political context. Faced with an over-arching discourse of eradication and change concerning the FGC procedure, the Bondo society has in turn fashioned a counter-discourse framed in terms of “defending traditional culture” to forestall changes that could affect the “privileges” they access. I explore the tensions of this situation in this thesis. That is, on the one hand, the tension brought about by opposition between the FGC reform agenda and the Bondo society members’ attempts to resist change in the ritual practice. On the other hand, I am concerned with the tension in the patronage they enjoy from politicians who are caught up in a double bind situation: they simultaneously need support from Bondo members but are, at the same time, reliant on international development aid. In exploring power from below, I examine Bondo society’s community stock of knowledge and how this symbolic power is employed in Sierra Leonean politics. This does not lead to a vindication of FGC but underscores the complex social, economic and political meanings embedded in the Bondo and in discourses of power in Sierra Leone. The thesis points out that eradication advocates need to take account of the various dimensions of the Bondo society’s embeddedness in relation to both state and society.