… Scarred by ‘traditional’ haemorrhoid cutting
By Patience Nyangove
Everything within told me to scream my lungs out, but the countless stern warnings from my mother, who said that if I dared do so much as whimper, or shed a tear, my child would die, stopped me from doing so.
The thought of losing my only child was enough to sway me to bare the pain of a brand new razor blade, slowly but ruthlessly, having my piles removed “traditionally”, in Katutura’s Wambu Lokasie.
The ‘surgeon’ that day, nearly 11 years ago, was Kuku Hilya, a very old woman whose demeanour was not only cold, but frightening.
I had been informed that this backyard ‘operation’ I had to undergo had to be carried out by a woman who was no longer sexually active nor menstruating.
Although the ‘operation’ took less than three minutes, it felt like forever.
Kuku dressed my wound with a traditional concoction. I still do not know what the ingredients were.
I was also forbidden from taking a look at the piece of flesh she had removed, as I was told that it would grow back, if I looked at it.
I was also told that from now on, my child will cease being a sick, since the source of his illness had been removed from the external opening of my rectum.
Relieving myself turned into a nightmare, so I avoided eating, in order to not use the bathroom. When I did use the toilet, I inflamed the wound, and I would start bleeding.
I wondered at the time: How did this nightmare come to be?
It was because my infant son was always in and out of hospital for different ailments, and my mother one day casually asked me whether I had a piece of flesh or growth on my anus, to which I responded in the affirmative.
I explained to her that I had developed piles or haemorrhoids when I was pregnant, due to constipation.
To my utter disbelief my mother was adamant that, traditionally, there was no such thing as piles or haemorrhoids.
She insisted that I had to have the growth cut, as a matter of urgency, before my child falls seriously ill and dies.
I was torn, to say the least.
As an educated and empowered woman, who has vast knowledge about constipation and its side-effects, being cowed into going through a traditional practice that I didn’t believe in, was simply beyond me.
But fear convinced me.
Anaesthetic was and will never be part of this ‘surgery’.
I only needed a razor blade, and because Kuku and my mother were acquaintances, the procedure was done free of charge.
However, further inquiries later established that some people charge anything from N$50 to N$200 to do the ‘operation, while others ask to be paid in-kind, with live chickens.
While I am glad I emerged unscathed from the backyard ‘surgery’, perpetuated by archaic African cultural practices that harm women physically and psychologically, other women are sadly left scarred for life.
Although statistics are not readily available, in terms of women harmed by this cultural practice, it is known that a lot of women who undergo the procedure have been rushed to the emergency room, due to complications that include severe bleeding, failure to control their bowels and infections of the blood.
In Namibia, many tribes still believe in this traditional practice.
Among the Oshiwambo-speaking people it’s referred to as eemalo, and they believe that the failure to removes piles or haemorrhoids causes continuous illness in children.
Otjiherero-speaking people call it omburu and they are convinced it brings bad luck and causes infertility in women, if the growth is not removed.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Namibia Officer-in- Charge, Loide Amkongo, said this week that although statistics are not available on the cultural practice, her organisation was aware of a study conducted in the Zambezi region.
“UNFPA is aware of a study conducted by Women’s Leadership Centre in the Zambezi region, on this practice. The practice is called Ku zwisasijabana (removal of growths). When a child gets ill, the mother is checked for growths inside the vagina or around the anus. These growths, called sichabana, are seen as a threat to the women’s health and the health of her children. Treatment is applied by cutting off the offending, disease carrying ‘piece of meat or growth’, in order to cure others.
“Traditional healers and medicine women ‘specialise’ in the treatment of these ‘growths’. In the above cutting practices, there is often a lack of hygiene, with the same blade used on different people, while traditional healers may have open sores on their hands,” Amkongo said.
She added that without a comprehensive prevalence study on this practice, it will be difficult to classify the practice as genital mutilation or not.
Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernhard Haufiku, dispelled the link between a woman’s piles and her child’s health.
“There is no connection between piles in a mother and a child’s health. Once the umbilical cord is cut, they become two different people. It is a belief perpetuated over the years, but there is no link. Piles occur in 80 percent of pregnant women. Sometimes it’s caused by constipation and it can also be genetic,” Dr Haufiku explained.
He added that any slight mistake while the anus muscle ring is being tampered with will have disastrous health implications for the woman.
“If cut wrongly, it means one’s external anal sphincter, also known as the muscle ring, will be damaged to the extent that they will not have control of their bowel system,” Dr Haufiku said.
A medical doctor based in Oshakati, who agreed to speak to Confidente on condition of anonymity, said it was common for doctors to treat women who visit health institutions, while suffering from severe bleeding, due to the cutting of their piles or haemorrhoids.
“Quite a number of women we have treated come in due to the cutting of major anal veins, or scarification of the anal canal,” the medical practitioner said.
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