In Unanswered Cries, award-winning Sierra Leonian writer, Osman Conteh tackles the subject of female circumcision. Set in Sierra Leone, the book centers around Olabisi, a 14-year old girl, who faces circumcision. While her father is Creole and opposes the practice, her mother, who is from the Temne tribe, is all for it. The parents are not married to each other and live apart.
“On the day the gods wanted her circumcised, Olabisi was sitting restless, on a low stool, washing dirty dishes in a large plastic bowl. She caught hold of the hem of her flimsy skirt, tucked it between her slim legs and reached into the plastic bowl for the last dish. Nothing exciting happens in this place, she thought. There is nowhere to go except to another boring part of the village. As she began to scrub the dish, the wind brought her news of an approaching group of singers.”
Thus opens the book. Olabisi, who is unaware of the predicament that awaits her, is spending the holidays with her mother Makalay in the village. Against her mother’s wishes, Olabisi escapes being put under the knife. Exhibiting profound fighting prowess for a 14-year old girl, she runs a long distance through the forest, averts being gulped up by a crocodile, and reaches her father, Ade Jones, in Freetown.
Makalay chases her daughter to Freetown and demands to have Olabisi back. Ade Jones rejects her demand and a legal battle ensues. Jones triumphs and the court ruling stays the surgical blade of the sowey, the surgeons who perform female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation can be effected on a female child as early as age six. It initiates her into the bondo secret society, which is believed to be ruled by gods and spirits, and raises her social status. This practice signifies the coming of age of a woman, regardless of her chronological age. An uncircumcised female is derisively label, Gborka. The devotees of this practice also argue, despite the evidence to the contrary, that it quells the sexual appetite of women. Women are both the victim and the chief perpetuators of this practice.
This novel is rich in original similes and metaphors. Osman Conteh’s command of the English language is excellent, and his writing style so captivating that once the reader opens the first page, the pages keep flowing by almost unconsciously until the last page is reached.
Published in 2002 by Macmillan Education, Unanswered Cries is 88 pages long.