Synopsis: “My name is Norró and I am a 12-year-old Dassanetch girl. Not long ago they circumcised me and also my sister Nohode. It is a very ancient custom in my land. If we didn’t have it done, nobody would respect us. We would not be able to get married or have kids. We would be alone, rejected by everybody”.
This documentary explains the history of Norró and Nohode, two Dassanetch sisters that were subject to circumcision. We will live alongside them and their family during the days before the ritual is held. Through their words and gestures we will learn what they think and why this deep-rooted tradition is practised.
The Daasanach are also called Marille especially by their neighbours, the Turkana of Kenya. The Daasanach are traditionally pastoralists, but in recent years have become primarily agropastoral. Having lost the majority of their lands over the past fifty years or so, primarily as a result from being excluded from their traditional Kenyan lands, including on both sides of Lake Turkana, and the ‘Ilemi Triangle’ of Sudan, they have suffered a massive decrease in the numbers of cattle, goats and sheep. As a result, large numbers of them have moved to areas closer to the Omo River, where they attempt to grow enough crops to survive. There is much disease along the river (including tsetse, which has increased with forest and woodland development there), however, making this solution to their economic plight difficult. Like many pastoral peoples throughout this region of Africa, the Daasanach are a highly egalitarian society, with a social system involving age sets and clan lineages – both of which involve strong reciprocity relations.
The Daasanach are a primarily agropastoral people; they grow sorghum, maize, pumpkins and beans when the Omo river and its delta floods. Otherwise the Daasanach rely on their goats and cattle which give them milk, and are slaughtered in the dry season for meat and hides. Sorghum is cooked with water into a porridge eaten with a stew. Corn is usually roasted, and sorghum is fermented into beer. The Daasanach who herd cattle live in dome-shaped houses made from a frame of branches, covered with hides and woven boxes (which are used to carry possessions on donkeys when the Daasanach migrate). The huts have a hearth, with mats covering the floor used for sleeping. The Dies, or lower class, are people who have lost their cattle and their way of living. They live on the shores of Lake Turkana hunting crocodiles and fishing. Although their status is low because of their lack of cattle, the Dies help the herders with crocodile meat and fish in return for meat.
Women are circumcised by removing the clitoris. Women who are not circumcised are called animals or boys and cannot get married or wear clothes. Women wear a pleated cowskin skirt and necklaces and bracelets, they are usually married off at 17 while men are at 20. Boys are circumcised. Men wear only a checkered cloth around their waist.