The Last Rites

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Kenyan Seita Lengila after her circumcision

Massita, 61, takes a piece of old cloth from her battered white purse, unfolds it and gingerly lays out seven miniature knives. The crude blades are nicked, the wooden handles worn. An older woman sitting next to her leans over and taps the knives twice with the fingers of her right hand, then touches her forehead. This is to avoid eye problems after looking at the knives, she says. Massita picks up one knife and explains how it is used to remove the clitorises of young women. Her mother did the same job before her, she says. And her grandmother. "These are the very knives they used."

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