By Billy Hani
‘Kumamako’ is a popular Swahili insult, offline and online. ‘Kuma’ means vagina while ‘mamaku’ means your mother. No one takes it kindly when their mother is insulted. ‘Ther’ or ‘olundi’ is an insult in Dholuo, one of Kenya’s native languages. The words mean your vagina. I grew up around these two cultures knowing that vagina in my native language can only be used as an insult. In fact, I remember as kids, when someone insulted you like that, you would cry endlessly.
Women’s vaginas have constantly been used as an insult. A man is called a ‘pussy’ (slang for vagina’ to suggest weakness or not being ‘manly’ enough. But seriously, a vagina is just another body organ like an arm or a leg. So why is vagina a dirty word? Are we implying that vaginas are dirty?
As an adult, I still cannot say the word ‘vagina’ out loud in my mother tongue, especially in front of others. I realised my younger sister cannot do the same.
The shame attached to calling vagina by its name, I believe, hinders discussions about sexuality and sexual reproductive health. We are always coining any possible euphemism to avoid saying the word vagina. From ‘flower’ ‘honeypot’ ‘down there’ ‘vajayjay’ ‘miss v’ ‘cookie’ and numerous other words. Even when we go to see a health care provider, we’ll say something like ‘I’m itching down there’. But when it comes to insulting others, we call a vagina by ALL its names. WHY?
The ‘Show Me Your Flower’ project is about embracing calling our vaginas by their names, in our local languages/mother tongues. No, it is not a dirty word to say. No, do not beat your kids for saying it.
It reminds me of a story I once read on Twitter of a child who was telling her teacher that her uncle was eating her cookie. The teacher would encourage her not to be selfish and share her cookie with others. It was only after the child was abused several times and could not walk properly, that the teacher noticed something was wrong. It turned out that the uncle had been defiling the child all along. Had the child used the correct name for her vagina, the issue would have been dealt with earlier.
This project is a work in progress and my end goal is to produce an e-book with all the local Kenyan languages for vagina.
Meanwhile, teach your child about their body parts. Do not skip naming their genitals so that they have the right language for it. Vagina, by any name, is not a dirty word!