ELONGATION: OKUKYALIRA ENSIKO, the Buganda way of enhancing sexual pleasure
[EKIMEEZA LIFESTYLE] – Humanity’s pursuit for merit is not restricted to the open. Even in utmost privacy, when the matter at hand is entirely the business of a secretive twosome, mankind has always sought to excel and impress.
To many men, performance must impress even if it means applying drugs as dangerous as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. Many others have tried hazardous penis enlargement products. It is women, however, that have come up with the most creative and most awesome ways of enhancing their sexual performance.
In some cultures, glitters and jewels are applied down there to boost the area’s attractiveness. In parts of East and Central Africa women invented a sexual stimulus method that the people of Buganda came to know as Okukyalira ensiko.
This tradition of pulling and elongating the parts of the vagina variously known as labia minora, inner labia or inner lips enjoys pervasive reverence in central Uganda. In western Uganda, women of the Bahima clan used to make their labia minora long enough to cover the vaginal opening, raising barricades in the path of rapists. As members of the clan moved to towns and increasingly started wearing clothes following the 1986 change of government, the fear of rape went away with the modification of the vagina.
In societies where its prime purpose was to increase happiness, the practice, on top of remaining intact, has greatly been fortified. Though widely practiced by many other tribes in countries like Rwanda and Malawi, it is in Buganda that the elongation of inner lips has become a salient feature with which women distinguish themselves from women of other tribes.
Experts locally known as Ssenga, a title meaning paternal aunt and broadly used to refer to women specializing in sex education, say that three fingers are used to pull each of the lips downwards for several weeks. Older women, especially those past their teenage years, may have to do it for up to a month. Traditional herbs serve as catalysts.
During intercourse, these elongated lips tickle the penis as it gets in and gently squeezes it as it pulls out. To men, this is a blissful spice up. To women, it evokes heavenly feelings as the penis titillates the sensitive lips during inward and outward movements. This titillation stimulates the woman to reach orgasm or even multiple orgasms faster, a level of excitement that some women hardly experience because of the inexperience of their spouses.
Teased with a gentle touch during foreplay, longer lips, compared to shorter lips, easily get wet and rapidly pass on lubricants to the vaginal opening to facilitate penetration. Vaginas with long labia minora are more likely to be moist than those with short ones.
The Ssenga also state that longer lips are good for oral sex – for licking and fingering. They are so good for kachabali, a practice in western Uganda that involves using an erect penis to strike the surface of the vagina repetitively and rapidly during foreplay. Those who practice this kind of stroke, which targets the clitoris as well as the labia minora, say it’s without equal in turning on women and in driving them to orgasm.
The most often stated benefit for Okukyalira ensiko is to keep the vagina warm. Long inner lips stretching to the opening of the vagina, experts say, serve as a blanket that that keeps the warmth of the sexual organ intact. One Ssenga described these lips as “doors that close” the vagina and keep its temperature at enjoyable levels.
Psychological benefits have also sustained the practice. To some men, a vagina endowed with hanging lips is an incredibly sexy scene. It’s a perfect turn-on. To women, it builds confidence and self-esteem to look like other women in Buganda.
These and many other benefits have made Okukyalira ensiko, which literally means visiting the bush, an integral part of sex baptism among Uganda’s largest ethnic group.
Far from promoting promiscuity as one ignorant European writer claims, the tradition prepares girls for what society considers the most enjoyable and most pleasurable form of lovemaking. By no means does it transmit HIV if precautions are taken, as it is normally the case, or if a woman does it herself – without involving third parties.
In most cases, however, third parties are involved, especially when the paternal aunt is required to do it on her sister’s children, as tradition dictates. In this case, experts recommend gloves. Experts also advise that girls should ‘visit the bush’ before they reach puberty – before they start considering having sex.
Rarely are the girls told the sexual significance of pulling their labia minora since Buganda culture considers sex discussion unsuitable for minors. Instead, they are told that the modification is a form of adornment that makes them look nice. In this information age, nevertheless, this kind of concealment doesn’t conceal much. Many of these little girls seem to know the real essence of Okukyalira ensiko.
Once the labia minora have attained their required vertical length, which in Buganda is supposed to be not so long and not so short, women are advised to regularly revisit them to maintain their shape, warmth and fascination. Cleaning them regularly is equally mandatory.
For starters, pulling the lips can be a bit painful. But by no means does this constitute torture, as some foreign bigots would want us to believe. Some cultural chauvinists in the West have gone as far as categorizing Okukyalira ensiko under female genital mutilation at the World Health Organisation, or WHO.
They don’t realize that elongating the labia minora is actually the opposite of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the case in the sense that FGM seeks to kill sexual feelings while Okukyalira ensiko is intended to enhance such feelings. No sane mind can put these two conflicting extremes in the same category. This is the kind of ignorance that Europeans and Americans display whenever they talk about Africa.
Who in Africa did the WHO consult to equate Okukyalira ensiko to FGM? Does that organization represent the interests of the people of the world or does it serve the interests of western bigots?
As a Muganda who was not born and bread in Buganda, I missed the opportunity to nurture and develop the passion that many of my tribesmen have for our culture. I practice little of this culture and often have I violated the taboo of criticizing cultural leaders. Yet, I cannot be so irresponsible to watch hands akimbo the demolition of any African culture at the hands of notorious Western mobs that have plundered Africa to the marrow and that are still determined to wipe out whatever has remained of it in terms of values, morals and customs.
One source of encouragement is that the continuing vitality of practices like Okukyalira ensiko demonstrates the limits of foreign invasion in undermining native culture. In fact, one of Kampala’s leading Ssenga told me that European women have started coming to her to have their labia minora elongated. The people of the West would certainly learn a lot from Africa if they overcame their bigotry.
As for some of my Muslim brothers – especially the puritanical young generation – whose feeble understanding of Islam prompts them to ride roughshod over our traditional values, we wish to remind them that the monotheistic religion has never set out to abolish culture. Islam surely does away with cultural practices that contradict its teachings, including the worship of Lubaale and other traditional gods. But the faith has never waged war on any cultural practices that have nothing to do with it.
On the contrary, Islam endorses and even encourages such values and practices, as the Noble Qur’an states, “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another…” (49:13).
According to this verse, the existence of nations and tribes and their variations in colour and culture is significant for identification. Okukyalira ensiko is one such identity aspect that distinguishes one people from another.
To wrap up this discussion I will cite an observation, not from a ‘cultural conservative’, but from a ‘progressive’ women rights activist, Dr. Sylvia Tamale, whose feminist militancy has surprisingly not entirely washed away her respect for her traditional culture.
In her paper, Eroticism, Sensuality and “Women’s Secrets” among the Baganda: A Critical Analysis, Dr. Tamale mounts an articulate defense for Okukyalira ensiko and castigates Western bigots for displaying their usual double-standards in fighting this African tradition. She writes:
Classifying it (Okukyalira ensiko) and condemning it as type-IV female genital mutilation, the WHO lumps this procedure together with FGM procedures that pose health hazards to women. It completely disregards the ways in which this practice, encoded within the Ssenga institution, has enhanced sexual pleasure for women, and expanded their perceptions of themselves as active sexual beings.
Interestingly, harmful cosmetic procedures (such as clitoral piercing) sometimes performed in Western countries are not listed under type-IV FGM. Through such discourse, this global health body writes this African practice of sexual enhancement into the broad negative rubric of harmful cultural practices that violate the rights of women and children.
Far from suffering feelings of “incompleteness, anxiety and depression” that the WHO associates with this practice, most of those interviewed in this study spoke positively of this cultural practice. This “lived experience” of Baganda women contradicts the negative blanket characterisation of the cultural practice of labia elongation offered by the WHO.