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Title: Unanswered Cries

Author: Osman Conteh

Setting: Sierra Leone, Temne tribe.

Year of Publication: 2002 Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Limited.

the Senior Section of the Children Literature Award in the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, 2002.


The novel is about a Female Genital Mutilation or female circumcision which is a deep-rooted practice in some of the African societies including Sierra Leone; Writer’s homeland and in other parts of the continents Tanzania included. Strange as it may seem, even in the so-called era of globalization, science and technology some of the African societies like Temne tribe in Sierra Leone are proud of such barbaric tradition. The writer calls for the efforts for uprooting this unacceptable tradition.


  • The Title. The title of the novel and the book cover all of them symbolizes the content of the book. The title reflects the problems and the challenges even the deaths that happen to the girls when undergoing Female circumcision or FGM. All these evil practices go unheard or ‘unanswered’ by the society where it is practiced. But the novel breaks this silence. The author reveals the symbolism of the title in page 29 of the novel when he says, “The shrieks of the girl were drowned. Her cries went unanswered. Her clothes and pants were torn off her body. She fought like a wild cat, kicking and punching and shrieking and scratching. Without any success”.
  • The Setting. The setting of the novel is Temne tribe in Sierra Leone. It is technically set in any modern societies where this tradition is practiced including some tribe of Tanzania and other tribes in Africa.
  • The Plot. The author has narrated his novel’s events in chapters so as to make his plot more interesting and understandable. Thus, the novel is composed of 9 chapters. The following is a plot summary of the novel:


The novel opens as Olabisi and her mother, Makalay are at home. Olabisi while washing clothes, she hears the approaching drummers, singers and dancers, all of them are members of the secret Bondo society. She stops washing clothes and rushes to the mob to take photos with her camera given to her by her father who live in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Her father had told her to take anything that is interesting while at holiday to her mother who is a Secondary school teacher. Learning of Olabisi’s rushed into the group; Makalay quickly rushes into the group and removes her from it. Then, Makalay warns her on her involvement that it is illegal for her to participate because she is not a member of Bondo society. There is a conflict between them.


Olabisi goes to the river to fetch water. As she is there she meets Rugiatu and Salay, the village girls and daughters of Yah Posseh. She wonders how she fails to balance a bucket of water on her head while Rugiatu and Salay can do it comfortably as they walk and talk at the same time. Olabisi is little behind them. She attempts to reach them. As she calls them, she unknowingly calls them

gboka’ and they start quarrelling. Rugiatu and Salay are angry after being called ‘gboka’ because that name means ‘uncirmcised girl’ and it is an insult for them because they are circumcised! They put the buckets down and start fighting Olabisi. Olabisi is hit by a heavy object on her head. She faints. Later, she finds herself on Makalay’s arms. She has regained consciousness. 

Her mother warns her of the danger she has caused by fighting with Yah Posseh’s daughters. Yah Posseh is the head of the women circumcisers. Suddenly, a crazy mob of women comes in front of Makalay’s house. The mob is led by Yah Posseh herself. Yah Posseh has come to warn and order Makalay that Olabisi should be circumcised in the evening that day at the bondo camp. This is a punishment for what Olabisi has done to her daughters and as a tradition. 

Failure to bring Olabisi at the bondo camp, Makalay who is pregnant now will have birth problems. Yah Posseh warns. She is feared by the whole people in this society. After learning the terrible situation, Olabisi decides to run away. Makalay and Dauda, her husband chases her but in vain. As Dauda approaches her, Olabisi takes the bucket she left during the fight with the girls and throw it on Dauda’s feet. Dauda falls down and fails to follow her.


In the forest, a footpath resembles a tunnel. The chasing creature made the hairs at the back of her neck stand”. Olabisi runs into the jungle. When in the jungle, she experiences several challenges. At one time, she hears the footsteps behind her but it is just her imagination. She also hears the voices of women. They approach where she is. She quickly climbs a tree. The women talk the Temne, her mother’s tongue. The two women lead a girl between them to a certain place. Olabisi now realizes that the girl is led to the bondo camp that is close to where she is. She witnesses what is done to the girl while on the tree. At last the girl is brutally circumcised on her eyes. She weeps terribly for that brutal act. As she falls from the tree; ready to run from the place, she hears the voice; “Welcome to the bondo camp white woman”. Olabisi is frightened. It is Yah Posseh and her two daughters. They surround her. She became helpless.


Yah Posseh visits Makalay’s home in a dream. She meets Makalay and she performs on her house the magic tings. She lifts the cock in the air and cut off its head. She throws the body in the air but it bends and falls on Makalay’s feet. Makalay is scared to death and she is awake. After that dream, Makalay is now determined to find Olabisi. Duada returns home and he joins her wife in the search. In the search in the forest, Makalay meets Pa Amadu, the hunter. Makalay asks him to find Olabisi for her. She promises to give him a gallon of palm oil and any goat of his choice from her husband’s herd. Pa Amadu agrees.


Olabisi is still under the control of Yah Posseh and her two daughters. Olabisi remembers the way that girl was circumcised few minutes ago. She is afraid of Yah Posseh for she believes she is very powerful, but she is not afraid of her daughters. Posseh lifts the red cock in front of her, cuts off its head, look into the heaven, and throws the bleeding creature in the air. The blood scatters everywhere. Olabisi is scared even more. Olabisi manages to escape. She fights the two daughters first and turns to Yah Posseh who is scared too. Olabisi threatens Yah Posseh and runs down to the river. Night falls fast in the forest, but the moon comes out with a smile, shading soft light around her. She tries to cross a river but she is scared to see some creature of a long body like a log moving swiftly towards her. She thinks it is a crocodile. She swiftly gets out of water. As he takes the path back, she collides with Pa Amadu, the hunter. She negotiates with him to spare her life. She pays him and Pa Amadu agrees to help her and show her the way to Freetown.


The chapter opens in the Freetown. Ade and Oyah, his fiancée and a lawyer, are in some sort of conflict. It is about the accusations that Ade is having a secret love with a girl in town called Yamide. Ade tries to amuses Oyah with a funny story about personified ‘boys’ (mosquitos) that he says they invaded her. But Oyah is still not pleased. Ade promises to marry her so as to please her. But as she stands in the doorway, hesitating like a chameleon, suddenly she hears the sound of running feet behind her. She turns back only to see Olabisi face to face. Hugging and crying dominates. After short small talks about everything that has happened to Olabisi, Oyah takes her to the bathroom. Olabisi tells Oyah, “Be my mother”.

While Oyah and Olabisi are still in the bathroom, Makalay arrives and Ade blocks her at the door. She says she wants Olabisi for circumcision. Ade refuses that that is impossible for his daughter. Now we learn that these are the divorced couples. Oyah and Olabisi learn that Makalay has come and Olabisi insists she is not ready to do what she wants. They keep silent in the bathroom. In an attempt to get Olabisi, Makalay lies to Ade that, “She is not your daughter…… I fell in love with Abdulraman”. Ade becomes furious, but later Makalay says she is just lying because she needs her daughter terribly. Ade decides to take that matter to the court. Makalay agrees reluctantly and goes back to the village without Olabisi.


On Friday morning, Olabisi is very anxious of the idea of going to the court. She has never been to the court. Ade Jones, her father, reminds her of legal words and techniques commonly used in the court. In fact, for Ade and Olabisi, it is their first appearances before the court. Before the court session, the protest of Bondo women happens in the streets of Freetown. They demand their right to decide on the circumcision of girls. In the court, Olabisi is the first witness to be called by Oyah. Oyah finishes questioning her and it comes the turn of Makalay’s lawyer to cross examine her. Olabisi narrates her whole story and how she met Pa Amadu in the forest. “He said if I gave him enough money to buy two goats instead of one, he would show me the way out of the forest instead of taking me back to my mother” (56). “I gave him most of the money I had with me. Then he took me to the main road and put me in a vehicle coming to Freetown”. (56). Makalay’s lawyer reveals the love relationship between Olabisi and Eddy, Olabisi’s boyfriend. This confuses Olabisi even more. She is disappointed. It is finally revealed that Olabisi had sex with Eddy two times. She cries after hearing her privacy disclosed by Eddy like that.  Makalay’s lawyer says, “Exactly. It will reduce your appetite for sex and make you a clean girl” (59). Olabisi asks a question to Makalay’s lawyer, “Does cutting a person’s tongue reduce his appetite for food or his enjoyment of it?” (59). This becomes the difficult and confusing question to the lawyer. Ade is called as a next witness to Oyah. Oyah interrogates him and Makalay’s lawyer cross examine him. 

Makalay’s lawyer asks comments on him, “You answered truthfully. For you have had five girlfriends, and you are now living with a woman who is not your wife……the reckless father who changes women the way he changes his shirts…” (62). Ade gets angry too, but the court goes on. After all these, court is adjourned until ten o’clock Monday morning. Out of the court, Olabisi faces Eddy, she kicks him, they exchange harsh words, and they break up their relationships at the same time after the things that happened in the court earlier. She kicks him and calls him “Judas”. 


Olabisi, Ade, and Oyah are all at home after the end of the court session on Friday. Olabisi is angry after learning that she has angered her father in the court for having relationship with Eddy without letting him know. Ade corrects himself to her by saying, “From now on, it will no longer be ‘Do as I say’, but learn from watching me”. Oyah suggests Olabisi to be taken to gynaecologist, a doctor who treats women, for more observation. Ade goes on telling Olabisi, “I hate what you did, but I love you”.

It is on Monday morning and Judge Lansana Kanu resumes sitting. The court room is jam-packed as it was on Friday. Oyah opens the hearing by calling several witnesses. Finally, she calls her last witness. This is Dr. Asiatu Koroma who examined Olabisi over the weekend. Dr. Koroma says she has been a gynaecologist for ten years. She has also written the articles and books on FGM.

The doctor explains how circumcision is performed in front of the court. She says; “Well, the soweys are traditionally believed to possess supernatural powers. They are feared and protected by the community in which they live” (70). “When a girl dies due to excessive bleeding or some disease, the death is attributed to witchcraft” (70). “While in labour, the woman will be pressured to confess to either one of the two (witchcraft or adultery) so that the gods will make it easier for her to give birth” (70).

When Dr, Koroma finishes her testimony and the whole story and the process, she says that she examined Olabisi over the weekend and found her to be healthy and normal. And she concludes by saying; “There is no medical reason for amputating any part of her body or genitals” (70). Makalay’s lawyer rises to his feet and cross examines Dr. Koroma reveals that she was circumcised at the age of 12. Makalay’s lawyer reveals also that Umu, Dr. Asiatu’s daughter is HIV+ and will be 13 on this Thursday. Dr. Asiatu agrees that Umu, his daughter was really circumcised 6 years ago and got HIV right there. 


It is Makalay’s lawyer time, Salaam Sesay, to call witness. As expected, all witnesses support FGM. Yah Posseh is one of them. Her time comes and she comes to give her testimony. She is helped by another bondo woman who acts as her interpreter. Yah Posseh explains to the court the advantages of conducting FGM. She says, “I supervise the bondo rituals”. Yah Posseh to Olabisi is seen as funny as Olabisi’s late grandmother, Makalay’s mother. 

Olabisi is giggling so hard that she feels tears pricking her eyes. Oyah rises up to cross examine

Yah Posseh. She asks her several questions, “Without circumcision there is no bondo society. Is it not a fact that there are millions of uncircumcised woman who remain faithful to their husbands year after year?” She also asks her, “Is circumcising a seven-or eight-year-old girl absolutely necessary for her to learn how to manage a family successfully?” (78). Sesay’s last witness is Mrs. Makalay Kamara. 

All in all, Makalay wants her daughter to be circumcised. Oyah cross examines her. She asks her this question, “Mrs. Kamara, do you not find it surprising to see a college-educated woman supporting and defending cruelty to a child, for the sake of a tradition based on a medical ignorance and superstition?” (81). Oyah accuses Makalay that after breaking up with Ade, the circumcision did not help her to abstain and she decided to be engaged to Dauda. When all witnesses give their testimonies, lawyers make their closing speeches to the judge. 

Oyah speaks for Ade and Olabisi while Salaam Sesay speaks for the Makalay and the bondo society in general. The Judge now starts deciding the case. He asks the question to those who support FGM, “Is it possible to maintain this bondo society tradition, this ancient rite of passage to womanhood with its noble objectives, without circumcising the girls? Is it possible to remove the stigma of uncircumcised from girls who choose not to be circumcised?” (86). 

After posing these questions to bondo society, the Judge decides the case as follows, “Consequently, the court hereby orders that the child Olabisi Jones, shall not be forced against her will or the will of her father to undergo FGM”. Thus, Olabisi, Ade and Oyah jubilantly win the case and they celebrate thereafter. Three months later, Ade and Oyah are married and at the wedding, Olabisi becomes happier than before. At the wedding, he poses and says, “I am clean and alive” (88).


The author has successfully created the characters that are reflective of the persons who live in our contemporary societies. The following are the characters of this novel:


  • She is the central character of the novel. § She is 14 years old.
  • She is Ade’s and Makalay’s only daughter.
  • LOVE. She is Eddy’s girlfriend in Freetown. They break up their relationship after Eddy’s betrayal in the court.
  • She has sex with Eddy two times.
  • She is examined by Dr. Asiatu to check if she is healthy and normal.
  • COURAGE. She is courageous. She manages to escape FGM through the forest and other difficult experiences.
  • AWARENESS. She is aware of the evils of FGM and she protests against this barbaric tradition.
  • CONFLICT. She quarrels with Makalay, Dauda, Rugiatu, Salay, Eddy, and Salaam Sesay. VICTORIOUS.
  • She finally wins the case with help from Oyah and her father. She becomes free, clean and alive.


  • She is Ade’s ex-wife and Olabisi’s biological mother.
  • She is married to Dauda Kamara; now she is Dauda’s wife.
  • CIRCUMCISION. She was circumcised when she was just 10 years old and started to have sex at 14 years old and she was impregnated by Ade when she was 16 years old. It was the pregnancy of Olabisi.
  • She wants her daughter to be circumcised.
  • She is a member of the bondo society.
  • A TEACHER. She is a teacher and a college-educated woman but she is ignorant of the evils of FGM and she supports it. She is not liberated.
  • SUPERSTITIOUS & TRADITIONALIST. She is superstitious because she believes deeply in witchcraft and sorcery.
  • She is a traditionalist.
  • CONFLICT. She quarrels with Olabisi, Yah Posseh, Dauda, Ade, and Oyah.
  • She dislikes court or laws.
  • She protests against any views that oppose FGM. § She loses the case against her child.

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