“These Things Might Be There in the Bible, But They Are Hidden” – Christian Appropriations of the Practice of Labia Elongation in Zimbabwe

Hellen Venganai


It is well documented that Christianity played a significant role in advancing discourses of modernity and in reconfiguring gender and sexual cultures in Africa. However, calls for a return to African traditional cultural practices are dominantly associated with “traditionalists” and rarely with Christians. This stems from a long discursive history of negative constructions of these practices since colonialism through institutional Christian discourses and more recently, Western hegemonic versions of feminism. Participation or non-participation in these practices was (and still is) often projected as signifying whether one is a Christian or non-Christian. While Christianity remains significant in the construction of identities in many African coun-tries, this article troubles the illusion of a shared “Christian identity” by interrogating how Christians relate to certain practices that have histori-cally been framed as “traditional” or “cultural” and therefore divorced from Christian values and norms. In particular, the essay draws from empirical studies done with young urban women and men in Zimbabwe on the practice of labia elongation. The ways in which participants spoke about this practice, challenge essentialist understandings and dominant re-presentations of these so-called traditional practices. Participants took complex and contradictory positions in criticising and supporting labia elon-gation at different moments by invoking Christian discourses interwoven with notions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race. Drawing from the work of poststructuralist and postcolonial feminists, the essay demon-strates how contemporary Zimbabwean urban Black Christians exercise agency in redefining this practice in relation to their own Christian identities as they take up different subject positions and navigate multiple identities connected with their lived realities.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14426/ajgr.v25i1.5


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