Naya, wearing a bright yellow dress, has just reached the seventh month of her life, and today’s party is for her. It’s her molubingo, the customary practice that has given Gorontalo Province in Sulawesi the highest rate of circumcised women per year (link in Bahasa Indonesia) in Indonesia. It’s a tradition once banned but still deeply rooted across the archipelago.

Naya’s mother takes her into a room with a traditional midwife, or hulango, armed with a knife barely sharp enough to cut into an unripe orange, which will be used to remove part of Naya’s clitoris. The men reciting a Muslim prayer outside say this is how a woman enters Islam.

Naya’s cry of discomfort becomes a scream, and the hulango quickly finishes the procedure under a white sheet. “There’s no blood,” says the hulango, Martin A Upingo. “If there’s blood it’s not good.” The 68-year-old removes a piece of Naya’s flesh, the size and color of a grain of rice. She claims that if no blood is drawn, there’s no injury, and therefore it’s only symbolic.

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Ian Morse

Ian Morse is a journalist based in Gorontalo and covering eastern Indonesia and Kalimantan. He tweets @ianjmorse.