Some 800 women in the Sierra Leone town of Kailahun paraded Tuesday in favour of genital mutilation and told donors opposed to the practice to keep their money, demonstrators and witnesses said.
Women wearing colourful beads and adorned with seashells chanted songs in the local dialect that warned authorities and foreign organisations against "any attempt to take away our traditional ritual."
Kailahun is a dusty town about 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of Freetown, in a part of the west African country regarded by human rights groups as the heartland of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The UN World Health Organisation says FGM -- the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and related injury -- is recorded in 28 African nations and opposes the practice on medical grounds.
The traditional Bondo Society organised the rally as a "show of strength", said executive member Mamie Banya. "Any organisation that has accepted funds from overseas donors to wage war against FGM is fighting a losing battle. Let donors keep their money, we will keep our culture."
A group called the National Emancipation for Progress has led workshops and seminars to have FGM banned in Sierra Leone, but faces opposition from people who hold the practice is harmless, promotes marital fidelity and is in tune with religious values.
"We have inherited this culture over 100 years ago and it has made us women be responsible housewives to our husbands," one demonstrator in the noisy march told AFP by telephone.
Another demonstrator, teacher Sally Kwapika, said "we love FGM as a culture in the past, today and tomorrow. I am appealing to the president that if he wants us to stop supporting him, let him advocate for an end to FGM."
Asked how the Bondo Society would respond if the Freetown government outlawed the practice like several others in Africa, Banya said: "We will become uncontrollable. Past governments have not interfered directly in our society. Why only now?"