Much Nigerian ado about the Malawi hyena: the men paid to have sex with young girls

©BBC|Eric Aniva - Malawi hyena

Today, the BBC revealed that in remote parts of Malawi, there are men who are paid to take the virginity of young girls. Apparently, these men, called hyenas, are paid to have sex with the girl child once she hits puberty.

This is not some sordid, Grecian orgy or public square spectacle. The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual “cleansing”. You see, the villagers who carry out these rites see it as a marking of the girls’ passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girls refuse, it’s believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.

Let me start by saying that I do not in any way condone this tradition. It sounds utterly barbaric and backwards but that’s tradition for you: we do things the way our forefathers did them, believing in the myths that they did, until we know better.

I’m not going to lie, the practice repulsed me, particularly as the man interviewed, Eric Aniva, confessed to being HIV Positive and not necessarily revealing this to the girls or to their families when they are brought to him.

What surprised me was the outcry from many Nigerians who shared the BBC article using words like “Barbaric!” “Disgusting!” and “How could they??!”

But what’s with the Nigerian outrage? Is patriarchy and the treatment of the African girl child and her sexuality anything new? Are we STILL not leaders when it comes to Female Genital Mutilation, for example? And by still, I mean today, now, in 2016? Do you realise the damage -physical and psychological – that was done to a legion of young girls? Sure, FGM is illegal today, but is anyone reporting the ‘custodians’ of the traditions? Are mothers themselves not carrying their daughters to huts back home in the village for the ‘cleansing’? Just to ensure that they do not raise whores and guttersnipes?

Wait first, are there not young girls sent to fattening houses in the East, their bodies overstuffed and abused in order that they may look prettier for suitors?

Do the northerners not marry out their daughters from as young as eight years old? Are the hospitals in the north not full of girls as YOUNG AS NINE YEARS OLD having babies?

So why are we acting like sex with a minor – in keeping with another person’s culture – is just the most horrific thing we’ve ever heard?

Why are we busy swallowing Panadol for other cultures’ headaches? Don’t we have enough problems of our own?

Personally, the only thoughts I had upon reading the article was – Gee, I hope there are enough educated and exposed Malawians pushing for this practice to be eliminated.

I hope there will be an uprising of Malawians who will snootily inform the BBC:

“Yes, we know about the problem you speak of, thank you very much, and it is in hand. As we speak, there are measures in place to abolish the practice in its entirety. We would like to inform you that the good people of Malawi condemn the practice out-rightly and will get our more rural cousins in check. Now, if you would be so kind as to scurry off back to the West Midlands to sort out your little problem of teen pregnancy or perhaps have a word with the Scots and their little drink problem, that would be just grand”

I sincerely hope this will not just be another story to the growing pile of educated scorn being heaped on my continent, my fatherland. A story that Mr & Mrs Hitchins will read while sitting in their conservatory in Bexleyheath and smile indulgently while they say “Oh, those Africans and their backward ways!”

Yes, it’s a horrific practice. But when we know better, we should do better. And we should take the log of wood out of our own eyes in the process.

My thoughts at this time are with the poor, poor girls who have sex with these hyenas under duress. The violation, the resultant pregnancies or disease must be too horrific to contemplate.

This is why we strive endlessly for the emancipation of the girl child.



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