Findings with apparently appalling significance have emerged of a community where a pre-eminent “hyena” is paid to have sex with girls once they reach puberty, in an act described as a traditional ritual “cleansing”.
According to BBC News, in Nsanje district of southern Malawi, Eric Aniva – one of the 10 hyenas in the community – is paid between $4 to $7 (£3 to £5), each time to have ‘carnal knowledge’ of young girls, as he also sleeps with widows.
It was learnt that the act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual “cleansing”, however, as Ed Butler reports, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing – a way of spreading disease.
If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him.
Similarly, if a woman has an abortion, sexual cleansing is also required, while teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are compelled to have sex over a three-day period.
The three-day sex marathon is to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood.
The report also suggests that the girls aren’t too inclined to refuse to have sex with a “hyena” over fears that disease or a fatal misfortune could befall their families or the entire village.
“Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls. Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older,” says Aniva.
“All these girls find pleasure in having me as their hyena. They actually are proud and tell other people that this man is a real man, he knows how to please a woman.”
Despite his boasts, several girls express aversion to the ordeal they have had to go through.
“There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents,” one girl, Maria, tells me. “If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared.”
The renowned hyena, who has two wives and 5 children, claimed to have slept with 104 women and girls — a figure he also gave to a local newspaper in 2012.
Aniva is however not certain of the number of women and girls he has impregnated over the course of his career.
In a shocking development, Aniva said he would not allow a ‘hyena’ to sleep with his own daughter, claiming that he is now ‘stopping’ the practice.
Charity organisations are working towards stopping the socially sanctioned gender-based violence through education.
Dr Howard Kasiya, health expert and director of the Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy Network of Malawi, told the Guardian that being to undergo ‘sexual cleansing’ is ‘often a death sentence for girls’.
‘Malawi has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world and 10 per cent of the population is HIV-positive,’ Dr Kasiya said.
When girls are forced to sleep with ‘hyenas’ they are often then pushed into arranged marriages.