In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it’s traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a paid sex worker known as a “hyena” once they reach puberty. The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual “cleansing”. However, as Ed Butler of BBC reports, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing – a way of spreading disease.
Aniva is by all accounts the pre-eminent “hyena” in this village. It’s a traditional title given to a man hired by communities in several remote parts of southern Malawi to provide what’s called sexual “cleansing”. If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him. If a woman has an abortion, again sexual cleansing is required.
And most shockingly, here in Nsanje, teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their 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.
“Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls,” Aniva tells Ed Butler.
“Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older. 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 Ed Butler met in a nearby village expressed aversion to the ordeal they’ve 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, told Ed Butler. “If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared.”
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