Mafi Dove is a dusty little village bursting with golden sand valleys in South Ghana. It is home to a population of around 5,000 yet what is unique about its people is that almost none of them were born there. Three antediluvian traditions, which stem from the belief that the land is holy, govern the community–the rearing of animals is forbidden; no one must be buried in the earth; and women are not allowed to give birth there. It is believed that these acts will anger the Gods.
Women in labour have to make last minute journeys in horrific pain to give birth elsewhere in neighbouring towns or villages. It is not uncommon for expectant mothers to encounter birth complications en route–sometimes travelling for up to ten kilometres by foot or on motorbikes on less than ideal roads, making the situation direr.
There have been a few rare cases where women did not have sufficient time to leave the vicinity and as such, the child was born on the “sacred ground”. In those instances, the women’s family had to inform the elders immediately to conduct a ceremony to purify the land and assuage the Gods. Fuelled by superstition, the general consensus is that any babies coming into the world in that manner risk being born with disabilities or health issues.
In a mini-documentary, elder and stool father Kwame Tsiditse Gbenua told Pulse Ghana:
“When our forefather, Aki, stepped his feet on the land, he heard the voice of God from above that the land is a peaceful one and he could only inhabit it only if he would abide by the taboos of the land. God said blood should not stain the land, he should not rear animals in the land and there should not be burials of the dead in the land. Women are free to menstruate in the community without any consequence. The taboo is not necessarily against bloodstain. It is possible to get injured when you go to farm, and blood will surely stain the ground. But to deliberately kill somebody or cause bloodshed is a breach of the taboo. When women give birth, they pass out a lot of blood, and it is tantamount to bloodshed. That is why it is forbidden.
“Because we abide by those taboos, we are also a peaceful people. We don’t do evil things like killing or any act that may result in bloodshed. Where there is evil there is no development, so the taboos have benefitted us so much. When you come to Dove because of the taboo against animal rearing, the town is clean; there is no unsanitary condition. The taboos will never be amended, let alone abolished.”
The elders remain adamant that it is imperative to honour the age-old custom to ensure the well-being and prosperity of Mafi Dove. Yet, more women have started to challenge the folklores and have spoken up about wanting to have their babies in the community.
Mother-to-be, Hannah Kosinah told the BBC: “I am nine months pregnant but I am not allowed to give birth [in my village]. Some of us have to walk long distances to other places to give birth. I really struggled with my first child. I struggled to get a car to take me to another village to give birth. I had my second in another village too. Now there is a clinic nearby. I will go there to have my third.”
The village had its first Health Centre opened in 2018 but it had to be built on the outskirts of the area to avoid upsetting the tradition. Yet, this proses other issues such as overcrowding, and insufficient staff or resources since the new mothers are not permitted to return to Mafi Dove until the babies’ umbilical chord has fallen off.
“I want to appeal to the village elders to abolish this practice so we can have our babies here,” Kosinah said.