African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

11
Prostitution: From "Free" Women to Women with AIDS

The particular nature of prostitution in Africa today derives to some degree from traditional social practices. For example, in Cameroon it was usually considered indecent to have sex before marriage. This was considered a grave injury to the family of the young woman who was to be given in marriage, and the guilty young man received a heavy penalty. But married women apparently enjoyed the right to their bodies. Thus among the Bassa in cases of adultery, the lover owed the husband only a chicken in recompense, which both formalized his liaison and recognized the wrong done by this tacit polyandry. Among the Ewondo things went even farther. A greedy, polygamous man who could not satisfy the needs of his many wives (acquired for their productive capacity) profited in what seems to have been the most normal way in the world from their sexual adventures. He could even practice mvié (a three-way commitment) by renting his wife temporarily to the lover she was so taken with. This was basically service purchased at a rate set by the owner. Among the Duala women were rather routinely sold or given to brothers, male relatives, friends, and clients without concern for the women's opinion. The Fulbe of northern Cameroon, who assimilated aspects of Hausa culture into their own, had no opposition to prostitution in principle. It was ironically the mountain-living northern tribes, the Mofue and Mafa, neither Islamic nor Christian, who were hardest on adulterous women. The young woman enjoyed exceptional freedom of choice in her marriage, including the freedom to reject the suitor proposed by her parents and to go to live without further ado with her heart's desire. But if she betrayed him, she risked stoning. 1

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