Wednesday, January 19, 2011


You could hear the commotion clear from the rain tanks to the well.  First, the angry female shouts cut like a breaker against the stillness of the village afternoon.  A brief period of hushed expectation followed as each hut pricked its ears to ascertain if this was a show worth getting up to watch.  Then came the flocks of pikininis, all heading to the point of contention.  When the kids started to gather, that was your sign that it was going to be good. 

Not knowing what to expect, I followed the crowd and my ears.  The woman was still screaming, her voice shrill and sharp above the excited squawking of the spectators.  Rounding a hut, I came to the main thoroughfare that ran the length of the village.  The sand, beaten beneath thousands of feet, millions of times, was as hard and smooth as a city sidewalk.  'Keala' (the road) stretched the width of a hut, about 4 yards, and connected the entire village, running parallel to the sea from the northern bush to the church.  Huts lined both sides of it, their low, dark doorways now punctuated with curious faces and watching eyes.

I became part of the stream of onlookers, and as we approached the nexus I made out the main players in this little drama.  A woman was striding down keala, screaming, "Do you see?  Do you see?  Look and see!  She is innocent!"  The whites of her eyes were showing all the way around her dark irises and her kinky hair was tucked back in a frizzy bun.  With one hand she kept readjusting the lava lava that covered the top half of her body, stretching under her armpits and across her large chest.  Her other hand clutched the arm of a teen aged girl. 

As the pair of them swung around towards where I was standing, I gasped in shock.  The girl was naked from the waist up, her fully formed breasts bare, beautiful and round, for all the village to see.  Embarrassed, I looked down.  Teenage girls usually kept their top halves covered, until they got married and started nursing babies, at which point breasts were seen by the community as functional, not sexual.

The woman shook her daughter, her tight grip causing the girl's entire body to tremble.  "Look!"  the woman demanded.  The girl's hair curtained her face, and she raised up her free arm to cover her chest.  Her mother slapped it down.  "Show them," she screamed.  "Show that they are light!" 

By this point I was very confused and slightly nauseated at what I was seeing.  "What does she mean?"  I asked someone standing nearby. 

"The girl has been accused of having sex, and it has been said that she is pregnant.  Her mother is showing the village that her breasts are not dark, proof that she cannot be with child."

I turned back with one more look of pity at the girl, and then was overcome with shame to be witness to the scene.  I left then, filled with grief, remorse, shame, as if I had been the one standing there exposed, for all the village to see.


  1. What a sad story. That poor child. I hope she found peace at some point. The lack of grace, lack of support and presence of shame are reminders of what I want and don't want overflowing in my parenting. Grace that has been given so freely to me, should be evident in the way I treat my children. I pray that my children never have a moment like that burned into their memory.

  2. I know, it still makes me sad. Many parents there used shame to control their children.