BY NJIDEKA AGBO
When feminism and what it stands for is on the rise, the world is opening up to the possibility and acceptance of women-owned villages, and progressive communities. While this is fast becoming a norm, what many do not know, is that for ages, camps and villages to safeguard women from violence have been in existence.
The Matrilineal Musuo Tribe
The “Tibetan Buddhist” Mosuo tribe is an ancient tribe in China that has become a tourist attraction that draws you in with its clean air and nostalgic village setting. For one used to the patriarchal system, this community can trigger a culture shock. Here, the woman’s word is final.
It is easy to assume that women are a breed of single mothers. This is because marriage to them is almost non-existent. Instead, they practice “axia” (a “walking marriage”) which allows them to walk into a relationship with a man for the sake of bearing children or developing an amorous relationship. To show she is in a relationship, her lover hangs a mat in the front door so that other men can take note.
The woman is charged with the responsibility of training her children because often, she does not know who the father is. They are often supported by their aunts, mothers and uncles. It is these uncles that give the manly support that these children might need. The men are also taught that the assumed role of taking care of the child is everyone’s role. This matrilineal community reveres the grandmother as the head of the family.
Jinwar (meaning women’s land in Kurdish), Syria is a village inhabited by women. On each wall of the thirty houses located there is written: “Until women educate and empower themselves, there won’t be freedom.” The village was established by local and international women groups about four years ago so that Kurdish women had escaped the traditional honour killings, war rape, widows, women who have lost their families and women who want to escape the patriarchal system. To ensure that women are “free of the constraints of the oppressive power structures of patriarchy and capitalism,” the children of the women are provided with free education and living expenses.
Women in the community also cook and eat together in a communal kitchen. As for the men, they are allowed by the female security guarding the village to come in to make business transactions but are not allowed to spend the night in the village.
In Kenya, Umoja, a village in Samburu, women engage in their day-to-day activity of selling colourful necklaces, pieces of fabrics and chatting.
15 women who had survived rape from the British soldiers found Umoja, a village devoid of men. Today, it has not only become a place where rape survivors can find succour, women who have escaped female genital mutilation (FGM), marriage violence and child marriage also live in the village.
These women are taught alongside their children to make pieces of jewellery while they charge some money for tourists who want to visit the village. One of their unique features is that women make important decisions under the “tree of speech.”
Noiva do Cordeiro
Noiva do Cordeiro, which translates as Bride of the Lamb is a female-only town in southeast Brazil. The town is home to about 600 residents. It is dominated and governed by women. And the women are known to be incredibly beautiful. Some of Noiva do Cordeiro’s women are married and have families, but their husbands – and any sons over 18 – are made to work away from home and only allowed to return at the weekends. The town was founded in 1891 by Maria Senhorinha de Lima after she was banished from her village for alleged adultery. According to the legend, she simply escaped the man that she was being forced to marry. Other women joined her and were branded as loose women because of the lack of men in the community.
Unlike the others listed above, Ghana is a peculiar case. It has six camps (Kukuo, Bonyasi, Gambaga, Gnani, Kpatinga, and Naabuli) where women who are presumed to be witches are banned. To determine if a woman is a witch in Gambaga for instance, a chicken is allegedly thrown in the air by the chief priest. It is the Chief priest who determines the response of the gods. Often, these women cannot determine if they are witches because they possess no mystical powers. When the family of the woman seeks answers from the gods and it turns out to be false, they can visit the camp to request the woman’s return. Women who are sick or who fight with their co-wives can be accused of witchcraft and taken to these communities as witches.
Rather than being completely ostracized, they are allowed to work for villagers, visit their families but not stay there for long, and get fed by the chief of the community.