No Births Here
Mafi-Dove, meaning “peace”, is a village in the Volta region of Ghana with a tradition that does not reconcile with its name. It has a population of about 2000, dotted along tributaries of the Volta River. Over the years, people living in Mafi-Dove have instituted beliefs and customs that obliged women to abide by certain rules and regulations. It has a tradition from ancient times that forbids women from giving birth in the village. In Mafi-Dove, pregnancy is fraught with perils. Childbirth is a concept that is shrouded in mysticism and fear.
According to a tradition, the founder of Mafi-Dove, Togbe Gbewofia Akiti, received a message from God instructing him neither to permit women to give birth in the village nor to allow residents to bury their dead there. They were also forbidden from raising animals in this village. He further asserted that two communities had been designated for childbirth and burial for the dead of Mafi Dove. These were Aloryi or Dokpo. Any woman who realized she was in labor had to inform her parents to take her to Aloryi or Dokpo. Ironically, neither of these villages has a clinic or community-based health and planning services compound. Adding to their predicament these women relied on traditional birth attendants to deliver their babies which came with some difficulties.
The women have to stay in those villages for seven days before they are deemed fit and clean enough to return to Mafi-Dove. In case of an unexpected childbirth in the village, the baby's mother and her family have to inform the elders for the necessary rituals to be performed to cleanse the town. It is believed that failure to do so would result in the baby becoming abnormal or calamity befalling the family.
Despite the growing population and traditional beliefs, Mafi-Dove exudes tranquility and calm. A number of Christian churches have been established there. Many are Pentecostal churches. Elder Emson Kpodzro of the Church of the Pentecost said “The people of Mafi-Dove were generally Christians who lived peacefully with the chiefs and elders”. He added that he did not preach against their traditional beliefs. He said that women in his church also abide by the traditions and customs of the land. He stressed that, with time, the people would change.
Change, they say is always good, but the problem, according to Leo Tolstoy, is that “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”. Dumega Tsidi and other elders of the Aklorobo Clan of Mafi-Dove told me that nothing could be done to change their cherished tradition. Dumega Tsidi said, “If any official tries to change their custom, I will vacate the town for him to do his or her wish because calamity will befall him or her”.
Some worried youth who pleaded anonymity said they tried to persuade the Senior Divisional Chief of Mafi-Dove to end the outrageous custom, but could not succeed. The youth said they were getting worried as access to a decent health facility was a significant challenge to the community. They said they often had to travel 20 kilometers by motorcycle which was the only means of transportation from Mafi-Dove to Sogakope, a nearby town on the highway to the Republic of Togo, and where the Ghana Government Hospital is located. They however, believed that once rituals could be performed to cleanse the town after an unexpected childbirth, then something could also be done to allow women to give birth in the village and for their families to bury their loved ones. They appealed to the Minister of Health, Gender, Children and Social Protection and the authorities concerned to intervene on their behalf and prevail upon the chief and elders for the necessary action to be taken to make life, its perpetuation of the population and dignified death and burial, worth living in the town
Pregnancy and childbirth at Mafi-Dove flies in the face of the goal which aims at ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages by the end of 2030.
Nsa Bassey Idiok, Parish Nurse