I'm sitting here with a newspaper article in front of me about "cleansers" in African villages. It tells the story of an African woman whose husband died recently, so now she is expected to have sex with the village "cleanser." The cleanser is a man who has sex with widows and other women who have recently experienced the death of a family member. Having sex with the cleanser makes the women fit for society again by driving away evil spirits. Village tradition holds that this is necessary or the whole community suffers.
Where do such traditions come from? It's true that other cultures have felt a need for lovemaking as a way to re-integrate people into their communities after experiencing trauma or loss. Ancient goddess priestesses would perform ritual sex with soldiers returning from war. This would love the war out of them so they could return to their families as brothers and fathers and husbands rather than as warriors.
Perhaps a loving man would help a new widow grieve, and in releasing her grief, allow her to return to living as a whole family member again. Perhaps lovemaking without future commitment gives the one left behind a chance to understand her loss and rejoin the living with a sense of completion, especially when the death was unexpected. If this was the traditional purpose, it has been lost through the years, or the article misrepresented the situation. The cleanser described exhibited neither loving care nor high standing in their society.
Whatever the original intent, sacredness is not apparent here. The tradition's detrimental effects are the focus of the article. The primary problem is that the cleaners are infecting the women with HIV. Hardly driving away evil spirits that! A woman has just lost her husband and probably her financial support, and now she has her health taken from her by a supposed "cure."
However, I wouldn't have read an article again and again for a doom-and-gloom story. The valuable part of the article for me was learning about the women's response.
But first, some background. Richard Buckminster Fuller, aka Bucky Fuller, wrote and spoke about precessional effects. Precession is when the bee thinks it's collecting pollen to make honey for the hive. As it goes about from flower to flower, the pollen sticking to its legs fertilizes all the plants, ensuring their survival. The plant pollenization is a precessional effect of the bees gathering pollen.
We humans are extraordinarily good at not noticing our own precessional effects. While improving the technologies of war, we've unintentionally made life better for the survivors in innumerable ways. One example is Hitler's People's Car, the Volkswagen. Then there are improved canning technologies for food and shipping methods.
In the '60s, President Kennedy started the Peace Corps in partial response to the Cold War. By the early '70s, using lessons learned in the Peace Corps and other aid projects, micro-lending circles had sprung up all over the "less developed" world.
Micro-lending circles and cooperatives -- they've gone by many names and worked in many variations -- were formed when a village or community was offered a small loan to put one of the local women in business. In Latin America it might be a $200 loan for a sewing machine so a widow could feed her family with the proceeds of her sewing. It might be the money to buy a loom in Guatemala, or a farming yak in Nepal or a milking goat in Africa.
The loans would be paid back, thereby funding a loan to the next woman. Each woman who participated would become part of the group that chose who received the next loan and for how much. Wealth would expand slowly at first, then exponentially as more women could combine funds to make more loans. Seed money at its finest, simplest. Entire communities were strengthened by self-directed, mutual support. This practice earned Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Back in Kenya, the cleanser is giving women HIV-AIDS -- those who didn't already get it from their now-deceased husbands, that is.
But some of these widows are now refusing the cleanser. Because they can. They can, because they are part of a women's support network. Often now called a widows group, they make money to support themselves and the increasing number of village orphans. These groups are the offspring of the lending circles.
The women are empowered to refuse the village traditions in favor supporting each other and the orphans. They are healthier, wealthier, happier. And the AIDS orphans are being raised with a new set of values which will change the future.
This is one way true change happens in the real world -- precessional effects.
Margaret L. Wade, M.S., C.S.B., is an adult educator, writer, and certified sexological bodyworker. She has taught, written, and presented in the fields of education, computer information systems, human sexuality, and personal growth. In the early 2000s, Margaret helped design and teach Sexological Bodywork, the first course offering state certification in embodied sexology. She is co-author of Reclaiming Eros: Sacred Whores and Healers, a columnist for carnalnation.com, and has written or edited hundreds of articles, book reviews, and academic tomes. See www.MargaretLWade.com for more information
Image from hdptcar.net, Courtesy of Creative Commons license.