Tucked away along Accra road in the Volta region in Ghana is the quiet village of Dove. This quiet village is home to around 4,000 people almost none of whom were born there. It is a village that is full of contradictions - on the one hand, it has deeply rooted religious values of love, kindness, and acceptance but on the other hand, they frown on childbirth, rearing of animals, and burials.
Many African communities have a host of customs, beliefs, and traditions that are passed down from one generation to another with the aim of giving one a sense of belonging. Dove is therefore no different. Many of its peculiar customs and traditions are said to have originated from the village's founder, a hunter by the name Togbe Gbewofia Akiti. According to village elder and stool father, Kwame Gbenua, the land where Dove is located was unoccupied because it belonged to the gods of the land who protected it. So when Akiti first set foot on the land, he was stopped in his tracks by a voice from the sky. According to the elders, the voice told him about the sacred nature of the land and gave him three rules to abide by if he and his people wanted to settle there. The three rules that Akiti and his people had to follow were: no childbirths, no animal rearing, and no burials.
One cannot help but be moved and surprised by the pride the village elders have in their rules. While many of us may not necessarily understand their sense of pride, there is no doubt that it is interesting. They do know that they are different but Kwame tells me that their difference is not a bad thing if one takes a little time to know them.
According to Kwame, the three rules have allowed them to exist peaceful over the years and thrive as a community. They say:
Wherever there is evil, there is no development, therefore, the tabbos have greatly helped us. When you come to Dove and because of the taboo against rearing animals, you will see that there is no garbage or waste, bloodshed, crimes and so on. The taboos will never be amended or abolished. We are very proud to be bound by those taboos.”
When you set foot in Dove one of the things that immediately captures your attention is the silence and calm that encompasses the entire village. If it were not for the women moving about, you would be tempted to write it off as a ghost town. Dove is so much more. Other than the odd birds chirping and flying overhead, I could not help but notice the absence of animals in the village. There are no cattle, chicken, goats, pigs, cats, dogs, you name it. The inhabitants of the village do not rear or keep any animals. The village is truly unique - none like you have seen or will ever see. Rearing and or breeding animals in Dove has been a taboo for as long as the village has been in existence. It is one practice that will most likely remain in place for a long time to come because this village is not about to stop enforcing its three major rules.
The interesting thing, however, is that while the villagers are not allowed to rear animals in Dove, they can bring animals into the village provided that such animals are slaughtered on the same day. Such animals are not permitted to roam about in the village as such action would amount to rearing which may attract the wrath of the gods.
The Inhabitants of Dove
Believe it or not, all the inhabitants of Dove were never born there. Absolutely none of them! Giving birth to children is something that is frowned upon and is one of the three forbidden practices. Given the fact that it is almost impossible to completely prevent consenting adults from giving birth to children, the elders note there have been instances of babies being born in the village thus necessitating them to conduct rituals that are intended to purify the land.
According to the elders, the cleansing rituals are very important to appease the gods and cool their anger. Failing to do so may lead to disasters and various calamities on the village and its inhabitants. The elders of Dove say:
Women are free to menstruate because the taboo is not against bloodstain. The taboo is against deliberately killling someone or causing bloodshed. When women give birth, they pass out a lot of blood which is considered bloodhed and this is why it is taboo.....The mother’s family needs to alert us as soon as an accidental birth occurs, so that we can then carry out a ritual to purify the village and appease the gods."
Because of this entrenched belief as regards childbirth, it is not uncommon to see expectant mothers being rushed to neighbouring villages or towns such as Dokpo and Atitekpo to deliver their babies there. Some of these women are sent away from Dove when they are either 1 or 2 months to their delivery date to avoid any premature births. The women are required to remain in those villages until they have delivered and the umbilical cords of their babies have fallen off. Most of the women stated that there have been instances where they were rushed out of the village whilst in labour pains because the elders could not risk them breaking the custom. They note that such instances have not only been daunting but have caused their babies to endure various birth complications that they ought not to have gone through in the first place.
The elders, however, believe that the taboo has enabled the women to seek professional help as opposed to giving birth at home. In that regard, they consider the taboo quite beneficial.
Because of the various situations that the women have gone through, most of them have in the last few years come out to challenge these taboos that could be very well considered archaic. They have gone before the elders demanding to give birth to their babies in the village free from any kind of reproach but the elders have remained steadfast in their resolve to honour their traditions.
The elders consider themselves as the custodians of Dove's traditions and customs. They, therefore, believe that it is their duty to secure the village's prosperity by ensuring all its inhabitants keep the traditions. Despite turning down the pleas of the women of Dove, they relented a little and agreed for the construction of a maternity clinic to ease the plight of the women. The clinic was, however, to be built outside of the village so as to maintain the taboos.
In April of 2018, the first maternity clinic popularly known as Mafi Dove health centre was constructed on the outskirts of the village and it has been a reprieve for many women as they no longer have to travel long distances on motorbikes to give birth. Childbirth has now become a joyous occasion for them. The clinics' physicians also note that many of the women consider the clinic as a second home. They take refuge there until their babies' umbilical cords fall off and are able to go back to Dove.
Although childbirths in the village is forbidden practice, those who breach the rules are neither punished by the village elders nor the community at large. Many believe that women who break this taboo risk giving birth to babies with deformities or other health issues, but no one can recall any such babies being as a consequence of breaking tradition.
When you walk in Dove, the other thing that will most certainly catch your eye is the fact that there is no burial ground. No one is buried in the village. When someone dies, they are immediately taken to burial grounds in neighbouring villages and towns. This does not mean that there are no instances when someone does pass away unexpectedly. In such cases, their bodies are removed from Dove and taken to burial grounds outside of Dove. The elders then perform a cleansing ritual to purify the land.
Dove is undoubtedly one of the most unique villages in the world. It is a village full of contradictions yet bustling with love, kindness, understanding and so much more. Its traditions may seem peculiar or even absurd to any foreigner or outsider but to "Dovians" they are part and parcel of their identity. While the elders are not keen on changing any of the taboos, the Dovenian women remain optimistic that with time the taboo on childbirth will be amended. In the meantime, they continue to be revel in their culture and traditions.
Photo Credit: Emmanuel Ankpu