Culture and the Purity Divide

Purity before marriage is a fundamental principal in numerous cultures across the world. In the past- and still prevalent in some cultures today, if a girl is discovered not to be a virgin, she faced cruel consequences.

Purity before marriage is a fundamental principal in numerous cultures across the world. In the past- and still prevalent in some cultures today, if a girl is discovered not to be a virgin, she faced cruel consequences.

Although several cultures still maintain this core belief of maintaining purity until marriage, others have become flexible and less rigid.

In Rwanda, once upon a time if a girl was discovered pregnant before she got married, she would be drowned in a river or tied in the middle of a forest for wild animals to devour.

Thankfully, this is not the case today however strict traditional families have carried on the custom of checking if a girl is a virgin once she is married. If she is, she will get  ihene (a goat); if she is not a virgin, she will miss out on this treat of an animal!

In countries such as Iran, and South Africa, medical certificates to prove the virginity of the woman are sometimes demanded by the family of the groom before they can give approval for the wedding to take place.

The Krobos- an ethnic group in Ghana, is known for performing traditional rituals commonly known as ‘Dipo’ for teenage girls who have reached puberty. Dipo ceremonies have been practiced since the eleventh century, and their popularity has not waned despite modern intrusions into traditional Ghanaian culture.

Girls are sent to parade around the town advertising their readiness for marriage and entry into womanhood. If one is discovered not a virgin, everybody eventually finds out and no man in the tribe will want to marry her. Family members feel very disgraced and in some cases the girl is ostracized.

If she isn’t ostracized, she will become an out-cast in her own village because people will not want to be associated with her. Such a girl is automatically branded a harlot which in the local language is ‘Ashawo’.

I often wonder why men are more or less expected not to remain pure in most cultures that prohibit female impurity.

Ever since the time of Jesus until this very day, if a woman is caught in an act of adultery, the man is forgotten, left unpunished, and seemingly left out of the equation! 

In ancient China there are reports that girls used to commit suicide out of the fear of no longer being a virgin. Remaining pure used to be a big deal in many cultures, however today more and more young people are becoming sexually active as early as 15 years of age. Recent statistics show that 77% of Rwanda’s youth are sexually active by the time they are 25 years.

So what has changed in many cultures since the days of strict societal attitudes towards remaining pure? Perhaps it is the inability to withstand the pressure of change and the moving on with the times by conforming to modern influences. Good food for thought.

Ms.efuahagan@gmail.com

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