History Lesson:Kabakobwa: death “Island for girls”

Standing by the shores of Lake Kivu, in Rusizi, I get a clear view of a little isolated island. It’s established within the middle of the lake, with barely an island attached to it. Apart from the rich green vegetation at the little island, it seems completely lifeless. I get the feeling that even a fierce wild animal can’t survive there. 
Culturally, women faced harsh penalties for getting pregnant before marriage.
Culturally, women faced harsh penalties for getting pregnant before marriage.

Standing by the shores of Lake Kivu, in Rusizi, I get a clear view of a little isolated island. It’s established within the middle of the lake, with barely an island attached to it.

Apart from the rich green vegetation at the little island, it seems completely lifeless. I get the feeling that even a fierce wild animal can’t survive there. 

The isolated setting’s lack of food and the cold weather would hinder survival for anything live, on this Island.

Kabakobwa is one of the many little islands in Lake Kivu where unmarried girls who got pregnant were dumped. Kabakobwa literally meaning “Island for girls” is a common name for tiny islands where pregnant girls were dumped, and left to die.

Any 60-year-old woman would develop goose bumps at the mention of Kabakobwa Island; it brings horrible memories, attached to early pregnancies and its related consequences.

“Pregnancy before marriage and while residing at your parents home was believed to bring shame and bad omen to the family,” say Emaculee Dusaidi, 63 years.

The family only got rid of the omen caused by an early pregnancy by getting rid of the daughter involved. It was against the Rwandan tradition to marry off a girl when she was already pregnant, infact, even the man responsible for the pregnancy would rarely be interested in marrying the girl.

The only solution was ditching the pregnant girl on an isolated island.

The intention was to murder the girl with hunger since the island was so isolated and totally cut-off from the mainland. On such islands, only sailors passed nearby once in a while.

“The only chance for such a girl to survive was when fishermen from the DRC would discover them. Since Rwandan girls were so pretty and irresistible, Congolese men took them for marriage, even with their pregnancies,” said Dusaidi.

Early pregnancies describe the intermarriages that took place between Rwandans and Congolese. Parents and relatives would later visit the island to verify whether there were bones of the daughters they dumped.

Failure to recognize any new bones would confirm that their daughters got rescued though that wouldn’t be an excuse for the girls to ever visit their parents’ homes again.

Disgracing their family with a pregnancy turned them into rebels and abominations to their own.

In case the responsible man showed interest in marrying a pregnant girl, a penalty was due. The groom would pay twice the dowry.

Before marriage, it would become a public proclamation that the bride-to-be was not a virgin, that she had conducted her life in a reckless manner, not exemplary to the community.

Meanwhile, virginity was a virtue for every girl. All around Rwanda, the disaster that befell young mothers was almost the same.

lillianean@yahoo.com

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