Even when they are rushed out of the village to give birth elsewhere, the women are again forbidden to return to the community until their babies’ umbilical cords fall off.
Dove is a community with an average population of 5,000. However, the town has about 1500 inhabitants, which according to the assemblyman, honourable Moses Awukuvi-Danyevor, is as a result of some indigenes having migrated to the cities for various reasons including jostling for jobs.
The community is located along the Accra- Aflao road between Ada and Sogakope in the central Tongu district of the Volta Region. The main occupation of the indigenes is peasant farming.
Dove, just like most Ghanaian communities certainly has a host of superstitions that have been around for long. Aside from the very light ones shared by most communities across the length and breadth of the country, Dove has three main taboos the community has been living with since time immemorial. And 2018 does not look likely to see it end.
The first of these taboos is that the people of Dove don’t rear animals in the community. Can't rear animals will be more appropriate here since its a taboo.
But this does not mean they don’t consume animal products. Here's the twist. One is allowed to buy, transport the animals to the community and kill without suffering any consequence, whether the blood stains the ground or not. The caveat, however, is if the animal will not be killed on the same day it gets into the community, then it must be a male animal.
This taboo which has been kept by the people of Dove is vibrantly obvious once you step foot into the town. There is no animal in sight but the flying birds over the town.
No burial of the dead in the community is the second of three main taboos the people of Dove are not ready to part with. When indigenes die, their remains are taken out of the community for burial far from the catchment area. Due to this, unlike other communities where cemeteries are visible with some closely living with tombs, there is no cemetery within Dove.
This taboo is how Dove says goodbye to the departed. What is more intriguing is how they welcome one into the community, the last and very disturbing one of the three main taboos.
Women are forbidden to give birth in the community. When they get pregnant and the time is due to give birth, they are rushed out of the community with alacrity, to avoid their blood staining the Dove land.
With the very unpredictive nature of the exact time a baby pops its head to say hello to the world, these women in labour are transported in their excruciating pain so as not to disobey the laws of the land.
The women are also forbidden to return to the community until their babies’ umbilical cords fall off, another punishment for women of Dove being a relevant figure in procreation.
Ironically, these women are free to menstruate in the town without having to be rushed out. Those are not considered as blood stains to the land.
Bloodstain and its origin
With all these seemingly draconian taboos, one may be tempted to say the indigenes of Dove are living in a small box struggling for freedom, but the community leaders say the taboos, which have long been part of the people of Dove, have done them more good than harm.
Kwame Tsiditse Gbenua and Charles Gbenua, elders and stool fathers of the Aklorbor clan, explain where the three taboos originated from, saying their forefather who founded the land was a hunter called Akiti.
They said that, when Akiti migrated from Notsie in Togo, he moved to Kpordoave now known as Mafi Dugame. He then proceeded by crossing a river called Kebe, and settled at the land known today as Dove.
According to them, as soon as Torgbui Akiti stepped his feet in the land, he heard a voice from above, telling him that the land is a peaceful one, and he could only live in it if and only if he would abide by the aforementioned taboos. They believe the voice that spoke to Torgbui Akiti was that of the almighty God. It is baffling why God who according to the holy Bible, created man and urged them to procreate and fill the earth would forbid childbirth in a particular land.
“When human blood stains the ground, it brings about evil, which is why the founder of this community was ordered to avoid childbirth, animal rearing and burial of the dead in the land.
“Wherever there is evil, there is no development. Because of these taboos, there has never been any bloodshed, criminalities and so on. You are allowed to bring animals and slaughter them in the land, women are free to menstruate, but to give birth, no way. We are very proud to be bound by those taboos,” the elders stressed.
It is interesting to note that Dove is surrounded by other communities such as Mafi Aklaya, Kpogadzi, Aflokofe, all of which used to have the same taboos, but chose to, and successfully abolished them. They even have an annual festival in memory of the abolishment christened, Kordeza.
How and why have these three communities been able to do away with the taboos and live in peace, but Dove still holds onto it?
Women have gone through difficult times in the past having to be rushed on motorbikes to either Sogakope or Battor which are about 20 and 10 kilometres away from the community respectively, just to give birth.
Dove and healthcare
About a decade ago, the community itself, in collaboration with the district assembly started constructing a health centre which was inaugurated in September 2017 but officially opened for use in April 2018.
Prior to the establishment of the health centre, women were forced to access maternal health care at distant locations, while others relied on home remedies.
Though the women in Dove are happy about the health centre established for them now, it is clear in their interactions that they want more than just a health centre. They unanimously yearn for a day when those taboos will be no more so that they can feel free and give birth in the town or return home as soon as they are discharged from the hospital after giving birth.
Those of them who have had the experience of having to be rushed out of the community as persona non grata until they give birth outside and the child’s umbilical cord falls off, as well as those who are presently pregnant have demanded amendment if not complete abolishment of the taboos, specifically the one that forbids childbirth.
Breaking bad in Dove
So, what exactly will happen if someone recalcitrantly gives birth in the land? The elders say there is no physical sanction to be unleashed on anybody who violates the taboo against childbirth, but the child who was given birth to in the land will be abnormal. However, they could not say if there has ever been any abnormal child whose fate has come about as a result of a breach of the taboo.
They said if it happens that, through no fault of the pregnant woman, there is impromptu delivery in the land, the chief and elders will quickly perform a ritual to pacify the 'god' and cleanse the land.
With the taboo against childbirth in existence, the health centre is also struggling to accommodate mothers who have successfully given birth and have been discharged, but face a temporary banishment for as long as it takes their babies’ umbilical cords to fall off.
The situation is so disturbing that at a durbar which coincided with Pulse Ghana's news team visit to the community, physician assistant, Emmanuel Egu from the health centre had to go down on his knees to beg the elders of the community to amend their customs in order to ease the burden the health centre is currently grappling with.
Since the health centre was opened for use in April last year, officials say it has dealt with over thousand three hundred cases including sixteen child delivery cases.
Hope for Dove's taboo future?
There is hardly any hope of these taboos being amended, let alone abolished as the future leaders who may be trusted to cause a change in future seem to have been so oriented in favour of it that, they defend them more vehemently than their parents.
Some students chosen at random from one of the schools in the community were unanimous in saying they will never support any attempt to abolish those taboos.
These students point out the abnormality of a child born through disobeying the rules of the land as their main concern.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman for the Dove electoral area, honourable Moses Awukuvi-Danyevor is hopeful the process of finally eliminating the taboos, especially the one bothering on childbirth has just begun, saying the establishment of a health centre is the first step to securing freedom for the people by-and-by.
Data by the Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate (PPMED), GHS ranked the Volta Region lowest in the 2017 first quarter regional feedback health league table of the Ghana Health Service (GHS). It also shows that in the 2016 national health league table for the Ghana Health Service, Volta region recorded the lowest performance on the least range of the “Performance Gauge” (PG) scale, which was described as “unsatisfactory”.
The region placed 10th on the league table. It scored a total of I46 points to earn the 10th position again in the 2017 first quarter regional feedback health league table.
The region scored ten in the infant mortality, neonatal mortality, antenatal care coverage, and skilled delivery rates. It also scored nine in the under-five mortality, maternal mortality, and teenage pregnancy rates.
With taboos like the one in Dove which forbids childbirth in the land, it may not be a surprise that the Volta region where most of those customs exist has a long way to go in alleviating maternal mortality.
When asked what could be the cause of the poor performance, Ms Afua Djansi, Volta Regional Public Relations Officer, GHS is quoted as saying:
“It is difficult to explain what is happening. It is a bit technical but the necessary steps are being taken to rectify the challenges and improve healthcare delivery in the region.”
Dove: taboos, religion and entertainment
Having given an overview of Dove's energetic approach to honouring these taboos, a stranger who has not been to Dove, might be visualising a dirty and crowded town with idols dotted in almost every corner.
However, Dove is as clean as any other place. In fact, there are as many Pentecostal churches in the town as in any other Ghanaian community, living peacefully with those taboos.
It means that the Dove community is a circular one with indigenes choosing what religion to belong to, but the taboos against childbirth, animal rearing and burial of the dead remain supreme.
It is also noteworthy that despite all these herculean restrictions called taboos, the people of Dove are happy people who take their entertainment seriously. They have their Borborbor and Agbadza music and dance groups that get them off their feet to shake their frustrations off.