‘I started performing the duties of cleansing widows way back in 1985. I slept with widow after widow and each time I was hired to do the activity I pocketed around K4,000 in addition to sharing with the widow the property left behind by her deceased husband,; said Aniva.
He claims he does not know his age although he believes he should be in the 50s.
Widow cleansing (kupita kufa), commonly practiced in Nsanje, requires a widow to sleep with her in-laws before her dead spouse is buried, in the belief that this pleases the departed soul. In some cases, men, like Aniva, are hired at a fee to perform this ritual on behalf of the in-laws.
My understanding is that widow cleansing (which I’ve also heard called “widow inheritance”) is required because it is believed that otherwise the widow will die as well. I didn’t know that it could be done by proxy, but I’m not surprised that some people are taking advantage of that option – it’s reasonable to worry about HIV in a situation like that. However, the proxy thing challenges my initial read on the practice, which is that it was really just an institutionalized way of letting in-laws take sexual advantage of women. Even if that’s the source of the practice, people take the mystical aspects seriously enough to pay other men to have the actual sex.
Aniva himself has come clean and is campaigning against the practice. That’s an unmitigated good thing, but it makes me a little more dubious of the factual accuracy of his claims; he now has an incentive to play up the practice and make it seem more extreme.